Copper Valley Rep. Mike Cronk Sides With Governor Against Increasing Public School Funding

Fairbanks And Juneau Start Plans To Close Sc hools By one vote, Alaska Legislature fails to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s education veto   T...

Fairbanks And Juneau Start Plans To Close Schools

By one vote, Alaska Legislature fails to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s education veto 

The following story and analysis is from The Alaska Beacon:

Twenty Republicans side with the governor to kill permanent increase for public-school funding formula

BY:  AND  - alaska beacon - MARCH 18, 2024

 Rep. Jesse Sumner, R-Wasilla, looks down as he enters the House chambers before a veto override vote on Senate Bill 140 on Monday, March 18, 2024. Sumner voted yes on the override, which failed by a single vote. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Members of the Alaska House and Senate failed by a single vote on Monday to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of Senate Bill 140, a multipart education bill that would have permanently increased the state’s per-student public school funding formula.
The final vote was 39-20, one vote shy of the 40 required under the Alaska Constitution, with all “no” votes coming from Republican members of the House and Senate. Most of the legislators voting “no” had previously voted to support the bill and flipped after the governor said he was dissatisfied with it. Twelve Republicans, 22 Democrats and five independents voted for the override.
Before lawmakers convened, dozens of education advocates crowded the Capitol’s halls, most wearing “red for ed” and softly chanting “O-VER-RIDE.” After the decision, only a handful remained in the halls, somberly and silently watching legislators depart.
“It’s a tremendous loss for school districts, for parents, for teachers, for kids all across the state,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage and a supporter of the bill.
Although SB 140 touched on correspondence schools, charter schools, student transportation and rural-school internet access, its most costly and controversial component was a $174 million per-year increase to the state’s foundation formula for K-12 public schools.
Supporters acknowledged that approving the new formula would not automatically increase public school funding — that would still depend on the state’s annual budget process — but said it would have been a statement of intent by lawmakers.

No governor has ever failed to fully fund the formula, and it would have been up to Dunleavy to reduce that figure with his line-item veto, if he so chose.
Now, lawmakers say they will seek to pass a one-time funding bonus above the formula, just as they did last year. Dunleavy vetoed half that bonus, and legislators were unable to overturn the decision
Some legislators who voted against the override said that it’s not too late to come up with a new education bill that’s acceptable to the governor. Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, said he’s already introduced one option.


“We offer an alternative that would be better,” he said. “So I really urge all my colleagues in both parties, folks in the hall, folks with emails, everybody watching, everybody listening: Stop, take a breath, think about what we’re doing. And understand that we do have options. We should consider them.”
Dunleavy said last week that he believes it’s time for the Legislature to move on.
Senate Majority Leader Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, was among the legislators who said that restarting work on education would mean a lack of attention to other priorities, including the impending Southcentral Alaska energy crunch.
“It certainly sucks the air out of the room,” she said.

Impacts on schools
Meanwhile, school districts across the state are setting their budgets for the 2024-2025 school year without knowing how much money the state will supply. Many districts, facing declining enrollment and rising costs, have already said that they plan to close schools, cut programs and increase class sizes.
In Fairbanks, the local school district will meet Tuesday night and plans to close two schools, including the only high school at Eielson Air Force Base. Juneau will close three buildings, including one middle school, and consolidate all high school students into one school.
“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,” said Tom Klaameyer, president of NEA-Alaska, the state teachers’ union.
Kennedy Love, a 17-year-old senior at Thunder Mountain High School in Juneau, was among the education supporters standing in the halls. She said she began advocating at school board meetings when she heard her school may be closed due to budget cuts in the district.
“We lost; they’re consolidating my school. But we think it’s so important to get funding, especially for the newer generation coming up with this budget crisis, we need it now more than ever. I think it’s really disappointing Dunleavy vetoed that,” she said.
Down the hall, Lisa EaganLagerquist held a sign with pictures of her sons, who attend public schools in Juneau. She said she fears her boys will lose out on popular teachers, elective activities, and reasonable class sizes.

“It’s time for the governor to just say, ‘Yeah, kids are important.’ I mean, the message we’re getting is they’re not important and their school isn’t important,” she said.
But Republicans who voted to uphold the governor’s veto said that they do care about schools and education — and there’s time to get districts and rural internet funded.
“We’re going to fund education. One way or another we’re going to fund it,” said Sen David Wilson, R-Wasilla, who was among four senators who voted to uphold the veto. He said he thought Senate and House negotiating teams are close to a compromise with the governor.
In addition to Wilson, the senators voting no were Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, and Robert Myers, R-North Pole.
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, reminded his colleagues that SB 140 was originally written to address rural internet needs. Now, access to faster internet next year is on the line for dozens of rural Alaska schools.
“I find it distasteful, extremely distasteful, that the rural children of our state are virtually held hostage over our squabbling with the base student allocation,” he said, later calling them “collateral damage.”

If lawmakers do not act, rural districts may not be able to apply for federal grants to pay for internet speeds of up to 100 mbps — a four-fold increase over previous years — by the grant deadline. Supporters have said the increase is critical for rural schools where the cost of internet is high, and lack of high-speed internet is a barrier to an equitable education for students.
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, has introduced a standalone internet bill that would change state statute before it is too late for schools to apply for the increased speeds. The bill is awaiting a vote of the full House.

Comments on the veto
Alaska legislators haven’t overridden a governor’s veto since 2009, when lawmakers approved $28 million in federal stimulus money that then-Gov. Sarah Palin vetoed.
Rep. Julie Coulombe, R-Anchorage, was among the 16 House Republicans who voted to sustain the veto and said she talked to the educators in her district to let them know there are other options.

“I told them before the vote: If it’s sustained, don’t lose hope. There’s still a lot in play and a lot of will to see something across the finish line,” she said.
Along with Coulombe and McKay, the other 14 House Republicans who voted to sustain Dunleavy’s veto were Reps. Jamie Allard, R-Eagle River; Thomas Baker, R-Kotzebue; Ben Carpenter, R-Kenai; Mike Cronk, R-Tok; David Eastman, R-Wasilla; Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage; DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer; Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake; Mike Prax, R-North Pole; Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River; Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage; Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla; Frank Tomaszewski, R-Fairbanks; and Sarah Vance, R-Homer.
Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, was excused absent.

Seven members of the Alaska House’s majority caucus voted with the 16 members of the House minority in an attempt to override the veto.
Rep. Stanley Wright, R-Anchorage, was one of them.

“To think that my schools in my district were threatened to be closed not too long ago and it really weighed heavy on my heart,” he said.

Wright said he’s optimistic about getting money for schools: “I think we can do something in three days if we want it,” he said.
In a message to the Legislature last week and in a news conference with reporters, Dunleavy said he vetoed the bill because it failed to contain a cash-bonus program for teachers and charter-school elements he supported.
After the vote, he took to social media: “I want to thank the legislature for their hard work and 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,” his office wrote.
Education advocates warned that without action before the end of the legislative session, the state may violate the Alaska Constitution, which requires that the state “establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the state.”
Caroline Storm, executive director of the Coalition for Education Equity, said Monday’s failed vote means the state is “closer than ever” to a lawsuit challenging the state’s current funding levels.
“We cannot educate our kids when (the teacher-student ratio) is 1 to 30. That’s crowd control,” she said. “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.”Alaska legislators watch as votes are tallied for and against the veto override on Senate Bill 140 on Monday, March 18, 2024.

This article has been updated to clarify the ratio Caroline Storm was talking about.



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