Note: This has been updated with a longer story on our homepage.
From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --
The state of Alaska has reached what rural school advocates are calling a historic agreement in the 14-year battle for equitable funding of school construction in remote towns and villages.
The settlement, announced today, calls for Gov. Sean Parnell to ask the Legislature for $146 million to build or renovate schools in five villages.
If the state lives up to its promises, the agreement will close the book on a 1997 lawsuit that prompted a state judge to declare Alaska funding of village schools “arbitrary, inadequate and racially discriminatory.”
The lawsuit was filed by a group of rural parents, including Willie Kasayulie of Akiachak, and school districts. They claimed the state’s method of financing school construction discriminated against rural students – a majority of whom were Alaska Native.
In 1999 and again in 2001, then-Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Reese ruled that the system was indeed unfair. Urban schools participated in a bond reimbursement program that provided much of their construction money through the state. But rural schools, without a tax base to approve bonds, was subject to the whims of the Legislature.
"Education, health and safety of our youth have suffered. The dignity of our fellow citizens has suffered,” Reese wrote. “The respect for public officials has suffered. The racial divisions in our state are further aggravated."
But the case wasn’t closed, in part because the Legislature never created a new, equitable way to pay for new school construction in villages. That changed in 2010, when lawmakers approved a new formula that tethers the amount of rural school funding to state construction funding on urban school construction.
The new formula is expected to provide about $38 million annually – about enough to build one new school a year, said Charles Wohlforth, executive director of Citizens for the Educational Advancement of Alaska’s Children.
The settlement also calls for state funding of new schools in Emmonak, Koliganek, Nightmute, Kwethluk and Kivalina.
One major question: What will future Legislatures do, especially after redistricting? Will they once again change the formula for school construction, this time reducing money for villages? Will they approve the money Parnell has agreed to request?
If the school funding falls through, the plaintiffs have the option of reopening the lawsuit, according to the agreement. (I've attached the document below.)
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
-- Bush schools wait years for upgrades, facilities (Anchorage Daily News, 2010)
|Final Consent Decree - 8-24-11 (00349224-8)-FINAL.pdf||171.18 KB|