Alaska schools making drastic cuts in wake of governor’s veto, school administrators council says

A group of students walking of their school wearing red and holding a sign that reads, "Prioritize my Education."
Eagle River High School students walkout to protest Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s education funding veto on Thursday, April 4, 2024. (James Oh / Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s school districts are facing continued fiscal uncertainty after Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto last month of a bill that would’ve raised the state education funding by $680 per student.

The state’s base student allocation hasn’t had a significant increase since 2017. After years of flat funding and growing costs, school administrators are looking at making cuts to bridge budget gaps of millions of dollars in some cases.

Lisa Parady, executive director of the Alaska Council of School Administrators, says the council’s members are doing everything they can to avoid negative impacts to classrooms and students.

And while Parady says there’s still hope that the state will provide some kind of funding boost, it was disheartening to see the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 140 and the Legislature’s subsequent failure to override it.


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This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Lisa Parady: SB 140 came forward after weeks of debate, and there was across-the-aisle cooperation. It was a compromise. It was by no means the perfect bill. But nonetheless, I think it did resolve issues that our members, you know, school districts, are really wrestling with. And so I think when the governor vetoed that, (the word) “discouraging,” it doesn’t really even describe the depth of concern. You know, school districts are in peril, and it seemed that the Legislature understood that. And the governor kind of looked past the good faith compromises that the legislators made and rejected it, you know. So, for our members, now, they’re, they have a duty to try to have a balanced budget. And it’s very discouraging.

Casey Grove: Yeah, and I guess, in some ways, the only way to really balance the budgets, if you don’t have a ton of money in savings, is to make cuts, right? So what does that actually look like? I mean, what are the cuts that districts are having to make?

LP: There are significant cuts. The Fairbanks school district has plans to close a school on Eielson (Air Force Base). They have plans to eliminate or have made plans to eliminate, you know, around 80 teachers, in addition to the 70 that they eliminated last year. And Juneau, right here in Juneau, these funding difficulties are hitting them incredibly hard. They just adopted a budget that eliminates over like 80 positions this year. And you cannot make those kinds of cuts, that are really largely as a result of being flat-funded since 2017, without impacting students. We’ve seen schools that will increase their class sizes up to 30 kids in a class and beyond. For a long time, we were doing more with less, and then it’s been less with less, and now we’re doing whatever we can to try to keep our classrooms whole for our students. And in many cases, that’s not going to be possible this year.

CG: I guess I should ask, do you have any sense at this point in the session that there might be another effort to increase the base student allocation, you know, rather than just a one-time funding boost?

LP: You know, both operating budgets (in the state Senate and House), I think, have a placeholder for $680 (per student) in one-time, outside funds. And while we’re always grateful for any kind of funds, the base student allocation, inside the model, is what allows for school districts to plan, to have stability, to sign contracts. And so we’re very much supporting any efforts to stay at the table, you know, on everyone’s part, to get a base student allocation (increase) going again. And, you know, the members, the 20 members who voted to not override the governor all said things on the floor like, “Well, we have a better plan coming,” and, you know, “We can do better,” and, you know, “We’re willing, we want to support what the governor wants, and we will get the BSA.” And there is a new (plan) coming forward in the House Education (Committee) that mirrors many of the different pieces that were in SB 140. But it doesn’t feel like there’s the will, or the urgency to get it moving.

CG: Well, Lisa, where do you see this going from here? I mean, there’s there’s a little bit of time left in the session. There’s a couple different ways this could go. Any predictions, or I guess, what, what sort of work will you be doing here in the, sort of, the final stretch of the session?

LP: My efforts, I’ve been doing policy work, education policy work, for many, many years. And as I’m looking forward, I really saw the Legislature come together with the quick passage of the broadband assistance grant funding to support our most rural and remote schools and our children in those sites. And I just was so encouraged that when the Legislature realizes the importance of that kind of support to students, they can do this. They can put their collective efforts together, they can work in a bipartisan way to, to make it happen. And my hope is that people can say, “OK, we still have a job to do.” And that job is to fund the BSA and get the support to the students that they need to be successful. So there are several pathways that could come together to get us to that point. And it’s time for folks and the governor to work together to make it happen. And we need everyone now. We need all legislators to come together, and let’s figure out a way to get that funding to districts that so desperately need it.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Casey here

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