Alaska Legislature

Alaska House Republican education package stalls as closed-door negotiations continue

JUNEAU — Alaska House Republicans’ plan to quickly pass a contentious education package has stalled after failing to garner enough support among majority members to advance the bill to the Senate.

Senate Bill 140 was introduced last year as a one-page measure to increase internet speeds for eligible schools. In the first week of this year’s legislative session, House Republicans added $58 million in bonuses for teachers, roughly $40 million in extra funding for homeschooled students, and plans for more charter schools — all provisions proposed by Republican Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Education advocates have strongly opposed the $77 million annual funding increase included in the package to the state’s per-student funding formula, known as the BSA. After more than six years of virtually flat funding, school administrators have said $350 million in extra state spending is needed each year for schools to make up for losses from inflation.

The education package was stacked with Republican-backed provisions in the House Rules Committee, which is typically only tasked with scheduling when legislation is heard on the House floor.

House Republicans had planned to debate and swiftly advance the package to the Senate last week. But in a narrowly divided legislative chamber with sharp ideological divides, the GOP-led House majority does not have the minimum of 21 votes needed to approve the bill.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Craig Johnson, chair of the House Rules Committee, said Monday that he thought progress was being made in discussions behind closed doors to get enough votes.

“I think that we’re not talking weeks, we’re talking days,” he said about when the education bill would be before the full House for amendment debates and a final vote.


The package has not been scheduled on Wednesday for House floor debates — the next chance for House members to meet and consider the package.

There has been some discussion among House members about raising the proposed BSA increase to get more support, but that is not certain and could risk losing support from other lawmakers who back the current plan. Legislators are also facing a potentially tight budget environment with other expensive priorities to consider.

Complicating matters is that a handful of House Republicans are expected to face tough reelection bids in November with education expected to be a top issue. Several House Republicans declined to comment on Tuesday on the education bill as closed-door negotiations continue.

Soldotna Republican Rep. Justin Ruffridge, co-chair of the House Education Committee, proposed a $175 million permanent increase last year for school funding, which equated to a $680 BSA boost and matched the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s projected deficit.

Ruffridge on Tuesday said he didn’t know what was happening with the education bill as members of House leadership negotiate a compromise.

“I’m waiting — it’s not up to me,” he said, chuckling.

Rep. Julie Coulombe, an Anchorage Republican, said there was a lot she likes about the House bill that currently contains a $300 boost to the $5,960 BSA, but she didn’t know how it would “shake out” during floor debates.

After delivering an address last week to the Alaska Chamber of Commerce, Dunleavy told the Daily News that he would veto a standalone bill that simply increases school funding and isn’t part of a broader package.

Johnson said Monday that he thought the proposed $77 million school funding increase was already “a compromise” for Dunleavy, but that the other provisions would help make the package more “palatable” to the governor.

During Thursday’s address, Dunleavy said neighborhood schools would get extra funding. But he said that bonuses would help with the recruitment and retention of teachers, and new charter schools could help improve student outcomes after Alaska ranked at the top last year of a state-by-state charter school assessment.

“When people ask me, ‘Why is Dunleavy trying to get teachers more money?’ Or, ‘Dunleavy is trying to approve charter schools’ … I’m going to go with what’s a winner,” he said last Thursday.

Education advocates have expressed concern that local control would be diminished by Dunleavy’s plans for a statewide board that he appoints to authorize new charter schools. Education Commissioner Deena Bishop last week was unable to answer whether local school boards would need to cover the cost of students who attend new charter schools.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office declined on Tuesday to answer what the maximum BSA increase Dunleavy could support is, or what measures were essential for him in an education package.

On Monday, Dunleavy postponed his sixth annual address to the Legislature by one day after weather-related flight delays caused the heads of state departments and some of the governor’s guests to arrive late into Juneau.

Around 100 education advocates, parents and teachers rallied on the state Capitol steps regardless Monday evening to chants of “Raise the BSA!” At least a dozen lawmakers joined the rally and spoke in support of increasing school funding to protect popular programs from being cut and prevent teacher layoffs.

Rep. CJ McCormick, a Bethel Democrat, was the only House majority member who attended the rally. He did not respond to a request for comment on the education package Tuesday, but last week said he supported a $350 million annual increase to school funding.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent and member of the House majority, said last week he was “not optimistic” that an education bill would pass this year after the education bill was packed by members of his caucus with unvetted Republican priorities. Edgmon did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.


There are only 20 GOP members in the 23-member House majority. Without support from at least one of the three non-Republican majority members, Republicans would need support from one of the 17 members of the chamber who are not in the majority.

“What’s most important is that we do no harm,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent, on Tuesday. “So we will not accept usurpation of local control — or erosion of local control — and we will fight for the highest BSA number that we can.”

Far-right Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman, who doesn’t sit with either caucus, said last Thursday that he could “possibly” back the House education bill, but he had amendments to propose.

If the House gets enough votes to advance the education package to the Senate, a conference committee would typically be tasked with members of leadership negotiating a compromise between the two legislative chambers — that way a single bill can pass onto the governor’s desk.

Senate members accused House Republicans last week of rushing unvetted policies through the legislative process.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski said Tuesday that the hope for the bipartisan Senate majority is to negotiate a compromise deal with the House and the governor. But Wielechowski said that the House majority caucus had some “issues” that they’re dealing with.

“We haven’t really started discussions,” he said at a Tuesday media conference. “I wouldn’t say it’s very close at this point.”

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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