Alaska Legislature

Free meals for low-income Alaska students removed from final budget

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature’s budget conference committee on Thursday stripped out funding to make reduced-price meals free for low income Alaska students for the next school year.

The $480,000 appropriation was added to the House’s budget in April. It came from an equivalent cut to the Department of Corrections.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that nearly 4,000 kids won’t have access to free meals at school next year,” said Anchorage Democratic Rep. Jennie Armstrong. “The amendment was supported almost unanimously in the House and was budget-neutral.”

The conference committee is made up of three members of the bipartisan Senate majority and two members of the Republican-led House majority. One member of the Democrat-dominated House minority also sits on the committee. Its job is to reconcile differences between the House and Senate budgets, so a single budget bill can pass through both chambers and be sent to the governor’s desk for his consideration.

Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, voted Thursday to cut the funding that would make reduced price meals free, alongside Reps. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, and Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham. Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, and Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, voted to keep that funding in the budget.

After the committee hearing, Edgmon said his vote was more to restore funding to the Department of Corrections than to cut free meals for low income students.

After years of flat funding, $7.3 million was also included in the Legislature’s final budget to increase funding for public school students’ transportation costs. Up to $5.2 million was also added to fund reading intervention programs for K-3 students.


Another key committee vote Thursday was related to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. Legislators agreed to keep funding the corporation for another year, but funding for salaries for its three highest-paid executives is set to be cut by $600,000.

The Senate’s version of the budget had cut funding entirely for the gas line corporation, following frustration from senators that a long-sought North Slope gas pipeline has failed to be built. Top corporation board members told legislators last month that they would shutter the corporation if they could not secure funding for that project by the end of the year.

The operating budget conference committee will continue meeting in the final days of the regular legislative session. The main outstanding item is the size of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend. Legislators across the political spectrum expect the final check to be close to the Senate’s approved figure at almost $1,600 per person.

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