Ketchikan brings school funding issue to Fairbanks

FAIRBANKS — Ketchikan officials, planning a major lawsuit over state funding of schools, argued their case for buy-in before the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough argues that the state’s requirement that municipalities contribute to school funding amounts to an unconstitutional tax and a shirking of the state’s constitutional mandate to pay for schools. Ketchikan officials, appearing before the assembly Thursday, said the requirement cost Fairbanks borough taxpayers more than $26 million this year, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

While the state provides a significant share of funding for each school district, it also requires that districts in municipalities — like the Fairbanks North Star and Ketchikan Gateway boroughs — contribute.

Ketchikan Borough manager Dan Bockhorst said the state simply doesn’t provide adequate funding to cover districts’ needs.

Bockhorst and Ketchikan Borough attorney Scott Brandt-Erichson explained the broad legal grounds of the planned lawsuit, including arguing that the required contribution is an unlawful dedicated state tax and that it bypasses the state appropriations process and circumvents the governor’s veto authority.

They said local boroughs would still be able to contribute to education if they are successful.

Brandt-Erichson said a lawsuit could take up to three years, and the outcome, if they’re successful, is unclear, though he said things will be more fair and equitable.

Fairbanks Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins said he will look to the assembly to approve additional action once a lawsuit is filed.

While the borough assembly had many questions for the Ketchikan officials, there was at least one supporter of the lawsuit.

Assemblywoman Diane Hutchison said the current situation results in borough residents being treated differently than residents in unincorporated areas.

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