This is the two-paragraph statement Gov. Mike Dunleavy released about the case in which Attorney General Kevin Clarkson failed to convince a Juneau judge that setting funding for schools a year in advance was unconstitutional:
“Alaskans need to know this court case is about the process lawmakers are using to fund education, not about how much funding education receives,” said Governor Dunleavy. “K-12 education spending has not been cut, nor will it be cut regardless of what the courts ultimately decide. I dedicated a career as a public school teacher in Alaska. I view education as the cornerstone to any society and to individual futures.”
“This case is about the concept of future funding of education and the appropriation process in general and I look forward to clarifying this issue. Regardless of the decision of the courts, I look forward to improving the educational outcomes for our children,” said Governor Dunleavy.
Reading this I wondered if Dunleavy thinks Alaskans have forgotten what he and his staff said during the Dunleavy/Koch budget road show eight months ago.
He is counting on Alaska amnesia, encouraged by the habit of the Alaska press to quote whatever he says at the moment without connecting him to promises he has made in the past.
Dunleavy continues to be the governor of the education promise, abandoning one pledge after another depending upon the conditions of the moment and the audience, always acting as if he is not contradicting himself with each claim.
A year-and-a-half ago he said that the smallest rural schools would have to be closed to save money, and new regional boarding schools would save money and provide better results. A year ago at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention, he claimed to have never said that. He promised AFN that rural education spending would increase in a Dunleavy administration.
On June 11, 2018, he said at the Bristol Bay Fish Expo that he would increase funding for schools. On Aug. 17, 2018, he said he would not cut education spending.
On Feb. 13, 2019, he proposed $330 million cuts in education spending, claiming a 25 percent reduction in K-12 spending, requiring thousands of teacher layoffs statewide, would somehow improve education.
Dunleavy stood next to Temporary Budget Director Donna Arduin that day as she claimed that education spending was unsustainable and one of the areas in state government “without corresponding positive results.”
“Outspending other states has not benefited Alaska’s students nor improved the educational system,” the governor’s office said in a summary of the so-called “Honest Budget.” “This reduction reflects that reality. The Department of Education will work with school districts to rethink existing processes in an effort to achieve better outcomes.”
For weeks, Arduin, Dunleavy and other administration officials attempted to justify the $330 million cut by repeating false and misleading claims about K-12 education, alleging that Alaska had the lowest percentage of dollars going to instruction in the nation and the worst education results in the nation.
At the Dunleavy/Koch budget road show, Dunleavy and Arduin insisted that the $330 million cut was necessary. “We don’t believe we’re getting the bang for the buck,” Arduin said in the Anchorage session of the road show.
The Dunleavy/Arduin talking point was that Alaska public schools are the worst in the United States and that the only solution is to reduce the number of teachers, administrators, and support staff.
According to Arduin, “continuing to pour money into it is not the solution, but cutting the budget is a solution that we need to have in order to bring stability to school districts.”
Chopping education spending was a major element in the so-called “Honest Budget,” which was actually a grab-bag of gimmicks, nearly all of which the Legislature rejected.
When Dunleavy now says, “I view education as the cornerstone to any society and to individual futures,” it is impossible to say what that means, if anything at all.
The governor probably would have followed through on his $330 million in school vetoes had he been able to do so. It was only after the Legislature refused to rescind the 2018 budget action for forward-funding schools that Clarkson invented the excuse that led to the wasteful lawsuit on education spending that he is appealing to the Supreme Court.
Clarkson’s flimsy claim, which was designed to force the Legislature to provide a budget from which Dunleavy could veto $330 million from education, is now being rebranded in a face-saving move as a matter of constitutional principle, which it is not.
Dermot Cole can be reached at email@example.com