Alaska Legislature fails to override Dunleavy’s education veto

legislators in a meeting room
Lawmakers vote on overriding Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of a bipartisan education bill on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Legislature voted Monday to sustain Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of a bipartisan education bill that would have, for the first time in years, significantly increased the money public schools receive under the state’s funding formula. The joint session of the state House and Senate fell one vote short of the 40 needed to override the veto.

Much of the discussion centered on whether Dunleavy would allow the increase to the base student allocation included in the bipartisan bill to survive a line-item veto at the end of the session.

“Voting to override today does not guarantee a BSA increase of any amount,” said Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage. “I also support our governor and trust his sense on education.”

The legislators’ vote comes four days after Dunleavy vetoed the education bill, sparking rebukes from school districts and some lawmakers. Ahead of the session, leaders of the state House and Senate listed education funding as one of their top priorities and vowed to address the issue early. 

Legislators had overwhelmingly passed the wide-ranging $246 million bipartisan education bill last month. The bill included a $680 increase to the state’s $5,960 per-student funding formula, the first substantial increase since 2016. It also would have boosted internet speeds at some rural schools and provided additional funding for students struggling to read.

But it did not include two of Dunleavy’s main education priorities: 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 in late February that he’d veto the bipartisan bill if legislators didn’t take action.

He made good on the threat Thursday night.

On Monday, advocates dressed in red — some printed with the slogan “Red for Ed” — thronged the hallways outside the House chamber ahead of the override vote, sometimes breaking into chants of “o-ver-ride, o-ver-ride.”

people in red t shirts crowd a hallway
Advocates dressed in red — some printed with the slogan “Red for Ed” — crowded the Capitol hallways on Monday, March 18, 2024, ahead of legislators’ vote on whether to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of the bipartisan education bill. (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)

Inside, Sen. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage, spoke in support of the compromise bill and urged her colleagues to override the veto.

“There is power in what we accomplished, and there is a great future ahead for our children — our future lawyers, our future legislators, our future pipefitters, our future truck drivers — and that is rooted in a strong public school system here in the state of Alaska,” she said.

Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River and the House majority leader, said he heard the calls from parents and teachers to boost public school funding. But he said he was concerned a vote to override would not ultimately result in a boost to public school funding.

“I share that desire for a strong education system and for strong charter schools,” Saddler said. “But the governor has also made it clear that if we don’t strengthen the charter school system, he will exercise that constitutional authority to veto the funding called for, but not guaranteed, in SB 140 from the budget at the tail end of the process.”

On Friday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy repeatedly underscored his authority to reduce or eliminate budget items, including education funding, with a line-item veto at the end of the session.

Even so, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said lawmakers should stand behind the compromise bill.

“The governor has a constitutional right to veto appropriations and, or shrink them. But we’ll cross that bridge, and he will cross that bridge, when they get there,” Stedman said. “But the real question is, is the foundation formula reasonably practical for most school districts?”

Stedman also decried lawmakers’ decision to tie the education bill to a time-sensitive measure that would boost internet speeds for rural schools. Without an override, the earliest speeds could be boosted is next year. 

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, said he expected schools on the Kenai Peninsula to lay off at least 60 teachers and cut back on programs if the veto were not overridden.

“Right now, the status quo puts us behind in funding because, unlike so many people have said, we haven’t done the same thing with education funding over and over again and expected different results. We’ve done remarkably less, Mr. President, as inflation eats away at every dollar,” he said.

Though the bill would not have directly set aside money for public schools, Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, pointed out that it would have set in state law the amount of money that lawmakers should appropriate and the governor should spend. He drew a comparison to Dunleavy’s many calls to follow a state statute setting the amount of the Permanent Fund dividend.

“What we’re considering today is making that base student allocation the law of the land. Our governor has stated many times, and he said he’s going to follow the law. Well, this is your chance to change that law for the students and increase the base student allocation,” he said. “And hopefully, the governor will follow the law.”

Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, offered another perspective, saying a vote in favor of the override would provide false hope for school districts as they build their budgets for the coming school year.

“The governor has already vetoed 680,” he said. “What makes you think he’s not going to do it again?”

The vote failed 39-20, just one vote shy of the 40 needed to override a veto. (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)

Christina Turman, a parent of two students at Pearl Creek Elementary in Fairbanks, where the school board is considering closing three schools, flew down to Juneau to watch the vote:

It’s really sad,” she said. “It just feels like it’s showing where our state’s priority is. And it doesn’t seem like it’s been education for a long time.”

Anchorage School District officials quickly issued a statement after the Legislature failed to override the veto Monday, saying the move created uncertainty and they would continue to advocate for additional funding.

“The failure to override the governor’s veto creates uncertainty for the many districts across the state that are in dire need of an increase to the base student allocation to combat years of flat funding and unprecedented inflation,” the statement said. 

After the vote, House minority leader Rep. Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, spoke out against the failure to override Dunleavy’s veto.

“To the extent you’re seeing sad faces, it’s because the Legislature — the House majority specifically — let Alaskans down today,” he told reporters. “We had a huge opportunity to be champions for education and to let students, parents, teachers, families know that we value education in the state of Alaska. And unfortunately, we came one vote short of being able to send that message to Alaskans across the state.”

In a statement on social media, Dunleavy applauded the vote and said, as he did on Friday, that he expected lawmakers to include one-time funding for school districts in the state’s operating budget.

“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,” he said.

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

Previous articleArctic Winter Games 2024 athletes take home medals and Mat-Su memories
Next articleAlaska News Nightly: Monday, March 18, 2024