A nonprofit education group is suing Gov. Mike Dunleavy over a $20 million public education appropriation that the governor wants to repeal in a supplemental budget bill that has not been voted on yet.

Under Senate Bill 39, Dunleavy proposed several budget changes for the current fiscal year that ends June 30. One change includes repealing $20 million the Legislature added last year to public education for the current fiscal year.

The Coalition for Education Equity filed the lawsuit in Alaska Superior Court in Anchorage on Wednesday.

The organization’s Executive Director Sarah Sledge said in a prepared statement, “The withholding of these dollars is hurting our schools and creating unnecessary fiscal uncertainty for school districts. Any more delay in releasing appropriated funds causes real harm to school districts and school children.”

The payment issue also surfaced Wednesday on the Senate floor during the debate on HB 39, the Senate’s adopted version of the operating budget.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed what’s called an intent language amendment that calls for the Department of Early Education and Development to “immediately distribute the full amount.”

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, who also serves on the Senate Finance Committee, sponsored the amendment.

On the other side, Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, also a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he didn’t think the amendment was appropriate because of current litigation against the state.

Wilson also pointed out that Dunleavy has until June 30 to distribute the money throughout Alaska’s school districts.

During the brief debate, Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, declared potential conflict because the organization’s executive director. Sledge is Begich’s wife, but he was still permitted to vote on the amendment that passed, 16-4.

SB 39, which contains the repeal proposal, remains in the Senate Finance Committee and has not been scheduled for a hearing this week.

In an emailed statement, Dunleavy’s press secretary Matt Shuckerow wrote:
“Based on the desire to align expenditures and revenues, Governor Dunleavy has recommended and introduced legislation to cancel the $20 million FY19 supplemental appropriation for K-12 education. Should the Legislature choose not to act on the legislation, the appropriation will be distributed according to the law.”

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