State May Los Millions Over Ed Dept. Missteps

By CLAIRE STREMPLE
Alaska Beacon
    The state government risks losing millions of dollars in federal funding because it did not comply with requirements for pandemic relief funds, according to a letter from the United States Department of Education.
    The result is a federal “high risk” designation that could cost the state grant funding. Members of the Senate Majority caucus said the state could lose more than $400 million.
    “Without a plan and quick action, our local schools could be out additional federal resources, and the responsibility will fall onto the state coffers to fill the gap,” Senate President Gary Stevens said in a press release.
    What happened is this: The state was supposed to maintain its funding to districts that got federal relief dollars, but it shorted several school districts with students from low-income families in 2021 and 2022. That news was first reported by KTOO in Juneau.
    The state now owes the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Anchorage School District, Juneau Borough School District, and Fairbanks North Star Borough School Districts roughly $29 million.
    Last month, the federal education department gave the state 30 days to develop a plan to repay the districts. The state failed to do so, according to federal officials.
    To resolve the issue, Gov. Mike Dunleavy could request supplemental appropriations to be considered by the Legislature in the current session, they said.
    Alaska is the only state that has not met or produced a plan to meet the federal requirements to receive pandemic relief for its schools.
    Education Commissioner Deena Bishop could not be immediately reached for comment.
    Sen. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage and chair of the Senate Education Committee, said lawmakers were told by the state Education Department that it was working on a fix late last year.
    That committee will hold an emergency hearing next Wednesday afternoon with the Education Department to hear the state education department’s plan to have the designation removed.
    “Despite being assured by the department and commissioner that a resolution was in the works, the state has failed its duties,” Tobin said.

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