Education Equity in Alaska
As CEAAC, our organization advocated for education reform at the legislative level while also working for over a decade to address school inadequacies in rural Alaska through the courts, fighting and successfully settling the Kasayulie and Moore lawsuits in 2011 and 2012 respectively. These lawsuits focused on remedying unfair distribution of both physical (school buildings) and educational resources, so that all Alaska youth are provided a constitutionally protected right to an adequate education in Alaska. Following these settlements, our organization’s mission began to shift to include the development of innovative opportunities for success in rural and underserved schools while still protecting gains made through litigation.
In 1997, CEAAC, along with other plaintiffs, brought a suit against the State of Alaska regarding the method of funding capital projects for education. In 1999, Judge John Reese ruled that the state’s school construction practices were inequitable, unconstitutional, and racially discriminatory. In another aspect of the case, he ruled that the State of Alaska had breached its duty to the Alaska School Lands Trust. In 2010, CEAAC’s legislative allies won passage of SB 239, which directs funds for rural school construction and the following year, CEAAC and the State of Alaska reached a settlement in the historic Kasayulie lawsuit, jointly announced with Governor Sean Parnell on October 4, 2011. The Kasayulie Consent Decree and Settlement Agreement addressed the violations of law and provided remedies for these violations.
The Moore v. State of Alaska lawsuit, filed in 2004, challenged whether Alaska’s public education system was adequate under the Alaska Constitution. The multiple plaintiffs included rural school districts and CEAAC, (who carried on the litigation through the “compliance phase,” achieving positive rulings in 2009 and 2010, until settling with the State on January 26, 2012). In its initial 2007 ruling, the court defined four aspects of the state’s constitutional obligation for providing public education (see inset) and found the state to be remiss in providing assistance and oversight to the local school districts with failing schools. During the 2012 session, the Alaska legislature appropriated the mandated $18 million to improve educational outcomes for students.
Alaska State Constitutional Responsibility for Public Education
- Rational educational standards that set out what children should be expected to learn and that meet or exceed a constitutional floor of an “adequate knowledge base”
- An adequate assessment system
- Adequate funding for schools to provide instruction in the standards
- Adequate accountability and oversight by the state over individual school districts for the functions that have been given over to local control