Alaska Legislature

Alaska House passes bipartisan education bill with historic boost in school funding

JUNEAU — The Alaska House on Thursday night overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan education agreement with a historic increase in public school funding.

The Senate is expected to concur with the measure, which would then send it to Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s desk for his consideration. The package is estimated to cost more than $200 million in additional spending per year.

The vote in the House was 38-2 in favor of the bill. Only Republican Reps. Mike Prax and David Eastman voted no.

The package includes the largest nominal increase to school formula funding in state history, extra funding for home-schooled students, and provisions intended to support parents navigating the charter school application process.

The $175 million increase to school formula funding equates to a $680 boost to the Base Student Allocation, the state’s per-student funding formula. Education advocates have said a funding increase twice that size is needed as school funding in Alaska has not been substantially boosted since 2017.

The education package also includes roughly $14.5 million in extra funding for home-schooled students; provisions to boost internet speeds for eligible schools; and $10 million to help students struggling with reading after education advocates last year said a wide-ranging reading bill passed two years ago was underfunded.

“We came together on an agreement that we could get to. It doesn’t have everything that I wanted in it at all,” House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said after Thursday night’s vote, adding that the BSA boost was larger than she would have wanted.


After the final vote, lawmakers across the political spectrum hugged one another on the House floor and shook hands with teachers and education advocates watching in the public galleries.

“I think this is something that really works for Alaskans across the state,” said Anchorage independent Rep. Calvin Schrage, the House minority leader, after leaving the House chamber.

The House earlier in the week twice rejected a sweeping education package from being debated on the House floor on 20-20 votes. The two failed procedural votes stripped out provisions backed by Dunleavy for a statewide board he appoints to authorize charter schools and $58 million in teacher bonuses.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the bipartisan education package that passed the House. Members of House and Senate leadership said they did not know if Dunleavy would support the bill.

The governor could veto the entire education package or use his line-item veto power to reduce school funding in the budget.

After days of closed-door meetings, the bipartisan education deal came together over a day of negotiations before being debated on the House floor Thursday evening. Several legislators said it was an “ugly process” to forge a deal, but applauded the result.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Craig Johnson said before the final vote that “very seldom do you get everything what you want,” but he said he supported passing the bill early in the legislative session because it would give school districts time to plan their budgets for the next fiscal year.

Juneau Democratic Rep. Sara Hannan, a former teacher, said that she supported the bill but that the school funding boost was inadequate, adding, “In the best-case scenario, we close only a couple schools.”

Across the state, education advocates have said that without a substantial school funding boost this year, class sizes would increase; popular school programs would be cut; and teacher positions would be eliminated.

Members of the bipartisan Senate majority caucus were involved in the negotiations to forge a compromise deal and watched the final vote.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said he felt a “giant wave of relief” going through the Legislature and the state of Alaska after the education bill passed the House.

“I don’t think anybody loves the deal, but I think there’s enough in it for everybody to walk away and feel like they got something out of it,” Wielechowski said, adding that there were wins in the bill for House and Senate members and the governor.

Dunleavy earlier in the month spoke passionately about teacher bonuses as a way to improve recruitment and retention of teachers despite advice from the Legislature’s attorneys that those bonuses could violate collective bargaining agreements.

The bipartisan education package includes nonbinding intent language that a portion of additional school funding shall be directed to providing educators salary and retention bonuses.

The governor also spoke at length at a media conference in support of charter schools after a study that has since fallen under closer scrutiny found Alaska’s charter schools were No. 1 in the nation.

A compromise charter school provision in the House bill would establish a statewide coordinator to help Alaskans navigate the charter school application process.

If a charter school has its charter revoked by a local school district, there would be an appeals process to the state education commissioner. That change comes after Family Partnership Charter School had its charter revoked last year by the Anchorage School Board.


Lawmakers have been racing to pass an education bill by the end of the month so eligible schools can apply for grants to increase their internet download speeds. School districts need to submit applications for those grants by Feb. 28 or they could miss out on substantial funding over the fiscal year that starts in July.

The roughly $200 million education package has already been factored into the Senate’s budget-making process, Wielechowski said. The Senate is expected to pass the bipartisan education measure to the governor early next week.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at