Alaska Legislature

Alaska House and Senate sharply divided over school funding plans

JUNEAU — Alaska House Republicans and the bipartisan Senate majority are sharply divided over how to address school funding, as a contentious education package advances quickly for House debates.

In the House Rules Committee, Republicans advanced a bill to the floor on Saturday with a $300 increase to the Base Student Allocation — the state’s per-student funding formula — at a cost of nearly $80 million, alongside a substantial funding boost for homeschooled students and provisions for the state to establish more charter schools.

Veteran legislators said it was unusual to be on the verge of passing a major policy priority like education reform on to the governor’s desk within weeks of the Legislature convening, particularly with provisions that have not been heard by multiple legislative committees with input from Alaskans and stakeholders.

At a Tuesday news conference, Anchorage Republican Rep. Craig Johnson called a Monday letter sent by Senate leadership “cute” that complained about “significant unvetted policy changes” added to the bill. Johnson said that some legislators don’t want to talk about “long-term fixes” for education.

A major point of disagreement between the House and Senate is how to get more state funding into schools — and who should receive it.

The Senate has favored an increase to the BSA, which has not been significantly increased since 2017. Senate members have said the House’s plan “leaves schools woefully short-funded,” and expressed concerns over policy proposals they say would result in “a loss of local control” and “increased classroom sizes.”

Last year, the Senate passed a $680 boost to the $5,960 BSA at a cost of roughly $175 million, but the bill stalled in the House.


Senate majority members on Tuesday did not specify a BSA figure the caucus currently supports. Sen. Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, said an increase is needed because not all families can send their children to charter schools or educate them at home.

House Republicans, on the other hand, have framed their bill as a fiscally responsible and comprehensive education package that aims to improve accountability and Alaska students’ lagging reading and math assessment scores.

The House BSA increase would be the largest permanent education funding increase in more than a decade.

Johnson said that would be valuable for districts because it would be predictable, and that the $300 boost was one the House Republicans could “live with,” and “a number very close to what the governor can live with.”

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has not publicly stated a position on the BSA during the recent discussions. Dunleavy introduced the $58 million proposal for teacher bonuses, and the plan to give a statewide board that he appoints the power to authorize more charter schools.

The governor’s office did not respond to a list of questions about the size of a BSA boost Dunleavy could support or about his administration’s conversations with the House majority.

Revised estimates project the House package would cost upwards of $190 million per year, or the equivalent of a more than $700 BSA increase. Almost $40 million would be spent on more state funding for homeschooled students, according to newly released figures.

Another $40 million has been estimated in one-time costs as needed to increase internet speeds for eligible schools across Alaska. Together, the House Republicans’ education bill would cost roughly $230 million over the next fiscal year.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, said Tuesday that there are “genuine concerns” about those projected costs. Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman said the state’s fiscal situation is “tight” as the budget begins to be written.

The current plan is for the full House to debate amendments to the House’s education bill on Thursday before advancing it on to the Senate the next day, Johnson said.

After two non-Republican members of the majority signaled their opposition to elements of the package Monday, it remains unclear if it all the provisions — or the bill itself — will attract enough support to pass a narrowly divided House.

“I wish it would all pass,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I don’t have a magic wand.”

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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