Dunleavy slashes education funding boost as part of budget vetoes

am an speaks into a microphone
Gov. Mike Dunleavy at a 2022 candidate forum in Anchorage. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Monday vetoed more than $200 million from the state budget, including half of the money the Legislature wanted to spend as a one-time increase in public school funding.

In a press release, the governor didn’t mention the $87.5 million cut to school funding, by far the largest of dozens of vetoes. His spokesman said he was unavailable for an interview.

Sen. Forrest Dunbar, D-Anchorage, is disturbed by the loss of funds, which he said were rumored for the past week. He pointed out that school districts have had flat funding for six years while absorbing the major cost of inflation.

“We have to increase education funding and what Dunleavy did today sets back that cause, sets back education in Alaska, and likely will lead to substantial cuts to programs and perhaps increased population loss,” Dunbar said.

School districts from around the state lobbied for more funding, saying that without an increase in the base student allocation, they would have to cut core programs and, in the case of Anchorage, even close schools. 

Efforts to increase the formula funding were not successful, but the Legislature did pass a one-time school funding boost of $175 million.

Sen. Dunbar also took issue with the vetoes coming on June 19th, which he sees as an affront to those working to recognize Juneteenth as an important American day of remembrance of liberation.

The Senate might have enough votes to override the cut to school funding. A bill to boost the public education formula by $680 per-pupil passed the Senate in May by a vote of 16-3. 

“However, I am worried that there might not be enough House Republicans willing to override the governor’s veto,” Dunbar said.

Dunleavy’s spokesman, Jeff Turner, said in an email that the cut still leaves schools with an increase of $87 million.

“The governor’s decision recognizes that schools need to address inflationary pressures while still preserving general fund dollars,” Turner said.

Dunleavy’s 46 line-item vetoes include other cuts to education, such as $20 million for the UAA campus, $10 million for major school maintenance projects, $5 million for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program and $3.5 million for Head Start. Outside of education, Dunleavy cut $30 million from the community assistance fund, $10 million from state ferries, and funds for several road and harbor projects.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

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