With just over two weeks left in the fiscal year, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has released a one-time $20 million supplemental grant, approved by the Legislature, for Alaska’s school districts last session, easing a growing level of concern from school districts across the state as they waited for the funding that was set to be distributed months ago.

The $20 million grant was approved for the current fiscal year by last year’s Legislature, along with forward funding for the base student allocation and a similar $30 million supplemental grant for fiscal 2020.

The funding was slated to be released early in the year but, in a battle with the Legislature over education funding, Dunleavy withheld the funding until the last minute.

The governor introduced a bill early in the session that would have repealed the approved funding, stating that he would only release the funds to school districts across the state if the Legislature rejected his push for a repeal. They did, and in following the law, the governor approved the release of the funds Monday with only a few weeks to spare.

The governor’s office defended the delay in releasing the funds, stating it is still adhering to state law as long as the funding is released within the fiscal year it was slated for. Because the $20 million was set to be released in the current fiscal year, technically the release, so late in the game, is still lawful even though it was designed to be released much earlier. 

As the topic became more contentious throughout the session, the administration noted that “should the Legislature choose not to act on the legislation, the appropriation (would) be distributed according to the law.”

“Now that the Legislature has passed an operating budget, which did not include the proposed reversal for the FY19 $20 million K-12 supplemental, this appropriation has been distributed,” Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow wrote in an email to reporters Thursday. 

The $20 million grant, because it was appropriated for the upcoming fiscal year at the time, did not fall under Dunleavy’s claim of unconstitutional forward funding. However, the $30 million for Fiscal 2020 does and whether the governor will adhere to the funding, which was approved by the Legislature and signed by former Gov. Bill Walker in spring 2018, is still in question.

“It’s important to note that the $20 million FY19 supplemental appropriation for K-12 education and the $30 million FY 2020 supplemental appropriation for K-12 education are viewed very differently by the administration,” Shuckerow wrote in the email.

The Dunleavy administration and Attorney General Kevin Clarkson are of the opinion that the $30 million grant for Fiscal 2020 is not constitutional.

The funding was released to the state Department of Education and Early Development on Monday evening and set to hit school districts’ bank accounts Wednesday. Fairbanks North Star School District Superintendent Karen Gaborik expressed relief that the funds had finally been released in a statement provided to the News-Miner on Thursday afternoon. 

“This year’s budget (for the Fairbanks school district) included the approximately $2 million in funding based on action taken by the Legislature during the last session. We appreciate the Legislature’s continued support of public education funding,” Gaborik wrote. “We have been counting on those funds as part of our budget this year. The release of those funds will allow us to close out our books in a timely manner and will eliminate the need to utilize additional fund balance to cover a shortfall.”

 Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.