Dunleavy announces that Alaska college scholarships, medical students will receive funding

A large outdoor sign says UAA, University of Alaska Anchorage.
The University of Alaska Anchorage, where the state’s WWAMI medical education program is based. The governor announced WWAMI and 17 other programs would be funded this year. (Photo by Jimmy Emerson)

Alaska’s medical education program and scholarships to attend college will be funded this year, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said on Wednesday.

Dunleavy said he ordered his Office of Management and Budget to release funding for the WWAMI medical education program plus 17 other programs.

Kathryne Mitchell, a second-year WWAMI student, welcomed the news.

“We’re very excited that the funding for our program is secure for this year,” Mitchell said.

Without WWAMI, Mitchell would have to take on an extra $120,000 for four years of medical school — plus student loan interest. She wants Dunleavy and the Legislature to secure long-term funding for the program.

“When this battle for funding for WWAMI comes up every year, we lose students — students who will go on to become excellent physicians,” she said. “We lose them and they go train in other programs, where there’s more certainty as to funding. And then we don’t get them back as physicians in Alaska.”

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Mitchell is originally from North Pole and wants to practice family medicine in rural Alaska. She said WWAMI benefits the whole state.

“For Alaska, it’s really, really important that we train home-grown students to become physicians here, because they’re the physicians that are going to stay,” she said.

Dunleavy’s announcement on Wednesday allows more than $42.8 million to be spent on WWAMI and other programs that include funding to attend college through both $11.8 million in Alaska Performance Scholarships and $6.4 million in Alaska Education Grants. Oil spill prevention also received $3 million in additional funding.

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WWAMI received $3.3 million. Reimbursements to municipalities to pay off their debt to build schools got $4.2 million.

Dunleavy’s administration previously said that these programs could not be funded without the agreement of three-quarters of both chambers of the Legislature.

But Dunleavy said on Wednesday that his administration reviewed the funding after a recent decision by a Superior Court judge. And the review led him to OK the spending.

That judge’s decision said that money in the Power Cost Equalization Endowment Fund was not subject to the three-quarters vote.

The administration said these programs received funding for this year’s budget before the money in the accounts used to fund them was swept into the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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