Legislature fails to override governor on education mega-bill

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The Alaska Legislature, in a joint session on Monday voted 39-20, but it was one vote short of what was needed to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of an education bill, Senate Bill 140, that started out as an internet bill for rural Alaska, but turned into the dream of the National Education Association Alaska — another quarter billion dollars for school districts without any strings attached.

Gov. Dunleavy issued a statement within minutes: “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.”

The vote came after about two hours of legislators from both sides of the aisle talking about the shortcomings of Alaska school districts, as well as the need for funding, and how that funding gets distributed. It turns out, a $680-per-student increase is not distributed equally through all districts. North Slope gets more, while Southeast Alaska rural districts get less.

The education industry and unions fought hard for the funding bill, and has been swarming the Alaska Capitol since the beginning of session, putting pressure on legislators, who were flooded with requests to increase funding for schools as part of a formula called the base student allocation, which is the floor for funding of public education.

In fact, the hallway leading up to the House Chambers was lined with both adults and children being used as props by the education lobby, as human sentinels watching legislators filed in to deliberate and vote.

Several legislators rose to speak for and against the veto override.

Rep. Tom McKay, a Republican of Anchorage, was the first, reminding everyone that he had already introduced an alternative to Senate Bill 140 — House Bill 392 — which would also increase the base student allocation by $680, as SB 140 would have, but would restore some of the items the governor wants, such as support for charter schools. While public schools in Alaska are at the bottom nationwide for student achievement, Alaska charter schools are at the top, he added.

Rep. Dan Saddler, another Republican, went next, and also reminded people that even if there was an override, the governor could still veto the $680 after the session ends, when he is handed the final proposed budget. He still has a line-item veto.

“It might appear that voting yes, that it guarantees it,” he said. “But that’s not accurate. It’s not that simple.”

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, whose family stands to gain financially from the original broadband section of the bill that would enrich his Bethel Native Corporation when it gets the multi-million-dollar contract to expand broadband for his district, rose to support overriding the governor; he is a paid officer of Bethel Native Corporation and has a conflict of interest, which he did not declare.

Sen. Mike Shower of Wasilla pointed out that Alaska would be spending millions of dollars to lay cable when satellite internet has made it all but obsolete in rural Alaska. He also pointed out that the $680 BSA increase would likely never be seen by teachers and that the governor’s incentive pay for teachers, which would go directly to them, had already been stripped out of the bill at the request of the education industry union lobbyists.

Sen. Rob Myer pointed out that 25 years ago, when he was in school, the Alaska schools were about in the middle of the pack, and that with the funding formula put in place, the quality of schools has just gone downhill and is now at the bottom of the barrel nationally.

Myer said that truancy and absenteeism is a huge problem in Alaska, and is one reason students are doing so poorly. “I don’t know how more money is going to address absenteeism,” he said. He said Alaska needs to put money in places that are succeeding, he said. But unfortunately those pieces got stripped out of this bill and it’s not where it needs to be, he said.

“I want to continue the conversation to talk about outcomes, if we’re not talking about outcomes for our kids then this conversation is meaningless,” Myer said.

Rep. Ben Carpenter said that districts losing out on funding is a red herring. “This is not an appropriations issue. This is a policy bill. This says we favor spending more money as a solution to our problems.”

He reiterated that SB 140 was a policy bill originally to address internet in rural schools and that “it got co-opted with a BSA increase,” he said.

Sen. Shelley Hughes of Mat-Su gave passionate closing remarks, saying education is her highest priority, but “I am no to prioritizing a system, over kids and teachers. My no vote is to go back to the drawing board.”

She added, “I encourage reporters to report that we all care about our kids.”

49 COMMENTS

  1. Too bad, I am quite certain that some thought they were going to be the first to gorge at the trough. And they were “for the children”.

  2. A close-call win, a hardly win. Alaska GOP needs more than ever a Chair who be a lot like Dunleavy to unify a splintered party made up of a variety of groups from hard right Republican to the more moderate and bureaucratic democratic Republicans from the straight to the homosexual Republicans under common principles, values, and goals so Republicans can dominate the State of Alaska.

    Good job to the Republicans in the House sticking together.

    • Poor Jesse Sumner. All those years spent, all those thousands wasted, all those dreams of being a career politician gone in an instant.

      Claiming to be a conservative while playing footsie with Juneau inbreds might work when you live in Anchorage or Kodiak but Mat-Su loves eating RINOs for breakfast and Sumner just covered himself in syrup and bacon.

      • Sumner was gone a long time ago in my book. Somehow, he got re-elected though. That was a sad day in my book.

      • Scott, you forgot to mention his support for H.B. 186, “an act relating to the formation of volunteer labor compliance officers” . This nut job bill was boosted by a certain Labor Union Representative and your boy swallowed it hard. It was without a doubt the dumbest bill I’ve ever read, and I’ve read lots of dumb bills.

        Who is opposing Sumner and where can I send a donation to the cause.

    • We don’t need to unify anything Jen. If our school systems would start putting out a good product I wouldn’t mind paying them double but we are getting junk. Business that produce junk go broke.

    • Except for the part about Dunleavy, I agree with your comment. It was very close. I am glad that the override vote failed.

        • No, Willy and Les are some of Satan’s little helpers. Dunleavy just has an odd way of going with bad (green energy push), going with good, and so on. He needs to firmly plant both feet on one side or the other.

    • If anything needs to be unified, it’s some of the small school districts in our state. Over 50 districts, a third of which have less than 100 students. Not only do these small districts have highly paid administrators, but they have some of the lowest test scores

      • Any school district that collects zero money from local residents e.g. has no property tax needs to be switched to entirely virtual learning. At less than 500,000 barrels of oil a day it just cannot be that people who choose to live where local government services require huge expenditures have to be provided law enforcement, K-12 schools with on site teachers, and other services that most Alaskans pay for themselves to one extent or another. My own parents took schools into consideration when they decided where to locate, and where to buy their first house, and parents today need to do the same.

        Do these leftist egg-heads who want a state income tax think that Alaskans will pay local property taxes to fund their own services to then turn around and pay an income tax so that people in Tok, Tanana and Gustavus can pay no local taxes?

        If Biden is re-elected we will see the end of arctic oil production during that 4 years. That will change state and local governments in Alaska profoundly.

      • You are absolutely correct!! Alaska spends enough on public education but the funds are not spent correctly or wisely.

        I have mentioned this several times including to Stanley Wright and Bill Wielechowski who are supposed to represent me and this topic. I was told “the rural communities will never allow this sort of change” because they need the high-paying jobs and school district administrations have high-costing and high-paying jobs. The legislature is unwilling to take on this topic and reduce the number of school district to a reasonable number and size.

        Just once, I would like somebody to explain the justification for Pelican, Hoonah, Haines, and Skagway being separate and expensive school districts. And why are there five of them on Prince of Wales Island where there are roads to connect them all under one very easily.

  3. Our public schools are a business they need to act like one. I would suggest firing every superintendent and hiring a CEO that has actually ran a private business instead of a dweeb with no business experience and a degree in education that gets us what we have now. Failure.

  4. Expensive failure, first the cost of running these school facilities and paying teachers and then the human failure of kids that need basic math, science, English to pass a basic college entry exam. Can’t read a tape measure, and worst of all are clueless about history. You know what they say about history???

    • Your right on these are the future leaders of our country and right now they can’t even get a good education.
      I can’t wait until this country is broke and the money tree dies because the education they are learning is not going to help them at all.

  5. Republicans have never accepted that it costs $$$$ to meet Constitutional obligations for Education. Sen Bishop testified if you want better outcomes fund schools like similar States. Wyoming spends $17,000 per student and ranks 4th, Alaska spends about $11,000 and is ranked 49th. You get what you pay for

    • Frank, where did you come up with those numbers?
      Considering Alaska spend an average of $25,000 per student in 2022, we do NOT get what we paid for.
      This isn’t about money. It is about curriculum and the incessant need of school districts to color outside their lane. Take the social engineering attempts with CRT, gender ideology or their latest brain child making its way through the legislature, adding mental health services to the school structure. They can’t teach kids to read, write or do math, but we should trust them assessing our kids for mental health and implementing “treatment”, away from parental oversight and input. That’s not their job and will create another bureaucratic structure that demands feeding without providing anything to their core mission of education.

      • Apparently you did not read “Sen Bishop” testified. Click was the deciding vote on oil tax breaks, no shrinking violet. It also appears you are satisfied with 49th place.

    • Better recheck the numbers….My research came up with a much higher cost per student in Alaska Frank.
      Joey’s press secretary is not a reliable source.

      • Uh…..Senator Bishop doesn’t know much about education, being one of the dumber legislators to ever serve in Juneau.

    • $18,168 in 2023, Frank. And we still get kids that can neither read nor write while they try to figure out gender.

      ‘https://education.alaska.gov/compass/Report/2022-2023#financial-data

    • ‘https://educationdata.org/public-education-spending-statistics

      Alaska K-12 SPENDING: $21,325
      Wyoming K-12 SPENDING: $19,887

    • And Democrats have never accepted that you actually have to do your homework to get the correct answer.

    • Doesn’t matter how little or how much it’s what you learn and you should know that of all people in this blog.

    • Senator Bishop twisted the numbers to make a fallacious point. Fairbanks conservatives in his district should be ashamed. Shouldn’t be a surprise though, as one of Bishop’s greatest accomplishments was spending millions in state funding to build the Pipeline Training Center in Fairbanks because… we were gonna build us an LNG pipeline! The pipeline never happened and now that facility is used exclusively to train union wokers a couple of times a year – mostly it just sits vacant. If you want to throw public money down the toilet, put your trust in Click Bishop!

  6. The House Republicans voting No they need to be kept as their districts representatives instead of moving on up while replacing Rufferidge, Sumner, Mears, and look for any other Democrat serving a weak district to take advantage of it . Republican leaders have a hard time staying long time holding work positions before moving into a new position, they need to learn to wait and stay committed to a place of work and tasks. Ak Democrats have done the opposite in the past they quietly hold positions long enough to make a difference in their workplaces and communities. The Senate Republicans they moved up too fast they don’t know how to work as one yet. The best place to stay for House Republicans is stay put and learn to continue working as one.

  7. I just thought of something this House group of Republicans is a product of the work when their minority leader was Rep Lance Pruitt. How come he isn’t being considered as AK Republican Chair. One he is a man, two he is young enough as a GenX leader and he is old enough with enough wisdom, experience, and knowledge, and three he know how to pull a group together and hold them together.

  8. Ya frank right. Did you happen to look at the $$ figures per student??? You must be a teacher. Every year my entire adult life I hear the same thing We need more money for the kids. It’s all for the kids. Well that turned out to be nonsense. Another stupid thing is we have literally billions in school facilities that sit empty 183 days a year there are 365 days in a year. I say we run school year round and get these kids in the workforce or off to higher education faster.

    • I have heard the same thing also for 50 years, 40 years ago Alaska was at the top, now we are at the bottom. You appear satisfied with that

    • Actually in the bush, the school is the cornerstone of the community where gymnight is held, funerals, weddings, public meetings and summer school among others. Summer is also when extensive construction is done to maintain the facility. Yours is 2 dimensional thinking.

  9. You cant condemn Lyman Hoffman for attempting to use his elected position to use taxpayer/public dollars to enrich his family income.

    He has been taught over and over by the best pork queen in the business.
    Nancy Pelosi and her sidekick Paul have been channeling millions into their extremely successful family run investment firm under the watchful eyes of Joey who has learned a few successful scams under Obama’s watch as well. (War machines and drugs are currently the big winners for the novice investors)

    It is an accepted practice well learned by the Peltolas once Nancy took Mary under her generous wing to show her how to be a real politician of the people by the people and for the “chosen” people.

  10. We need to thank the legislators who voted to sustain the veto, and we need to help them in their 2024 campaigns. It’s very easy to see that in this Alaska Legislature common sense and fiscal responsibility barely wins.

    The deck is seriously stacked against common sense, fiscal responsibility and integrity. I pay about $7,000 a year in property tax for a pretty modest house that sits on a tiny lot. Part of that $7,000 funds a city lobbyist who works full-stop to defeat this very common sense, fiscal responsibility and integrity.

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