Alaska Legislature

Alaska House education proposal reveals rifts and still-evolving policies

JUNEAU — A House Republican education package was presented Wednesday in an effort to revive talks of funding Alaska’s schools, after Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of a $200 million education bill.

House Bill 392 was introduced by Anchorage GOP Rep. Tom McKay last week, shortly before lawmakers failed by one vote to override Dunleavy’s veto of an education package that lacked his priorities.

A new version of McKay’s bill would boost Alaska’s $1.2 billion education budget by $175 million per year — an increase long requested by Alaska educators — along with Republican priorities such a major boost to funding for home-schooled students and provisions meant to increase the number of charter schools.

But Wednesday’s House Education Committee hearing was derailed when two members of the Republican-led House majority caucus engaged in a shouting match over a button.

Eagle River Republican Rep. Jamie Allard, co-chair of the education committee, demanded that Bethel Democratic Rep. CJ McCormick — one of three non-Republicans in the majority caucus — remove a button from his jacket that said “Base Student Allocation $1,413″ — a figure that refers to a school funding boost education advocates say is needed after several years of virtually flat school funding and high inflation.

Allard said she believed the button was “propaganda” and stopped the meeting to consult with the Legislature’s attorneys. McCormick said during a break in proceedings that he wasn’t required to remove the button, but he would as a show of respect for Allard. She interrupted him.

“You might want to do an apology tour to everybody … it reflects your age,” Allard said loudly to audible gasps from legislators watching in the committee room. McCormick, 26, is currently the youngest member of the Alaska Legislature.

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[Watch the exchange via Gavel Alaska:]

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Juneau Democratic Rep. Andi Story, a member of the Education Committee, said the incident had been “unfortunate.” Ketchikan independent Rep. Dan Ortiz, who was watching in the audience, said “It was tough to see.”

Wednesday’s friction reflected deep ideological and personal divides within the House majority. The Education Committee was unable to meet most of February because Allard and Soldotna Rep. Justin Ruffridge, the two GOP co-chairs, couldn’t agree on a hearing schedule.

[Surprise cancellation of a legislative hearing on Alaska prison deaths exposes fissures in the House]

Hopes have been fading that an education bill can pass this year. The bipartisan Senate majority and House minority have said House Republicans must take the lead in the effort to pass a new education funding bill after several House Republicans flipped their votes earlier this month — voting in favor of an education bill and then against overriding Dunleavy’s veto of the same bill two weeks later.

“Those who voted not to override the veto bear a greater share of the burden of fixing this conundrum,” Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat, said Tuesday.

McKay was one of those Republicans who voted in favor of the bill in February and then opposed the governor’s override. McKay, who only narrowly beat a Democratic opponent in 2022, acknowledged the importance of passing education-related legislation before the expected end of the session in May.

“I don’t see where it would be good for the majority or the minority to not deliver a good bill on education,” McKay said.

“Everyone was really spun up on 140,” McKay added, referring to Senate Bill 140, the bill that Dunleavy had vetoed. “So if they wanted it so bad — this is a replacement. It’s better, we think.”

But on Wednesday, McKay indicated his bill — which was estimated to cost more than $200 million per year — was still a work in progress. As the bill was presented, McKay indicated he planned to take out some provisions included in his original proposal and change almost every other part of the bill.

The current version of the bill includes a section to allow rural schools to increase their internet speeds at a cost to the state of around $40 million per year, but that provision is set to be excluded because it has already passed in a separate measure signed by Dunleavy on Wednesday.

McKay’s measure also includes teacher bonuses projected to cost the state around $180 million over three years. McKay indicated he intended to remove that provision — which was championed by Dunleavy — because “it’s proven highly controversial in this Legislature.”

Unchanged in the bill was a promised increase to the Base Student Allocation at a cost of around $175 million per year, by increasing the $5,960 Base Student Allocation by $680. That provision, along with $7 million in added student transportation funding, was taken directly from the bill vetoed by Dunleavy.

Lon Garrison, executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, said Wednesday that the association is “thankful of the proposed $680 increase to the BSA, even though it is far less than the $1,413 that is needed to account for inflation since 2016.”

Other sections of the bill — all slated for significant changes in a yet-to-be-shared version of the bill — include funding for home-schooled students, funding for reading assistance, and changes to the way charter schools are approved. The new version of the bill appeared to have support from Education Commissioner Deena Bishop, who spoke in favor of it during the committee hearing.

Allard set an amendment deadline for the bill on March 31, despite the fact that the new version of the bill described by McKay on Wednesday had yet to be presented in writing to lawmakers. McKay indicated the bill could come up for another hearing next week, but that hearing had yet to be scheduled as of Wednesday.

Funding for home-schooled students

As it is currently written, the bill includes $13 million per year for Alaska’s roughly 20,000 students enrolled in home-schooling programs. But McKay indicated he wanted to amend that provision to further increase funding for students enrolled in correspondence programs, at an unknown additional cost.


Under McKay’s new proposal, the correspondence students would be allotted 120% of the Base Student Allocation, rather than the 100% currently included in the bill. Under existing law, correspondence students receive 90% of the allocation to reflect that they don’t rely on district buildings and other fixed costs.

Bishop said the increase was needed to account for services that homeschooled students need, such as career and technical education.

Opponents of the increase have raised concerns, noting that districts have limited control over how those funds are used and that a vast majority of correspondence students don’t participate in state testing, meaning it is hard to know whether the funding is being used effectively.

Funding for reading assistance

The bill as currently written includes $500 in funding per student in kindergarten through third grade determined to have a reading deficiency, at an estimated cost of more than $6 million per year. But McKay indicated he wanted that provision changed as well.

The new version would include $180 for every K-3 student in Alaska, regardless of reading performance, and an additional $100 per student enrolled in Title I schools, which serve a high percentage of lower income students. McKay’s office did not provide a cost estimate of that change.

Bishop said she “wasn’t a fan” of providing funding only for students who were deemed deficient.

“You really want to look at supporting your whole process,” said Bishop. “It really is to enable K-3 to focus and have the resources where it’s most needed so that we can bring kids up to grade level by third grade.”

Bishop said the reason for providing additional funding for Title I schools is because past studies have indicated that low-income students need more investment to catch up to their peers.


“I believe that the additional funds are really for the additional students that may need to be served because we do have evidence that the need is greater in Title I schools,” said Bishop.

Charter school provisions

Provisions related to charter schools in the bill include a new process by which charter schools terminated by their local school board can appeal to the state board of education, which is appointed by the governor; and a new charter school coordinator position in the education department.

McKay indicated he planned to add a provision that would allow the state board of education — appointed by the governor — to approve new charter schools. That authority is currently reserved for local school boards, and both lawmakers and educators have raised concerns over the proposal, which is favored by Dunleavy.

Story, the Juneau Democrat, said that charter schools can end up hurting neighborhood schools by drawing students — and funding — away from them. That is why, she said, oversight by local school boards is important.

“So who would be assessing the impacts to the local neighborhood schools?” she asked.

Bishop said that under the proposal, “the state board would work directly with the district.”

Bishop said the Department of Education had not tracked the total number of Alaska students on charter school waitlists, not did it track the number of charter school applications that had been rejected by local boards.

According to data compiled by the Association of Alaska School Boards and Anchorage School Board member Kelly Lessens, 836 students were on charter school waitlists as of earlier this month. That number represents less than 0.7% of all public school students in Alaska. Lessens said in an email that some of the tally could be inflated by some students whose names appear on multiple lists.

Of the nine Alaska school districts with at least one charter school, only four had significant waitlists. The districts include Anchorage, with 388 students on a waitlist, the Mat-Su with 384, Fairbanks with 45 students, and Nome with 19.

Bishop said she believes that “if we had additional charter schools to offer additional parent choice, that our waitlist in districts would go down.”

Garrison said his association welcomes the proposed appeal process for charter schools and the new charter school coordinator position but expressed opposition to empowering the state board of education to approve new charter schools.

Cody McCanna, principal of a charter school in Kenai, also expressed opposition to some of the proposed changes to the approval process during Wednesday’s hearing.


“There’s a lot of logistics involved with that process, so it’s very important,” said McCanna, who is part of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s charter school approval process.

Several people from Nikolaevsk, an Old Believers community on the Kenai Peninsula, called in to bemoan the rejection of their charter school application. Many students in that community have unenrolled from the public school and elected home-schooling.

McCanna said the most important part of the bill was a permanent increase to the Base Student Allocation, which would help public charter schools alongside traditional neighborhood schools.

“As a charter school, most of our funding comes through the BSA and if that increase doesn’t happen this year, we are going to be looking at making some cuts that we are not looking forward to doing,” said McCanna.

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

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