The Arctic Sounder

Utqiaġvik students among hundreds participating in statewide walkout protesting flat school funding and education bill veto

About 20 Barrow High School students joined hundreds of high schoolers across Alaska who participated in an organized walkout Thursday in protest of the state Legislature’s recent failure to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of an education bill. The bill would have included a historic increase in funding for the state’s schools.

Despite single-digit temperatures, the students in Utqiaġvik gathered outside school around 11 a.m. holding posters with slogans such as “Fund the future” and “Our education matters,” said Magdelina Stringer, a Barrow High School student.

Similar protests — all organized by students with the Alaska Association of Student Government Executive Board — took place across the state, in communities including Anchorage, Sitka, Juneau and Bethel.

“We knew we wanted to do something. We knew that students across the state were really passionate about the BSA, or the lack of funding being put into our education,” said Stringer, who’s also a region representative on the student government association’s board.

She said increasing education funding would allow her school district to plan its budget, retain teachers, provide instructional and art materials and maintain a cultural curriculum.

“It would really help a lot, especially with our cultural programs,” Stringer said. “No senior in Alaska has seen a fully funded school, because the BSA hasn’t been increased to match inflation since 2012, and at that time, we were kindergartners,” she said.

Felix Myers, a senior at Sitka High School, said the recent veto of Senate Bill 140, which included the largest boost to public school funding in state history, prompted the walkout. The Base Student Allocation, the state’s per-pupil funding formula, has remained virtually unchanged since 2017.


Myers said the walkouts were organized by students, with no adult or teacher involvement.

“I realized the words and the things that students had been saying and communicating to legislators wasn’t enough,” Myers said. “And I knew that at that point, there’s not much we can try to do other than take some action. Because it seems like action might speak louder than words.”

Outside Eagle River High School in the Anchorage School District, more than 100 students — many wearing red and waving signs — stood outside in the blustering snow for nearly a whole class period chanting “Fund our education!” and “Save our arts, save our sports!”

Eagle River senior Caitlin Corbett, 17, said she was worried most about the future impacts of flat funding, and said she has already noticed an uptick in class sizes since her freshman year.

“I want people to learn about SB 140, and why it was vetoed by Gov. Dunleavy. And just know that students care and want to see a change. Because it’s our education,” she said.

Also in Anchorage on Thursday, about 125 students participated in a protest outside Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School. The group filled the corners and medians at the intersection of Northern Lights Boulevard and Bragaw Street, some holding signs and others chanting.

East High senior Dorothy Armstrong, 17, said she found out about the protest a day earlier while scrolling through Instagram.

”I wanted to be a part of this because I have younger siblings, and our education system is failing us. Some of my favorite teachers left last year because of the way our district and government is treating our teachers, and they are the most important workers out there,” she said.

A spokesman with the Anchorage School District said staff were aware of the planned walkout, and that classes proceeded as usual. The district did not advocate for students to participate, but staff was present “to ensure student safety while they exercise their right to peacefully assemble,” district spokesman Corey Allen Young said in a statement.

In Juneau, around 100 students from Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé marched up the hill to the state Capitol, chanting “Raise the BSA” and “Fund our future.” A number of legislators who support a BSA increase joined to support them.

Seventeen-year-olds Rachel Wood and Meadow Stanley, both seniors and members of JDHS student government, said it was frustrating watching the veto override effort fall one vote short last month.

”We’re always told every vote matters and every vote does matter. And we were missing one,” Wood said.

”A lot of our representatives did not step up to the plate and go to bat for us,” Stanley said.

The students flooded the Capitol, walking up the central staircase to each floor chanting loudly. They rallied outside the governor’s office on the third floor, and gathered quietly during a House Finance Committee hearing on Cook Inlet gas.

After the hearing finished, a group of students spoke to Anchorage Republican Rep. Julie Coulombe about why she voted to sustain the governor’s veto. Coulombe said she supported a permanent education funding increase, but she was concerned the governor would veto school funding from the budget.

A House Republican education bill was scheduled for a second hearing. It has many of the same elements from the vetoed bill, but it includes contentious provisions supported by Dunleavy to expand charter school access. Despite hope fading among legislators that a permanent school funding increase would be approved this year, Coulombe said there was still time for the Legislature to act.

”There’s hope, guys, there’s hope,” she said to around 20 students.


In a prepared statement, the governor’s office on Thursday said Dunleavy “supports and encourages all Alaskans to exercise their First Amendment rights,” and “has said numerous times he supports a BSA increase, but that money alone will not improve Alaska’s educational outcomes. Our public schools need educational reform legislation.”

Dunleavy has said he vetoed SB140 because it didn’t include some of his priorities, including provisions aimed at encouraging more charter schools. The governor’s office in its statement reiterated Dunleavy’s support for charter schools and the fact that there are waiting lists to enter them. The statement also referred to Alaska’s charter schools as “best in the nation” — the governor has repeatedly cited a Harvard study that ranked Alaska’s charter schools No. 1 in the nation, though the study has drawn skepticism from lawmakers and some local school leaders.

“Those students and their parents can see the advantages charter schools provide,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “There is no greater form of local control than giving parents more options for their children’s education.”

In Sitka, Myers said that he helped organize the protest in part because he had seen firsthand the impacts of flat funding in his school.

“What I see with the BSA increase is not the adding of new things, it’s the hanging-on-by-a-thread to things we do have,” Myers said, adding that his district risks losing many of its teachers, programs and activities without a funding increase.

Both he and Stringer in Utqiaġvik viewed the walkout as an opportunity for students to make their voices heard on an issue that is affecting them.

“Since students from literally the entire state have been walking out, we really hope that this just shows a message that we as students really do care about our education, and we see that we need more funding,” Stringer said. “We hope that this sends a very strong message to the governor and the legislators and show them how important our BSA increase would be.”

Daily News reporter Sean Maguire contributed from Juneau. Photojournalists Marc Lester and Bill Roth contributed from Anchorage.

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.