State seeks dismissal of school funding suit brought by parents, school groups

Attorney general's office says funding is political, not a matter that falls under the jurisdiction of courts

Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Parents and school groups have no business suing over the amount of money the Legislature gives schools, an assistant attorney general said Tuesday.

Neil Slotnick said the question of school funding is political, not the realm of courts. Alaskans have recourse at the ballot box and at state and local board of education meetings if they are unhappy with how much the state spends.

"These are not, however, proper issues for the courts," Slotnick said.

The state is seeking to dismiss Moore v. Alaska, a lawsuit that contends Alaska children are not getting the education guaranteed by the Alaska Constitution.

The lawsuit, filed in August, asks the court to order a cost analysis of the price of a constitutionally adequate education - and then to pay for it.

The lawsuit contends the state has set academic standards but does not give schools enough money to meet them. Plaintiffs say inadequate state funding harms some of Alaska's 130,000 students more than others, violating equal rights and due process clauses in the constitution.

Kristin Moore, the first plaintiff listed in the lawsuit, is a parent in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Besides other parents, the plaintiffs include the NEA-Alaska, the 12,000-member teachers union; the Yupiit, Kuspuk and Bering Strait school districts; and Citizens for the Educational Advancement of Alaska's Children, a plaintiff in the Kasayulie lawsuit in which the state was sued over the Legislature's refusal to pay for upgrades of schools in rural areas.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason said she would take the matter under advisement and rule later.

Slotnick repeatedly cited the Alaska Constitution in arguing that the lawsuit should be dismissed.

In a section on individual rights, where the judiciary should properly intervene, education is not mentioned, Slotnick said. But in the health, education and welfare section, he said, decisions are clearly placed in the hands of legislators and the constitution does not specify standards to meet.

He also noted the Molly Hootch case, the mid-1970s lawsuit that prompted Alaska to build more rural secondary schools. In that case, Slotnick said, students systematically were not using regional boarding schools or correspondence classes. Alaska courts did not take up the question of the quality of the education offered, as is requested in the current case.

He said Alaska spends $1.4 billion on public schools and their quality is a matter to be decided by elected officials.

Gleason asked whether the courts could intervene if the Legislature decided Alaska's education obligation could be fulfilled by home schooling and a $500 grant for every student.

Slotnick said the scenario was not valid and was almost unimaginable because legislators historically have made education a high priority in election campaigns.

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