Alaska education commissioner says she no longer supports boost to school funding formula

When Deena Bishop served as Anchorage School District superintendent, she called for boosting the formula that’s used to calculate state funding for Alaska’s public schools. In opinion pieces, testimony before the Legislature, interviews and budget documents, she repeatedly said that the funding must be increased to keep up with inflation.

But now, Bishop — who ended her six-year tenure as Anchorage schools superintendent in 2022 and was selected in August to lead Alaska’s education department — said her view on raising the Base Student Allocation, or BSA, has changed.

“There’s only so much money in our state. Already, the budget is at capacity, and every time that we increase one area of our budget, there’s an opportunity cost in others,” Bishop said in an interview Tuesday, days after Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced a budget draft that leaves the BSA — which hasn’t seen a significant increase since 2017 — unchanged.

Bishop’s opposition to such a BSA increase is in line with the governor’s view. Dunleavy, an educator-turned-politician, early in his tenure called for cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from the public education budget and this year vetoed more than $87 million in education funding approved by the Legislature.

But Bishop’s position is out of step with that of her successor, Anchorage Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt, along with organizations representing the state’s school boards, school administrators and teachers.

All have named increasing the BSA as their top legislative priority for the session that is set to begin in January. The organizations have said that without a boost to the formula, education priorities — including improving the state’s reading scores — would be harder to achieve.

[Gov. Dunleavy wants to make an experimental public reading academy permanent]


Tom Klaameyer, president of a union representing over 10,000 Alaska educators, said in a statement last week that Dunleavy’s budget proposal “represents the continued undermining of our schools and classrooms which are already struggling after years of flat funding.”

“There is a minimum that we need in education to move education forward,” Bishop said Tuesday. Beyond that, Bishop said she supports more targeted funding — for things like teacher pay and reading tutors — rather than boosting the formula that is used to calculate the amount of state funding given to each public school. That funding block covers a wide array of expenses, including paying teachers and keeping buildings warm.

Dunleavy last year proposed a bill that would pay teachers annual bonuses between $5,000 and $15,000, depending whether the school is rural or urban. The bill would cost less than $20 million per year, far less than a proposal by lawmakers last year to increase education funding by roughly $346 million annually — a figure that some lawmakers said was needed to adjust for inflation in the years since funding was last adjusted to account for rising costs.

“The places and states where they actually funded the individual pieces that are high quality is where the outcomes came. It wasn’t a blanket ‘let’s change the BSA,’ which is the ask of the Anchorage School District,” Bishop said. “It was, ‘Let’s increase professional development for teachers. Let’s increase tutors in schools.’”

The Anchorage School District called this year for increasing the BSA from $5,960 to $7,615, which would cost the state more than $425 million per year.

Asked if she supported any increase to the BSA, Bishop said she’d first “have to research again where the other inputs are going.”

Education advocates have said that directed funding for teacher bonuses would not solve ongoing budget challenges because they would do nothing to address rising fixed costs related to building maintenance.

Bishop said districts should considering closing buildings in response to declining student enrollment.

“It is expensive to close a school, but that’s what’s needed,” said Bishop, who touted her move to close two Anchorage in schools during her tenure as superintendent.

“Closing down a school that someone loved for generations is difficult, but those difficult realities face us and we have to make them so that we’re spending the money on the student learning, not just taking care of a facility,” said Bishop.

The Anchorage School District agreed to close an elementary school last year, and could consider additional closures next year, according to district officials. But Bryantt — the current superintendent — said earlier this year that school closures would not lead to significant savings, and are driven more by declining enrollment than a response to the budget deficit.

[Anchorage School District seeks community input on how to balance next year’s budget]

Bishop presented the Dunleavy administration’s education-related priorities at an Anchorage Rotary Club event Tuesday. The priorities include improving Alaska students’ reading performance, advancing policy for schools run by tribes, improving teacher retention and recruitment, and improving career and technical education options.

The priorities also include promoting a “parental rights” bill proposed by Dunleavy earlier this year that would limit LGBTQ+-related instruction in Alaska schools. That bill was broadly opposed by lawmakers in the previous legislative session.

Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at