Alaska Legislature

Alaska lawmakers fail by one vote to override Dunleavy veto of education bill

JUNEAU — Alaska lawmakers fell one vote short Monday of overriding Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of $200 million in education funding.

Dunleavy vetoed the bill Thursday night, two weeks after lawmakers passed it with 56 out 60 lawmakers voting in favor of the package, which was broadly seen as a compromise.

The bill included $175 million in extra funding for Alaska’s public schools, $13 million for home-schooled students, $7 million for student transportation, $5 million for assisting Alaska students in learning to read, a new charter school coordinator position, and a provision to increase internet speeds in rural schools.

Dunleavy said he vetoed the bill because it did not include his priorities, among them a three-year plan to provide teachers with annual bonuses at a cost of $60 million per year, and a path to increase the number of Alaska’s charter schools by empowering a governor-appointed board to approve new charter schools.

Lawmakers voted to sustain Dunleavy’s veto in a 39-20 vote on Monday afternoon, just shy of the 40-legislator threshold.

In the Senate, 16 lawmakers voted to override the veto, all in the bipartisan majority.

In the House, 23 lawmakers voted to override the veto. That includes all 16 members of the minority and seven members of the majority — including four House Republicans.


Sutton Republican Rep. George Rauscher was the only lawmaker absent on Monday. It wasn’t immediately clear why he was absent.

Dozens of school advocates lined the hallways in the Juneau Capitol ahead of the Monday vote, wearing red to signify their support for schools and chanting “Override.”

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” said Tom Klaameyer, president of the National Education Association of Alaska, a union representing more than 12,000 educators. “I’m afraid that pink slips are going to go out, schools are going to close, and our kids have yet to feel the depth of this crisis.”

Klaameyer said he was still optimistic about the prospect of “a second bite at the apple” — through crafting another education bill that passes with the governor’s approval.

“But my question would be, why now all of a sudden is there this optimism for compromise when we haven’t seen the ability to compromise this whole time, except for on SB 140?”

In a statement on Monday, Dunleavy thanked the Legislature for their “commitment to implementing new education reforms that put Alaska families first.”

“Let it be clear to school boards and associations: education funding will be prioritized and available — I support solutions that move us forward,” Dunleavy said.

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Senate Bill 140 included a $680 increase to the state’s $5,960 Base Student Allocation. School advocates for months have been saying that it would take around double that amount to account for seven years without significant increases to the per-student formula.

Caroline Storm, director of the Coalition for Education Equity, said that without a permanent increase to the state’s per-student funding formula, the coalition planned to file a lawsuit against the state for violating its constitutional obligation to adequately fund Alaska schools.

“When we don’t support our teachers — not with bonuses but with actual support mechanisms — then we are not providing an adequate public education system. When we are sending our kids to school in a condemned building, that’s not an adequate public education system,” said Storm.

Opponents of the effort to override the veto cited Dunleavy’s threat to cut the funding from the budget even if the bill were to become law.

“If this joint session votes to override Gov. Dunleavy today, we are almost guaranteed there will not be a BSA increase of $680 as the governor can still veto any amount of the appropriation he pleases,” said Rep. Tom McKay, an Anchorage Republican who was one of several lawmakers who had voted for the bill’s passage last month, then reversed course on Monday.

Seventeen Republicans voted in favor of Senate Bill 140, but voted against the veto override. Several cited Dunleavy’s budget veto threat in their reasoning for voting against the override. Another common refrain was that there was still time to pass another education bill before the end of the session.

”We are not in the last inning of the legislative game,” said Rep. Dan Saddler, an Eagle River Republican who voted against the override.

Two GOP lawmakers said they had flipped from being in favor of the bill last month to opposing the override on Monday because they had wanted Dunleavy to issue a veto all along. Rep. Ben Carpenter of Nikiski said his vote for Senate Bill 140 “was to get this to the governor and have him veto it as quickly as possible, so that we can go back to the drawing board.” Rep. Kevin McCabe of Big Lake echoed those comments.

But there was no guarantee that a return to the drawing board would yield different results, as Senate majority members remained entrenched in their opposition to key pieces of Dunleavy’s education priorities.


“In my opinion, people had to make a choice: ‘Am I going to support my constituency, or am I going to support the party?’ Because that’s who was putting the pressure on these people — their constituents on one side and the Republican Party on the other,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican who caucuses with the minority.

McKay introduced a new bill Monday that he said could provide another avenue for lawmakers to address education funding before the end of the legislative session in May. That bill includes many of the provisions that existed in Senate Bill 140, along with the governor’s teacher bonus plan.

But members of the bipartisan Senate majority said that achieving further compromise would be difficult.

Senate President Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, said that the Legislature could consider one-time funding as a solution to provide school districts with the dollars they need, while setting the statutory formula aside.

That is what lawmakers did last year, when they included $175 million in the state budget for schools, after failing to agree on a bill to add the increase permanently to the formula by the end of the session. Then, Dunleavy vetoed half that amount. An attempt earlier this year to override that veto was also unsuccessful.

“The irony is that with the downfall of this bill, you lose a lot of things that were priorities for the House majority and for the governor,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat who was a key negotiator on the education package. Republican priorities included the funding for homeschooled students and the provisions meant to increase the number of charter schools in Alaska.

“I don’t think this is the end of the education debate, but I think what’s probably likely to happen is they will have lost all of those things and in the end, we’ll probably just get a $680 increase (to the BSA), perhaps in one-time funding,” said Wielechowski.

Lawmakers in favor of the override effort said that even if the Legislature successfully acts by the end of the session to increase education funding, the governor’s veto all but doomed an effort by rural school districts to apply for federal funding to boost their internet speeds by the end-of-March deadline.


“I find it extremely distasteful that the rural children of our state are virtually held hostage over our squabbling over the Base Student Allocation formula,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican who voted in favor of the override. “I hope that they don’t lose a whole year of higher-speed internet connectivity.”

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, a Soldotna Republican, was one of four Republican House Majority members who voted in favor of overriding the governor’s veto, despite significant pressure from Republican and conservative groups to stand with the governor.

“I did not run for office to represent one person or party or special interest group,” said Ruffridge. “I was personally elected by the people of Kenai and Soldotna and they have overwhelmingly told me this is a bill that they support.”

Some legislators suggested that the failure to override Dunleavy’s veto would heighten the governor’s ability to control legislative processes moving forward.

“Now the House majority has to go to the governor for every policy and say, ‘Is this good enough, Governor? How should we vote on this today?’ I think that makes it very difficult, to cede legislative power to the governor and put everything in his hands,” said House minority leader Rep. Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent.

Rep. Thomas Baker is a Kotzebue Republican who was appointed by Dunleavy late last year to replace independent former lawmaker Josiah Patkotak, who was elected North Slope Borough mayor. Baker said he met with Dunleavy “four or five times” last week. On Monday, he voted with most House Republicans to sustain Dunleavy’s veto.

“My goal is to make sure that we’re able to fund as much as possible for my district, for all districts in the state,” said Baker. Based on his discussions with members of Dunleavy’s administration, the governor was likely to veto the funding from the budget if the veto was overridden, he said.

“The reason I voted the way I did is because I’m looking at what’s best for my district and my people. There are other things going on outside of education, not to diminish the importance of education, but there are water and sewer projects that need to be funded in Kotzebue. There’s an MRI machine that needs to be funded in Utqiagvik,” said Baker. “I need to work with the governor, other legislators need to work with the governor … to make sure we can fund what needs to be funded.”

Last year, Dunleavy appeared to target lawmakers with vetoes of infrastructure projects in the districts of Republican House members who voted against the budget.

In Dunleavy’s last news conference, he urged lawmakers to move on to tackling other issues, and particularly to address Alaska’s energy supply.

Lawmakers said Monday that the education funding veto would make it difficult to focus on other priorities for the remainder of the session.

“It certainly sucks the air out of the room,” said Sen. Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, adding that the Senate Resources Committee was set to hear an update that afternoon about a nuclear energy project. “How do we focus on that, and these very significant issues and budget issues related to education? Yeah, it’s going to be a challenge.”


Education is still the Senate majority’s top priority, said Stevens.

“We have to find a way to resolve this. We can’t leave here without education funding,” he said.

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