The Alaska Supreme Court heard the oral arguments in a school funding lawsuit over a state law that requires organized local governments help pay for schools.
The lawsuit was brought by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, with the support of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, against the state of Alaska. It argues the state’s requirement is akin to a tax and violates the Alaska Constitution’s prohibition on dedicated funds.
A Superior Court Judge agreed with Ketchikan earlier this year and the Supreme Court on Wednesday heard the state’s appeal of the matter.
Alaska Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Vogel argued the constitution’s prohibition on dedicated funds is narrowly limited to state money with the intent of allowing each Legislature to act independent from the Legislature before it.
“It was intended to say, ‘The Legislature should have the freedom to spend state money year after year, and this year’s Legislature shouldn’t be binding the hands of next year’s Legislature,’” she said. “The required contribution, this concept of buy-in, isn’t something the Legislature can spend next year. A required local contribution doesn’t look, feel or act like state money.”
Louann Cutler, the attorney representing the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, argued that school districts are effectively state institutions with local input.
“It essentially has to be raised from local sources but then it has to be provided to the school district and at that point the municipality completely loses all control over those funds,” she said. “The state has complete control over those funds and the state has no control. … That aspect of the way this court has ruled with the respect to pervasive control over schools that the state has.”
The justices asked plenty of questions throughout the hour-long hearing.