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Protecting Alaska from Corruption
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I wanted to update you on some important developments as I work to represent you in the Alaska Legislature.
At this time, we are working into special session in order to contend with Governor Dunleavy’s misguided agenda to break down the institutions of our state and replace them with a dysfunctional kleptocracy which will serve private interests over those of regular Alaskans.
He has pursued this agenda through a pattern of illegal activity and with assistance and direction from outside organizations such as the Koch Brothers funded group Americans for Prosperity.
Many of his goals, such as diverting public education funds to private for-profit institutions are clearly against the Alaska Constitution, so it is no wonder he is working to promote a number of constitutional amendments such as one removing the following provision:
From Article 7 of the Alaska Constitution:
“No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”
It is disturbing that Governor Dunleavy is trying to bolster his case by working to harm our public schools and other institutions by starving them of resources so he can make the case that reform is needed.
Most recently, he has taken education funding hostage by threatening to withhold appropriations that were previously allocated by the Legislature. In a bipartisan response, I joined my colleagues in the House and Senate in voting to authorize a lawsuit defending the education funding from the Governor’s illegal attacks.
We cannot allow an outlaw Governor to turn children into political pawns, or undermine the constitutional separation of powers in our state.
The Governor asserts that the forward funding of education last year is unconstitutional because it binds a future legislature. This claim has no basis in fact because in reality the Legislature can alter forward funding this year at any time. However, we choose not to, and instead continue with the previously approved plan.
The Legislature has a long precedent of forward-funding education because it gives school districts the stability that they require to hire teachers for the coming school year. This commonsense practice, well-founded in the constitutional and statutory authority of the Legislature, has never been challenged until Governor Dunleavy began to attack Alaska’s public institutions.
Let’s put his actions in context. In addition to illegally holding education funding hostage, he broke the law to privatize API with a sole-source, no-bid contract to a private corporation estimated to cost the state $225 million.
He has supported private prisons, which have a corrupt history in Alaska, and he has proposed selling state museums and their contents, and the state ferries. He has attacked the Pioneer homes and tried to eliminate the Senior Benefit Program. He even wants to dissolve the student loan corporation and auction off everyone’s debts for pennies on the dollar.
His attorney general has made the unconstitutional claim that public funding for private, for-profit school vouchers is legal if the dollars are routed through parents. Further, Governor Dunleavy is using public money for partisan attack ads against his perceived enemies in violation of the Executive Branch Ethics Act.
In short, this governor sees the rule of law merely as an obstacle standing in the way of his corrupt agenda.
We stand at a crossroad in Alaska history. We have never in this way had a governor challenge the foundational laws of our state or attempt to undermine the institutions enshrined in our Constitution. I am grateful that most legislators are working across party and caucus lines and standing together to defend the rule of law.
Fact Checking the Governor on Education
My work as Co-chair of the House Education Committee has been of critical importance this year as Governor Dunleavy has threatened cuts of 23 percent to our public school system which he justifies through a number of false claims, most notably that Alaska school districts are operating wastefully and delivering poor results.
The committee looked deeply into these claims, because we very much want schools to spend money wisely and get good results. We reviewed current research and heard presentations from credible authorities such as the Institute of Social and Economic Research, the nonpartisan Division of Legislative Finance, the Alaska Council of School Administrators, the University of Alaska, and school board representatives from around the state.
We also met jointly with the Senate Education Committee to hear from Mark Foster, a fiscal performance analyst commissioned by the Senate Finance Committee to identify and evaluate working educational strategies in reading and math statewide.
It is a big challenge to deliver on Alaska’s constitutional obligation to provide a good education to 130,000 school children around the state, but we learned that the dedication of our teachers and school districts is showing good results:
We also learned that the two biggest factors in schools getting good results are high quality teachers and small class sizes.
Governor Dunleavy ought to know this because he has worked as a teacher, a school principal, and a district superintendent. He collects public retirement benefits from his time in the system.
Instead of doing the right thing however, he proposes cuts that would lead to enormous increases in class sizes and even lower pay and benefits for teachers.
Alaska’s educational system faces many complex challenges including poor access to technology, high poverty levels, childhood trauma, and low teacher pay. However, wasteful spending is not one of our problems, despite the Governor’s claims otherwise.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. As always, please call or email with any thoughts, ideas, or concerns.