After failed override vote, what’s next in the fight over Alaska education funding?

Legislative chamber
Legislators listen during a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on March 12, 2024 (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)

How much money Alaska’s public schools will get from the state is up in the air.  That’s after lawmakers fell one vote short of overriding Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of a funding boost and reform package. 

The Republican-led House majority says they’re working on another deal. But the bipartisan supermajority in the Senate says there’s not much room left for compromise.

So, what’s next? Alaska News Nightly host Wesley Early spoke with state government reporter Eric Stone.


Wesley Early: I know Dunleavy said he’s ready to move on to addressing energy issues. So, are lawmakers throwing up their hands and moving on? 

Eric Stone: Well, not yet. They are moving some energy proposals, but Republican House Speaker Cathy Tilton says they’re able to walk and chew gum at the same time. She says there are about two dozen education bills pending. 

One that’s drawing some attention is one called House Bill 392, backed by House Resources chair Rep. Tom McKay. He’s an Anchorage Republican who voted against the override.

“Our decision was to offer an alternative, to offer an option, so that when folks came in to vote on the veto override, they could have some comfort to know that there’s another education spending bill, a policy bill in the Education Committee, HB 392, that they could look to, to solve the problem of needing more policy in the bill and and maintaining a high BSA,” McKay said at a news conference Tuesday.

ES: It’s almost exactly the same as the bill Dunleavy vetoed — plus the governor’s plan for teacher bonuses of $5,000 to $15,000 per year. 

Tilton also spotlighted a bill in the House Education Committee that would allow the state board of education, appointed by the governor, to directly authorize new charter schools. 

Those two items, state-authorized charter schools and teacher bonuses, are what the governor called on lawmakers to pass when he issued his veto threat. And it puts them on a collision course with the Senate.

WE: And where is the Senate on all of this?

ES: Well, it’s safe to say that the senators who wanted to override the veto are not happy. Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, says funding outside the formula — that one-time funding that’s been common in recent years — is inefficient. 

Basically, he’s saying that if you give one-time money, schools are going to spend it on one-time expenses. Computers, TVs, that kind of thing — not more teachers and aides to reduce class sizes. You don’t have to pay a TV a salary every year.

Senate President Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, says the supermajority made up of all but three senators is still committed to finding some way forward. But he’s saying, more or less, you break it, you fix it.

“Twenty majority legislators in the House were able to kill the overriding of the governor’s veto. That’s only one third of the Legislature. The onus is now on them, I believe, on the House, to send us meaningful legislation,” Stevens said at a Tuesday news conference.

ES: But the Senate’s lead negotiator — that’s Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat — is saying there’s not much room left for compromise, especially on the charter school issue.

WE: Why do they say there may not be room for compromise? What are the sticking points?

ES: Basically, they’re saying they’ve given a lot already. So, the bill that passed would have created a new dedicated position within the education department to help parents and districts create new charter schools. And a new appeals process for charters that get shut down. 

And Wielechowski says he offered more concessions during negotiations over the veto — basically, shortening the time it takes to get a new charter school approved. He called it a compromise to a compromise to a compromise.

But he says the governor’s proposal could allow a school district to be forced to fund and operate a charter school it doesn’t approve of. For Wielechowski and most of the Senate, that’s non-negotiable. 

“The line was state charter schools,” Wielechowski said. “The line was the state doing that, perhaps against the local community’s wishes, and that was a line that many people just couldn’t cross.”

ES: As for the bonus proposal, he said the roughly $60 million-a-year program would be an expensive experiment that hasn’t really been tested.

WE: So, if both the Senate and the governor see those as red lines, that’s not great news for folks who want to see a long-term funding boost for schools.

ES: Well, not everyone in the Senate thinks those are red lines. Sen. Shelley Hughes is a Palmer Republican who’s one of only three senators not in the majority caucus. She’s skeptical of the claim that allowing the state to authorize charter schools would put the state and local districts at odds, but even so, she suggests giving universities or local governments the power to charter new schools could be a compromise. 

On the teacher bonuses, Hughes says there’s room for compromise there, too.

“I think there are different ways to structure that teacher incentive payment,” she said in an interview. “The governor’s three-year plan. I personally don’t agree with that. I think it should be spread out over more years.”

So, instead of offering bonuses in years 1, 2 and 3, maybe 2, 4 and 6 or 3, 6 and 9. And maybe tying it to teachers signing new contracts for the following year to make sure people don’t take the money and run.

But it’s not clear to me there’ll be any sort of new compromise anytime soon, the way things are going.

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

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