Alaska Legislature plans to vote Monday on overriding governor’s veto of education bill

a man at  podium
Gov. Mike Dunleavy, R-Alaska, speaks to reporters on March 15, 2024. (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed a bipartisan bill Thursday night that would have significantly boosted state funding for public schools. The education bill was a top priority for House and Senate leaders and passed by wide margins after legislators struck a compromise. Lawmakers have scheduled a veto override vote for Monday.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said the governor’s decision to veto the education bill came as a surprise. Dunleavy issued the veto just a few hours shy of the constitutional deadline.

“This is a twist that I hadn’t honestly expected,” Stevens said in an interview.

Stevens said it’s clear lawmakers and the governor aren’t going to get on the same page.

“We’ve tried,” he said. “I just think we’ve reached an impasse.”

And Dunleavy seems to agree. In a freewheeling, hour-long news conference Friday, the governor said it’s clear lawmakers are not interested in passing his education priorities: namely, large teacher retention bonuses and a new process allowing the state school board, appointed by the governor, to directly approve new charter schools. Dunleavy threatened last month that if legislators didn’t move those proposals forward, he’d veto the education bill.

“The fact of the matter is, the legislative process got close, but (the bill) doesn’t have these measures in there that the people and the children of Alaska really need,” he said Friday.

Dunleavy said the education bill, which included homeschool and student transportation funding, a new position supporting charter schools and funding for students struggling to read, amounted to a “spending bill.”

He suggested the $680 increase in per-student funding included in the bipartisan bill was chosen out of political convenience.

“That was it. Wasn’t researched, numbers weren’t really run,” he said. “That became it. That became the political goal.”

Per-student funding, now $5,960, has risen by just $30 since 2017, about half a percent. The figure would have to increase by about $1,100 to keep up with inflation, according to a calculator on the state labor department’s website.

Dunleavy, a former teacher and administrator, said he believes additional funding will materialize for public schools at the end of the legislative session, just as it has in prior years. 

“There is going to be money,” he said. “There’s always been money.”

Last year, the Legislature added the equivalent of a $680 per student increase in one-time funding, but a veto from the governor cut that in half. And Dunleavy said he’s not sure how much he’ll support in the final budget.

“It could be 400. It could be 500. It could even be 700. I doubt that,” he said. “But the point I’m trying to make is, because the bill is vetoed doesn’t mean there’s not going to be money. There’s going to be money. It’s going to happen.”

But that leaves districts in a tough spot. They’re trying to plan for next school year and, right now, have no idea how much state funding they’ll have, said Lon Garrison of the Association of Alaska School Boards. His group provides support and lobbies for the priorities of local school boards across the state.

“You can say, there’s always going to be money. But for school districts, there hasn’t been enough money,” he said by phone Friday. “There have not been enough resources to keep up with the costs of what it takes to operate school districts, to keep class size to a level that’s effective and is in best practice to keep up with the cost of operations, especially in rural Alaska.”

Stevens, the Senate president, said that’s a big concern for him, too.

“My real concern right now is how are the districts, and the boroughs that are also responsible, how can they plan when they’re not going to know until May?” he said.

Lisa Parady, the head of the Alaska Council of School Administrators, said it could be painful.

“I think probably across the state, we’re going to see school boards and education leaders, again, looking at their budgets, trying to understand where they can make cuts that least impact our students,” she said in an interview. “But we’ve had to cut for so many years, it’s getting to the point where it’s really hard to protect their experience, their conditions of learning.”

For now, Dunleavy said he’s moving his focus to addressing the state’s energy needs.

“I think at this point, we move on,” he said at the news conference.

But legislators aren’t ready to move on — at least, not yet. The House and Senate have tentatively scheduled a joint session for Monday afternoon to consider overriding the governor’s veto. They’ll need 40 out of 60 votes to do it. Stevens said he’s hopeful.

“I believe we have the votes to override the governor’s veto,” he said. “We’ll see when people start pushing buttons.”

House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, did not respond to an interview request Friday afternoon. Ahead of the veto, she said House members would have to “vote their conscience” on an override.

Even if they do override, Dunleavy could still unilaterally reduce state education funding with a line-item veto after the session ends.

Eric Stone covers state government, tracking the Alaska Legislature, state policy and its impact on all Alaskans. Reach him at

Previous articleAnchorage mayoral candidates report dozens of damaged, vandalized or missing campaign signs
Next articleAlaska News Nightly: Friday, March 15, 2024