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CEEAC Legal Activities

Alaska Supreme Court ruling in the Ketchikan Borough school funding case

You've likely seen the news that the Alaska Supreme Court ruled January 8 in the Ketchikan Borough school funding case. As you know, CEAAC filed an amicus brief in opposition to the Ketchikan Borough's suit, which would have removed more than $220 million from Alaska school funding - much of that loss coming from rural school budgets. You can read the amicus brief on our website here.

While the news is mostly good, there are still some issues we'll need to keep an eye on. Please see below for Coalition for Education Equity/CEAAC attorney, Howard Trickey's summary of the decision.

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The Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision today in the Ketchikan Borough school funding case. We are pleased that the Court agreed with us and the State that the trial judge erred and that the local contribution for school funding does not violate the Anti-Dedication Clause.

Justice Bolger wrote the opinion, with concurring opinions from Chief Justice Stowers and Justice Winfree.

The main emphasis of the opinion is on the history of school funding prior to statehood, and how that history, coupled with the minutes of the constitutional convention, demonstrates that Alaska’s constitutional delegates intended for local communities and the State to share responsibility for funding local schools. The Court found that this shared responsibility was based on the Education Clause, Article VII, Section 1. CEAAC advanced this argument as a constitutional basis for funding the RLC constitutionally.

The opinion tracks the history of school funding in Alaska from prior to statehood through modern times. It concludes that the current regime of local-state funding is a continuation of the same basic framework for a “local cooperative program” that has existed since statehood. Because the Anti-Dedication Clause expressly exempted dedications that existed prior to statehood, the Court finds the local contribution to be an allowable mandate.

The opinion also distinguishes all of the Court’s prior anti-dedication cases, explaining why none control the outcome of this dispute. We were heartened to see that this portion of the opinion largely tracks arguments we advanced in our amicus brief.

The Court also agreed that because the local contribution involves local moneys that never enter state coffers, the required local contribution is not an “appropriation” and does not conflict with the governor’s veto clause.

An interesting but potentially worrisome aspect of the decision is the concurring opinion of Justice Winfree, and to some degree the separate concurrence by Justice Stowers. These two justices both focus on the Public Education Clause of Article VII, Section 1. They question whether that clause creates a constitutional requirement for the State, and the State alone, to provide adequate funding for public schools. And, if so, whether it would violate the Anti-Dedication Clause for the State to essentially pass this obligation off on local communities. Justice Winfree indicates that if presented with a case that made such an argument, he might well be convinced that the required local contribution is unconstitutional, but that he is not willing to reach that conclusion today based on the arguments made by the Ketchikan Borough and the State in this case (neither party wanted to address Article VII’s public education requirement).

The bottom line is that today’s decision restores the status quo for public education funding in Alaska. The decision, however, creates an opening for future litigation about the interplay between the Public Education Clause and the Anti-Dedication Clause, and suggests at minimum that some of the justices have unresolved questions about that interplay. This suggests a continued need for our interests to remain active in school funding policy with the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the state government.

Howard Trickey

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CEAAC Challenges Constitutionality of Small School Closure

CEAAC opposes a proposal to close small schools by raising the minimum size for full state funding. In November, 2015, we obtained a legal opinion that says this proposal is unconstitutional. Representative Lynn Gattis announced a plan to stop full funding for schools with fewer than 25 students. CEAAC Attorney Howard Trickey wrote a legal opinion indicating that Gattis’s proposal would be subject to constitutional challenge. The Moore case established that Alaska’s constitution requires the state to provide students a meaningful opportunity to achieve education standards. Denying that opportunity selectively to children in small communities would violate the equal protection clause.

LINKS

CEAAC media release November 2, 2015

Trickey opinion on small school closure

CEAAC sides with the State of Alaska in Ketchikan Case

In 2014, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough won a court ruling to stop the required local contribution in the state’s school funding formula. If upheld, the lower court’s decision would remove more than $220 million from Alaska school funding, with much of that loss coming from rural school budgets. CEAAC believes that decision was seriously flawed and would create chaos and potential disaster for schools across the state. We have entered the case on the side of the state. At the trial court level, the constitution’s requirement for the state to provide for public schools was hardly addressed. The Alaska Supreme Court has accepted our amicus brief and attachments that we had hoped to include in opposition to the Ketchikan Borough’s suit to make these important points, and others. With the acceptance of our brief , that issue and the extensive support of the Moore case were added to the appeal.

CEAAC Attorney Howard Tricky reports on the case, June 15, 2015

CEAAC's amicus brief

 

The Moore Settlement: Support for Alaska's Struggling Schools

In January 2012, CEAAC and the State of Alaska settled a major constitutional lawsuit to address low performance in some rural schools. The settlement creates four programs to address root causes of poor student achievement in these schools. Programs are administered by a collaborative committee of six members. Follow these links to learn more.

The Moore Settlement: A One-page summary

Text of the Moore Settlement (pdf)

Resources for applying for Moore funds

 

Settlement Reached in Kasayulie

CEAAC and the State of Alaska have reached a complete settlement in the historic Kasayulie school construction lawsuit, jointly announced with Governor Sean Parnell on October 4, 2011.

Case background: In the early 1990s, the State of Alaska established a prioritized Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the funding of school construction projects in Alaska. But the legislature failed to use the program, instead allocating money to projects in the districts of powerful urban legislators. CEAAC sued in 1997 with other plaintiffs. In 1999, Judge John Reese ruled that the state’s school construction practices were inequitable, unconstitutional, and racially discriminatory. In another aspect of the case, he ruled that the State of Alaska had breached its duty to the Alaska School Lands Trust. The case has never been appealed.

Legislative success: After 1999, the state improved its record of funding rural schools on the CIP list, allocating $1.2 billion to those projects to date. CEAAC and Judge Reese’s judgment in Kasayulie provided leverage for rural legislators to obtain these funds. However, the basic problem the judge cited never received resolution: the funding of schools remained a matter of changeable annual appropriations, while urban schools received automatic funding of reimbursement for their bond issues for schools construction. In 2010, CEAAC’s legislative allies won passage of SB 239, which directs 24% of the funds allocated to bond debt reimbursement to rural schools on the department’s CIP list.

The settlement: After summer-long discussions, negotiating teams completed an agreement signed in fall, 2011. The settlement does the following:

  • In a consent decree, the State recognizes the rural school construction funding mechanism in SB 239 (AS 14.11.025 and 14.11.030) as necessary to meet Judge Reese’s finding that the former system was unconstitutional. The mechanism channels to rural schools funding equal to 24% of school bond reimbursement, currently amounting to approximately $38 million annually. This legal acknowledgement will assist CEAAC in protecting the formula legislatively and having it fully funded.

  • The State agrees to fund $146 million in capital projects for five new schools in Emmonak, Koliganek, Nightmute, Kwethluk and Kivalina, over and above the funding flowing through the mechanism. The schools would be included in capital budgets through FY 15. While funding is subject to appropriation, the settlement includes a reopener for CEAAC if the schools are not funded which would restore the case to its current status.

  • The State agrees to pay up to $500,000 of CEAAC’s legal fees. CEAAC does not have to repay this money if it uses the reopener provision.

  • CEAAC agrees to dismiss the Kasayulie suit and to drop its claims related to the Alaska School Lands Trust.

 

The Howard S. Trickey Constitutional Defense Fund

On September 26, 2012, the CEAAC Board of Directors created a $300,000 fund for the purpose of the legal protection of the constitutional right of Alaska's children to pubic education, and named the fund for Howard Trickey, who has led our legal team since the inception of CEAAC.
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Updated 01/08/16

 

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