Alaska Legislature

Veto threat unresolved as legislative leaders meet with Dunleavy on education priorities

JUNEAU — Alaska state legislators have started discussing a potential education deal to meet the governor’s ultimatum issued last week over school funding.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy last week threatened to veto an education package that overwhelmingly passed the Legislature unless lawmakers adopted some of his top education priorities. The governor, a Republican, said last week those priorities include teacher bonuses and measures to expand charter school access in Alaska.

Under state law, the governor has until March 14 to either sign or veto the bill or it will pass into law without his signature.

On Monday, legislative leaders met with Dunleavy in Juneau for a first conversation about his education priorities. But some lawmakers left concerned that the governor may veto school funding in the budget, regardless of whether a new agreement is reached.

The governor’s office said Dunleavy will be in Washington D.C., this week for a long-planned trip, but that he would be in continual contact with legislators.

“The plan, as far as I understand from leaving the meeting, was that we will continue to work during this week while the governor is away,” said House Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican.

Senate Bill 140, which passed the Legislature last week on a combined 56-3 vote, contains the largest nominal school funding boost in state history at a cost of $175 million per year. The bill also had a funding increase for home-schooled students and for a statewide coordinator position to help parents navigate the charter school application process.


Anchorage independent Rep. Calvin Schrage, the House minority leader, said Monday’s meeting saw a commitment to keep discussing a path forward to address Dunleavy’s education concerns, but no new agreements were reached.

“I continue to stand by the good work that we did with Senate Bill 140,” he continued to say. “I think it was a bipartisan success story that really meets the needs of Alaskans students — no matter where they are or what school they go to.”

Dunleavy said last week that legislators should pass a new set of education policies now, and discuss how to fund them later. Supporters of SB 140 have been concerned that Dunleavy could veto school funding in the budget, regardless of whether they approve the governor’s education priorities.

The Base Student Allocation — the state’s per-student funding formula — is used by school districts to write their budgets often months before the Legislature approves its budget. The governor said last Tuesday that there would be a “substantial” BSA, but he did not specify a figure he would support.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, on Friday said that a lack of funding certainty for school districts was a concern for him and could see progress grind to a halt on the governor’s priorities.

”Without that assurance that he’s not going to veto the budget, I’m unwilling to move any further on the education bill,” Stevens said.

The governor’s office did not respond Monday to questions from the Daily News whether Dunleavy would allow school funding to be distributed even if he was satisfied with an education deal; or whether the governor was prepared to use his line-item veto power to reduce the BSA in the budget.

Schrage said the threat of a potential education funding veto was not resolved in Monday’s meeting.

In a Monday hearing, the Senate Education Committee heard from school districts that have charter schools on how they are approved and managed.

Dunleavy has spoken repeatedly 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. The governor proposed for a statewide board he appoints to authorize new charter schools, but that did not have enough support to be included in the Legislature’s bipartisan education package.

Education advocates have been concerned that the governor’s proposed change could erode local control if charter schools are authorized over the objections of local districts — particularly if school districts then need to fund them.

Anchorage School Board president Margo Bellamy, echoing school administrators across the state, spoke in opposition to the governor’s proposed change and said the current approval system worked where school boards authorize new charter schools.

“To be quite honest, that baffles me,” she said about the governor’s proposed change.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Löki Tobin, co-chair of the Senate Education Committee, said Friday that there were some draft charter school proposals being discussed with the governor’s office, but none advanced on Monday from the Senate Education Committee.

A Wednesday hearing in the same committee will focus on Dunleavy’s $55 million teacher bonus proposal, which would be trialed over a three-year period.

Members of the Senate, in particular, have been concerned about the costs of Dunleavy’s teacher bonuses with state finances strained. The House rejected the governor’s teacher bonuses last month on a 20-20 vote.

It was unclear Monday if the Legislature had the will or desire to approve the governor’s education provisions, or if lawmakers would just try to override a potential veto of SB 140.


Two-thirds of lawmakers would need to vote in a joint session to override Dunleavy’s veto of an education package. It was also unclear Monday if there were 40 legislators who would support a veto override.

Tilton said she hoped lawmakers would come to an agreement because a veto override session was “never fun.” Tobin said, “I can’t speak for others, I’m working my butt off so that we get to an agreement at the end.”

A veto override is rare in Alaska. The Legislative Reference Library said the last time lawmakers successfully overturned a governor’s veto of legislation was in 2002 for an election-related bill.

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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