JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Thursday said he would veto an education bill passed by the Legislature if it simply increases public school funding and isn’t part of a broader package.
Instead, Dunleavy said he wants lawmakers to pass a package — like one supported by House Republicans — that includes provisions to establish more charter schools that give teachers bonuses and a funding boost for homeschooled students. Dunleavy made the comments in a brief interview with the Daily News after delivering an address to the Alaska Chamber of Commerce in Juneau.
“It just can’t be the BSA. It just can’t,” he said, referring to the Base Student Allocation, the state’s per-student funding formula.
”It should come as a package because we need all of that to improve education — including an increase in the BSA and including teacher recruitment and retention, including charter schools and homeschools,” said Dunleavy, a Republican.
The House Republican education package was set to be debated on Friday on the House floor, but the majority does not have enough votes to pass it on to the Senate. Anchorage Republican Rep. Craig Johnson on Thursday said he did not know when the bill would be heard next.
School administrators across Alaska say they are facing a budget crisis. The Base Student Allocation has not been substantially raised since 2017. Education advocates say a $350 million-per-year increase is needed to make up for losses from inflation.
The House Republican education measure currently has a $77 million increase to school formula funding, alongside $40 million in extra funding for Alaska’s 20,000 homeschool students, and teacher bonuses with higher amounts paid for teachers in rural parts of the state.
Since Alaska ranked at the top of a new state-by-state charter school assessment last year, Dunleavy has suggested establishing more charter schools could help Alaska’s bottom-of-the-nation assessment scores. At Thursday’s luncheon, Dunleavy said neighborhood schools would not be ignored with a BSA boost, but that “we crushed them in our charter schools scores.”
Dunleavy referred to the House Republicans’ education package as “our education omnibus bill” after he proposed several of its more contentious provisions, including allowing a statewide board he appoints to authorize new charter schools over concerns that would diminish local control.
The Republican-led House and the Senate bipartisan majority caucus have been sharply divided over how to address Alaska’s school funding crisis.
The Senate has wanted to increase school funding through the BSA. Last year the Senate passed legislation to raise the BSA by $680 at an annual cost of $175 million. House Republicans have said they want a comprehensive education bill that improves accountability and student outcomes.
Anchorage Democrat Sen. Bill Wielechowski on Thursday said without an increase to the BSA this year, Alaskans could expect “massive” teacher layoffs, programs cut, and discussions turning to school closures. He expressed concerns about the House’s measure but said he couldn’t comment until it advanced to the Senate.
“Hopefully we can come up with a win-win-win situation,” Wielechowski said about the need for compromise between the House, Senate and governor’s office. “I think that’s what we really need to aim for.”
The Democrat-dominated House minority caucus has largely been in lockstep with the bipartisan Senate majority, which on Monday expressed deep concerns over House Republicans’ education provisions they say have not been adequately vetted.
House Minority Leader Rep. Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, said he had “serious reservations” about the majority’s bill and said that a $175 million boost to school formula funding would be “woefully inadequate” after hearing from parents and teachers.
Two years ago, Dunleavy threatened to veto a proposed school funding increase unless it came with broader reforms. The Legislature weeks later narrowly passed the Alaska Reads Act — a wide-ranging reading bill — with a 0.5% permanent increase to the BSA.