Among the Legislature’s first orders of business: Deciding whether to reinstate $87M to Alaska’s education budget

When the Alaska Legislature convenes in Juneau on Tuesday, one of its first orders of business could be considering whether to overturn the governor’s veto of $87 million in education funding.

Legislators approved a one-time funding boost of around $175 million to public education last year, but Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed half that amount. Lawmakers have five days from the convening of the legislative session to overturn the veto.

Dunleavy, a Republican, announced the veto in a June news release, a month after the Legislature had passed the budget. The governor did not provide an explanation for the veto at the time. Asked about it in August, Dunleavy said he made the cut because “many districts have a fund balance currently” from leftover federal pandemic relief aid. Districts have repeatedly said that money is already committed and cannot be used to cover ongoing needs such as teacher and staff salaries.

Alaska has one of the highest bars in the nation for overturning a governor’s veto — three-quarters of lawmakers would have to vote in favor of the override, and lawmakers admit the likelihood of that is low, despite what educators across the state say is a crisis level of funding for public schools.

A rally calling for a permanent increase to school funding drew hundreds of educators and advocates to downtown Anchorage on Saturday.

“Inside the formula!” chanted a crowd clad in red hats and scarves.

“If it’s outside the formula, we all know what happens there. You have a job one year, and you don’t know if you have one the next. That’s no way to run a school. Hell, it’s no way to run a state,” said Joelle Hall, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor organization.


The question of a permanent increase to school funding looks to be one of the central issues facing lawmakers in the coming session, and it could come up sooner than expected. In last year’s session, lawmakers adjourned before voting on a school funding bill that appeared close to passing.

“We are on the 5-yard line,” said Hall, asking crowd members to reach out to reluctant lawmakers and urge them to approve that bill early in the session.

Tom Klaameyer, president of NEA-Alaska, called for lawmakers to approve that bill — which would increase school funding by $175 million per year moving forward —in the first five days of the session, the same timeframe they would have for overriding the veto.

Some legislators say they would rather focus on the permanent increase than overturn the governor’s veto. Others, though, say that bringing the override question to a vote is a priority, even if the likelihood of it passing is slim.

“There’s a five-day window period of time where somebody could potentially make that motion, but if the numbers aren’t there to override the veto, then going into a joint session would be going through the motions of putting people on record,” House Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican, said in an interview earlier this week.

House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent, said members of his caucus “certainly plan to attempt to override the veto.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be any surprise to folks. What I think might be surprising is the number of legislators who have come around to support education,” said Schrage.

To override a governor’s veto, lawmakers must first agree to call a joint session, which requires a simple majority in both the House and Senate. If lawmakers succeed in calling a joint session, they will then have the opportunity to vote on whether to override Dunleavy’s veto.

“There’s a million and one things that can happen when you go to the floor, and you need to be prepared for all of them. So we’ll be prepared and we’ll see what comes out of the floor session,” said Tilton. “We don’t want people to go in and be surprised, so we’ll talk about some scenarios.”

Senate President Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, said he thinks “it’s a good idea” to override the governor’s veto, but acknowledged the three-quarters threshold is “a higher number to achieve.”

“I think every district has gone through a lot of difficulty, and that means all legislators are hearing from their districts,” he said.

Senate Bill 140

The ongoing effort to increase education funding is meant to address the lack of significant increases since 2017.

The state’s education funding is calculated primarily using a formula called the Base Student Allocation, or the BSA. The BSA was raised to $5,960 per student in the current fiscal year, but only by $30. It had remained at $5,930 since 2017. That figure is then used, taking into account the number of students in each district, the portion of students with special needs and other factors, to calculate the amount of money allotted by the state to each of the 54 districts.

“Raise the BSA” has become a rallying cry for educators and public school advocates from across the state who have watched with concern as it has become more difficult to attract and keep teachers in Alaska, as class sizes have grown, and as the rising fixed costs of building maintenance have eaten into budgets for arts and sports programs.

“It’s not OK that my third grader, Blake, is one of 33 in his classroom,” said Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican and schoolteacher who attended the Anchorage rally. “Lower class sizes mean that kids learn more.”

Some education advocates from across the state say that to account for inflation, they need an increase of $1,400 — boosting the BSA to over $7,300 — which would translate to more than $350 million in additional state spending on education per year.

Without such a boost — supported by the Anchorage School District and Anchorage Assembly along with groups representing districts and teachers elsewhere — advocates say the effects of flat funding could be further increasing class sizes, cutting special programs and classes, and closing schools.


Last year, the Senate passed a BSA increase of $680, which would translate to around $175 million in additional annual spending on education. But House Republicans balked at the proposal, questioning whether districts needed the sums they were requesting. After the session ended, the state collected additional information on the funds that Alaska school districts already had. That information was released last month. Tilton said earlier this week she hadn’t looked at it yet.

Because that bill has already passed the Senate and been referred to the House Finance Committee, House members could take up the bill as is.

There is another possibility for immediate action. In the chaotic final moments of the last legislative session, a Senate bill related to funding for school internet access was amended to include a BSA increase provision.

An unusual House Rules Committee hearing has been scheduled for the second day of the session to discuss that measure, Senate Bill 140. In that committee, led by Anchorage Republican Rep. Craig Johnson, the bill could be amended to strip the BSA provision, but it remains to be seen how House Republicans will handle it.

At the Anchorage rally Saturday, lawmakers and union leaders repeatedly suggested that pressure on Johnson and other reticent Republicans could compel the House to take a final vote on the internet bill early in the session, thus securing the $680 BSA increase.

“I want you to tell everyone who will listen — encourage them — contact members of the House of Representatives, tell them to pass a BSA increase when session starts inside of Senate Bill 140. We can do it and we can do it together,” Bjorkman told the crowd Saturday, eliciting cheers.

In a brief interview Friday, Johnson said the caucus planned to meet again over the weekend to discuss what to do with education funding measures. He said the Republican-led majority would want to deal with education early in the session and then move to talking about other issues like energy and the Permanent Fund dividend.

“Education is a very important issue for us. It’s a priority,” Johnson said.


[Alaska lawmakers prefile bills ranging from more Cook Inlet gas to studying psychedelic medicines]

‘The highest amount’

The board of directors of the Association of Alaska School Boards met Jan. 4 and agreed to recommend a BSA increase of $1,413 — more than double what was adopted by the Senate last year. That number, according to the association, is “needed to account for lost value due to inflation since 2017,” using the consumer price index for Alaska urban communities.

Tilton said that based on recent House majority caucus discussions, there is support generally for boosting education funding — but no agreement on how or how much.

“I don’t believe that there’s anybody who doesn’t feel like maybe a modest increase might be warranted to keep up with inflation, but there’s all these other aspects of education that we want to look at as well,” said Tilton. “We haven’t come to ‘this is the number of what we think it should look like,’ but we will continue to have that conversation.”

Tilton said she supports a BSA increase that is “lower than what the Senate has put forward.”

Schrage said he “will fight for the highest amount that we can.”

Stevens said the Senate majority wouldn’t have an answer on the size of BSA increase the caucus could support “until we get to actually passing a budget.”

Critics of a larger increase to the BSA say that boosting funding for schools will not necessarily address poor outcomes for Alaska students, who consistently rank at the bottom of the nation in reading and math performance.

“Schools have been impacted by inflation and health care costs and the national teacher shortage — that is very true — but we also have to face the fact that our students’ achievement outcomes are very poor,” said Sen. Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican who is one of only three Senate members excluded from the majority caucus.

Lawmakers who support the funding boost say it is needed precisely because of poor student achievement.

“When we fund our schools appropriately, there are some things we can do. How do you think we should go about increasing our graduation rate?” asked Rep. Rebecca Himschoot, a Sitka independent and school teacher who attended the rally.

“Raise the BSA!” the crowd roared in response.


Despite educators’ focus on increasing funding, Dunleavy has indicated he will support legislation related to other aspects of education, including homeschooling, charter schools and teacher bonuses.

Alaska education commissioner Deena Bishop spoke in favor of boosting funding in her previous role as Anchorage School District superintendent. But since leaving that role in 2022 and becoming commissioner under Dunleavy last year, Bishop has said her view on the BSA has changed. In an interview last month, Bishop said the state budget “is at capacity.”

Some education advocates have said that by deciding year after year against adjusting the formula to account for inflation, the state is violating its constitutional obligation to maintain the state’s public schools.

Caroline Storm, executive director of the Coalition for Education Equity of Alaska, said the education advocacy group is preparing to file a lawsuit to challenge the adequacy of Alaska school funding — if “meaningful action” is not taken by lawmakers within the first couple of months of the legislative session.

The nonprofit has sued the state in the past over school funding, reaching the landmark Kasayulie and Moore settlements with the state in 2011 and 2012, after yearslong battles in court.

“I know that superintendents, teachers are just exhausted. They’re exhausted that every year they have to beg for money just to teach our kids — and it’s not fair,” said Storm.

Iris Samuels reported from Anchorage and Sean Maguire reported from Juneau.

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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

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