Alaska Legislature

Funding for Alyeska Reading Institute removed from Alaska House’s draft budget

The House Finance Committee narrowly voted to remove $5 million requested by Gov. Mike Dunleavy for a reading institute that lawmakers say has an unclear mission.

The funding was removed in a 6-5 vote Tuesday, with all committee Republicans voting in favor of keeping the funding, and all non-GOP members voting to remove it.

House Finance Co-Chair Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent, said he felt “duped” by the state education department, which has changed the mission, structure and title of the reading institute since asking lawmakers to approve its creation last year.

Of the $5 million approved by lawmakers last year for the institute, $1.4 million went to renovating a space in an Anchorage strip mall that has yet to open for use. Edgmon said that was not part of the plan articulated by the Dunleavy administration last year.

“I’m still reeling from what I felt was a fairly disingenuous presentation to this committee last year,” Edgmon said before voting in favor of an amendment to remove the $5 million from the budget. “There is no way we were ever, ever led to believe it was a brick-and-mortar facility.”

During a Wednesday hearing, State Board of Education Chair James Fields said the institute was eventually meant to operate as “a satellite type school for the underprivileged kids in an area.” Members of the Dunleavy administration have insisted the institute is not a charter school.

Alaska Department of Education and Early Development spokesperson Laurel Shoop said by email Wednesday that the institute is meant to “provide effective modeling, coaching and practice for adults” by offering tutoring to students at the Anchorage facility that teachers and other professionals can observe.


So far, the institute has offered tutoring to around 140 students in a handful of school districts, and offered online professional development to hundreds of teachers, according to the education department.

On Wednesday, “Do not enter” signs were still posted on the Anchorage facility’s doors. A notice from the Anchorage municipality indicated the facility was still pending inspection. The state education department had indicated the facility was scheduled to open for use this month, before the municipality identified the structure as potentially having the same truss structure that has caused multiple Anchorage buildings to collapse under the weight of heavy snow and ice.

Shoop said the municipality has yet to set a date for inspecting the building due to a backlog caused by the number of buildings facing similar circumstances. If truss repair is deemed necessary, the building owner will be financially responsible for the associated work, she said.

The department now expects the building to open in early June, the final month of the current fiscal year. Shoop said the lease is renewed annually “contingent upon appropriation,” meaning that if funding for the institute is left out of the budget, the lease could be canceled.

The education department has said the planned facility is intended to assist with implementing an expansive reading bill adopted by lawmakers in 2022. That bill, which was supported by Dunleavy and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, was meant to improve Alaska students’ reading performance, which is one of the poorest in the country. The bill did not mandate the creation of a reading institute.

The reading bill requires that public school children between kindergarten and third grade complete regular screenings and receive individualized plans to improve their reading skills if needed. According to the education department, the reading institute does not offer any of the services mandated by the bill.

Lawmakers broadly agree the state should be spending more money to target reading improvement, but some have said the money should be spent supporting staff members in the local school districts, rather than investing in a centralized facility in Anchorage.

A bill vetoed by Dunleavy last month would have directly provided school districts additional funding to assist them with completing the required reading improvement plans. A new bill proposed after lawmakers failed to override Dunleavy’s veto also includes funding for reading improvement, but it is not slated for hearings this week and its fate remains unknown.

Rep. Dan Ortiz, a Ketchikan independent, said the Alyeska Reading Institute is “the wrong model.”

“How are they going to move the ball in terms of increasing our kids’ ability to read on a statewide basis? It’s not going to happen, folks,” said Ortiz. “What we need are people out there, located in the areas, who have the trust of their families, who know the communities.”

The Republicans who voted in favor of keeping the funding also expressed some concerns about the spending, before voting to keep it in the budget.

Rep. Will Stapp of Fairbanks said he’s “not super sure what the reading academy is.” Rep. Julie Coulombe of Anchorage said “there had been some misinformation” about the goal of the institute, but she still thought, “‘Well, why don’t we give them one more year and revisit next year.’”

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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