By Dave Donaldson
Plaintiffs and the state have reached a settlement in a 1997 lawsuit charging that the state was neglecting its duty to provide adequate funds for rural schools in the state. The litigation was brought by Willie Kasayulie of Akiachak and the Center for the Educational Advancement of Alaska’s Children – or CEAAC. The case drew the attention of the executive and legislative branches of government when a Superior Court in 1999 ruled in Kasayulie’s favor.
In the settlement agreement – which will have a ceremonial signing Thursday in Anchorage — Governor Parnell promises to include support for the construction of five new rural schools at a cost of a $146-million – and to continue financial support of $38-million a year for the next three years.
Charles Wohlforth, the executive director of CEAAC, says the agreement resolves the concerns of a lot of people.
The people who fought this for fourteen years and stuck with it and kept lobbying the legislature and kept up the pressure in court and contributed the money from rural school districts, they’ve gotten what they asked for – which is new schools being built and a mechanism that will fund schools into the indefinite future on a fair and equitable basis with urban Alaska. To me, that’s a historic milestone and that’s an accomplishment.
The legislature was not part of the settlement, however the agreement acknowledges a legislative solution that so far has directed more than a Billion dollars to rural schools. Wohlforth points to legislation from Bethel Senator Lyman Hoffman in 2010 that addressed a method for automatically providing funds in future years.
And what the settlement does, it acknowledges that it was a necessity – to settle this case. And that gives us the entryway back into the courthouse if that’s ever not respected, which I think it will be. The legislature’s come a long way.
The five schools agreed to in the settlement are in Emmonak, Koliganek, Nightmute, Kwethluk and Kivalina.