Judge reaffirms ruling on rural school money

Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Superior Court judge Tuesday reaffirmed his ruling that Alaska is violating the state constitution and federal civil rights law by discriminating against rural schools when money is allocated for buildings.

Judge John Reese warned in his brief order that he would issue specific orders if the Legislature failed to act. That could mean telling the state how much to spend on school construction, and where to spend it.

''This court does have the power to require remedial action, within the limitations of separation of power,'' Reese wrote, ''but would do so only with great reluctance.''

The state went back to Reese last May to argue that the state's attorney, in the earlier arguments, had failed to provide a complete record of how much the state spent on rural schools.

Reese was not impressed.

''The prior findings of this court are well supported in the record, and reinforced by the new filings,'' he wrote in Tuesday's order.

Some Republican lawmakers disagreed with the judge's reasoning. Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, said he hoped the state would appeal.

''They have not looked at the long term of what we've done to fund school construction,'' Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, told KTUU-TV. ''They took a snapshot in time which is not reflective of the true picture.''

But that snapshot, Reese noted in his order, showed the amount the state spent over the last 20 years or so on school funding. And the judge rejected the state's argument that because the state spent hundreds of millions on rural school facilities, his earlier finding of bias was wrong.

The judge acknowledged that the Legislature provided substantially more for rural school construction last year than for urban schools, $6,200 per rural student compared with $476 per urban student.

But he also noted that in four of the preceding six years, construction and maintenance spending for rural schools amounted to less than $30 per student. In two of those years, it was zero.

Meanwhile, state spending for urban schools in those six years ranged from $556 to $1009.

The overall system is flawed, the judge concluded.

''The urban districts get 70 percent of their funding for schools reimbursed by the state. The rural districts get whatever the Legislature chooses to give them,'' he wrote. ''The bond reimbursement program is automatic. The rural funding is political, and has been arbitrary, inadequate, and racially discriminatory.''

That echoed his ruling in September 1999, when he ruled that the rural areas did not have substantially equal access to state financing for facilities, and many rural schools were continuously denied money for maintenance and upgrades.

The case is Kasayulie vs. State of Alaska.

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