Capitol Report August 11

UPDATE August 20, 2021
Gov. Mike Dunleavy added legislation to the call of the current special session on August 19  that will allow lawmakers to appropriate this year's Permanent Fund Dividend and restore funding for Alaska Performance Scholarships and the WWAMI School of Medical Education.

Aug. 11, 2021

As the August Special Session looms, legislators raise their voices to support the three-quarter vote on the “reverse sweep,” that funds college scholarships, grants, WWAMI

The Alaska Legislature will meet beginning Aug. 16 for a third special session. The governor’s list of items for legislative action includes the Permanent Fund Dividend and elements of the budget that did not meet the required vote threshold for approval during the last special session.  Many legislators are advocating that funding for college scholarships/grants and the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho (WWAMI) School of Medical Education program be addressed in this special session in the “reverse sweep.” 

The “reverse sweep” is a legislative action that requires a three-quarters vote of the House and Senate to assure money automatically moved into the Constitutional Reserve Fund (CBR) on June 30 from certain state funds is returned and available for its approved purpose. The Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund that is the source of funding for programs including the Alaska Performance Scholarship, the Alaska Education Grants, and WWAMI that trains Alaskan physicians, was a fund that was automatically moved to the CBR.  The “reverse sweep” restores the  Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund fund and protects these critically important student support programs. 

The university supports the reverse sweep noting that today's investment in Alaska's students, strengthens Alaska's future workforce. In placing priority on these programs, University of Alaska Interim President Pat Pitney announced July 1 that UA would delay receipt of payment from the state for Alaska Performance Scholarship and the Alaska Education Grant recipients at UA universities. The programs cost approximately $15 million annually.  

In her message, Pitney said that it’s important to provide students with the confidence that their scholarships and education grants will be funded so they can start this Fall (but underscored that this cannot be a sustained, long-term solution and it is the state’s responsibility to ensure the longevity and success of student scholarships and grants). In addition the legislative action would include support for the WWAMI program. Failure to fund the scholarships/grants impacts all Alaska business ability to hire Alaskans and failure to fund WWAMI would seriously impact the number of Alaskans able to pursue medical school and thus sending healthcare costs even higher for all Alaskans.

All are encouraged to raise their voice in support of the reverse sweep by contacting your local legislator. We encourage those that have benefited from this important funding to tell their story.   

Here are a few points that can be shared:  

  • This important funding, including scholarships and grants to our young Alaskans, will make a big difference in peoples’ lives.

  • The Alaska Performance Scholarship and Alaska Education Grant are both funded through the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund. Both are currently at risk without a vote on the reverse sweep. 

  • The fund currently holds $15.1 million in scholarships and grants that were promised to 5,487 Alaskan students from communities across the state – 86 percent of whom are attending one of Alaska’s three universities. 

  • In 2019, 81 percent of scholarship recipients surveyed said that APS influenced their decision to attend college in Alaska, and 93 percent would recommend the APS to current high school students.

  • Recipients represent all regions of the state, as well as diverse racial and ethnic groups, and educational backgrounds. 

  • Approval of these funds protects the Alaska students in the collaborative medical school program jointly administered by UAA and the University of Washington. WWAMI is a highly successful program and a principal source of physicians in Alaska.

  • WWAMI academics/college-of-health/ departments/wwami/ is in its 45th year of educating Alaska physicians, and Alaskans who finish the WWAMI program return to Alaska to practice medicine. 

Public participation is so important. The legislative investment made today, in our students, strengthens Alaska’s future workforce and economic stability.  

Senators and representatives’ contact information can be found here:  Alaska Legislature’s homepage.