Alaska Legislature

Alaska Gov. Dunleavy vetoes bipartisan education bill

This story has been updated with additional context and reaction.

JUNEAU — Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Thursday night vetoed a bipartisan education bill that contained the largest nominal school funding increase in state history.

“While I support the basic idea of education funding reform, this bill fails to address the innovations necessary to allow Alaskan students to excel,” Dunleavy said in his veto statement.

The veto came just hours before a midnight deadline to veto the bill, and after days of speculation about how the governor would act on a measure that was billed as a compromise between progressive lawmakers — who sought a larger funding increase than what was eventually included in the bill — and more conservative legislators.

Senate Bill 140 overwhelmingly passed the Legislature last month. At a Feb. 27 news conference, Dunleavy said he would veto the bill within two weeks if lawmakers did not commit to advancing the governor’s education priorities. Those included plans to increase the number of charter schools in Alaska and a three-year teacher bonus program at an estimated cost of roughly $180 million.

“SB 140 lacked sufficient changes in how charter schools are chartered in order to allow more students and families charter school possibilities,” Dunleavy said in an email sent around 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

But lawmakers have raised concerns about Dunleavy charter school proposal, which would give a state board appointed entirely by the governor the power to approve new charter schools — a power currently reserved for locally elected boards.


“Maybe the governor realized that we were sort of intransigent on that, and probably are unwilling to compromise on those two big issues,” Senate President Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, said Thursday evening, referring to the charter school policy and the teacher bonus plan. Lawmakers have said the bonus plan is unnecessary since school boards are likely to use some of the increased school funding to bump up pay for both teachers and other school staff.

“I think we’ve gone about as far as we can, and I don’t think there’s a willingness at least in the Senate to go any further,” Stevens said.

House Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican, said she wanted the charter school proposal to be adopted because she thought “it’s good policy.” As for the teacher bonuses, she said there could be ways to alter the governor’s proposal to make it more affordable.

“I hope that we’ll continue to explore that,” said Tilton.

The Legislature is planning to meet in a joint session next week to consider overriding the veto. That would require 40 of Alaska’s 60 lawmakers voting in favor of the override. Though more than two-thirds of lawmakers voted in favor of the original measure in February, it remains unclear if they could clear that threshold again.

“If we are able to get together and override the veto it will be quite a statement by the Legislature responding to the public saying ‘we want to fund our schools,’” said Stevens.

House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent, said the 16 minority members of the House “stand ready to override this veto.”

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, said lawmakers were “probably going to override it.”

“I would tend to lean to agree,” said Tilton, on the prospect of lawmakers successfully overriding the veto, adding that she thought some majority members would vote in favor of the override, depending on how important the issue of education funding was in their respective districts.

SB 140 would have increased the state’s $1.2 billion education budget by $175 million, and included additional funding for home schooled students. It passed the House on a 38-2 vote and the Senate on an 18-1 vote. The school formula funding boost included in the bill is roughly half of what education advocates have said is needed after seven years of virtually flat state funding. Several school districts faced multimillion-dollar deficits this year.

In a joint statement, Anchorage School Board President Margo Bellamy and Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt said Thursday evening that “the veto could not come at a worse time, not only for the Anchorage School District, but for all school districts across Alaska.”

Alaska’s school districts must finalize their budgets in the coming days or weeks. Bryantt and Bellamy said that the veto means that Anchorage’s school budget “will be revised, and our community will be faced with additional reductions.”

“In an already tenuous environment for public education in Alaska, the uncertainty and chaos this veto will have on districts’ progress to improve student outcomes, cannot be understated,” they wrote.

Dunleavy is set to hold a news conference Friday at 11 a.m. to explain his veto.

“I will review the appropriations bills following the legislative session to ensure schools are being adequately funded and the state’s limited resources are being spent appropriately,” Dunleavy said in his Thursday email, in a reference to past comments that indicated Dunleavy could veto part of the education budget even if the bill becomes law.

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

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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

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