Will legislators override governor on education funding, or go the supplemental budget route?

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Anchorage School Board Vice President rallies for money for schools. Photo credit: Carl Jacobs campaign website

Dozens of Big Government educators and union representatives gathered Saturday in downtown Anchorage to rally for more funding for education. They wore red coats, scarves, and hats and were calling on the Legislature to override the governor’s veto of half of a massive education funding bill passed last year. They would love to have the Legislature poke Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who won reelection in 2022 with over 50% of Alaskans on the first round of voting.

The bill last year had $175 million that the legislative majority wanted for schools; Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed $87 million, since many schools had remaining fund balances from the year before.

It takes three-quarters of the Legislature to override a veto and, although legislators never called themselves into special session last year to vote on a veto override, they have five days after gaveling in on Tuesday to lock in the votes. Every district still got a large per-student increase. Dunleavy vetoed the $680 increase, keeping it down to a $340 increase.

An override would mean that many Republican legislators would have to go against the top Republican in the state — the governor, who has time and again called for education spending and performance accountability in a state where educational outcomes are some of the lowest in the nation and spending is the highest.

Although the Alaska Senate has gone more liberal, it would mean that senators from conservative districts — such as Sen. Kelly Merrick of Eagle River, Sen. David Wilson of Wasilla, and Jesse Bjorkman of Kenai — would have to stand with the Democrats against their own governor.

This, at a time when $2.6 billion was spent on education in Alaska for public school districts, not including local taxpayers’ contribution through their property taxes, in those organized boroughs that collect taxes. In addition, House Bill 106, the teacher retention bill from Dunleavy from 2023, passed, giving $15,000 bonuses to people who teach in rural Alaska, and the governor invested in a reading program.

Carl Jacobs, the vice president of the Anchorage School Board, says that inflation had increased 28% since the last adjustment to what’s known as the BSA — the Base Student Allocation — in 2016.

Yet Jacobs and the others at the rally did not acknowledge that even though the formula has not changed, schools get a one-time boost in funding every year from the Legislature. Last year they just didn’t get as much as they demanded, and yet they have continued to spend beyond their means.

Enrollment has dropped in most districts around the state except the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, where student count has grown.

For example, Anchorage schools since 2016 have lost over 10% of their students, yet no schools have closed and the student-teacher ratio is 17:1, considered exceptionally low.

Anchorage has 97 schools and about 43,000 students, the lowest enrollment in over a decade.

For comparison, Chandler, Arizona has 44,000 students and 45 schools. Sacramento, California has 40,000 students and 73 schools.

Juneau schools had 4,688 students in 2016, but have lost more than 600 students since then. The U.S. Census data predicts the capital city will continue losing students, as residents of Juneau have stopped having children.

The Juneau School District projects that in 2032, there will be 3,036 students, but it has made no effort to consolidate campuses. Juneau has 14 schools, including two high schools.

For comparison, Olympia, Washington has 9,500 students and 20 schools. Durango, Colorado has 5,800 students and 14 schools.

Carl Jacobs said on his campaign website, “This economic squeeze has led to the closure of schoolsdiminished educational opportunities for students, and placed our dedicated educators and paraprofessionals in a precarious financial position, struggling to meet basic needs.”

No schools have closed, contrary to Jacobs’ claims.

In addition, raising the BSA does not guarantee the money will go to teachers, because that is a local district decision. Jacobs has been sitting on the school board and is responsible for teacher salaries in Anchorage, and also responsible for deciding if schools should close.

On top of the BSA, the Anchorage schools get 58% of Anchorage property taxes, and the district also get federal disbursements and grants.

Those students who do attend Anchorage schools are missing a lot of classes. Last year, 43% of Anchorage students were chronically absent.

Students report that they are not learning enough in schools because the teachers are disengaged and not teaching, and so students would rather study at home. Teachers are also missing from classrooms, students report, and depend too much on substitute teachers, who show movies.

The results are profoundly disturbing to parents: In Anchorage, 43% of elementary students test at or above the proficient level for reading, and 39% tested at or above that level for math.

Even so, in April, Anchorage taxpayers will be asked to pay for a $30 million bond to build a brand new school to replace Inlet View School, which some critics say should be closed. The school is in Assembly Chair Chris Constant’s district.

The chanters and union representatives in Anchorage want the money guaranteed year after year. They’ll be heading to Juneau next week to lobby the legislature in the same “red for ed” manner.

Joelle Hall, head of the AFL-CIO, rallied the crowd: “If it’s outside the formula, we all know what happens there. You have a job one year. You don’t know if you have one the next. That’s no way to run a school. Hell, it’s no way to run a state.”

If the legislators really want the funding, rather than poke the governor in the eye, they would also have the option to offer a supplemental funding package. Every year, there is a supplemental budget; this year will be no different. The question is: Would Republican legislators rather get into a confrontation with Dunleavy, who enjoys broad support across the state?

21 COMMENTS

  1. It’s cute Kelly Merrick still says she’s a Republican. It’s asinine Eagle River keeps her in office.

    Of course the legislature will override the Cowardly Lion.

    Only government can fail so badly and demand more money for failing.

  2. Throwing more money at education doesn’t seem to be working, at least not working toward graduating students who have even the basic skills necessary for a successful, independent life that’s not dependent on government handouts. People lack the critical thinking skills necessary to weigh evidence to reach logical conclusions. Without that they just regurgitate whatever they’ve been told or have read without any curiosity or skepticism. Any authority figure becomes an expert in their eyes and they simply join the other sheeple, following orders like good little followers. “Wear the mask! Take the jab! Stand 6 feet apart to stay safe!” Don’t question the narrative. Attack any who don’t comply. The Borg couldn’t have done it better. And the worst aspect is that they’ll do the exact same thing next time because all they ever really learned at home, in school, at work was to obey, do as you’re told, don’t ask questions. Stay stupid and compliant because that’s what authoritarians like in their citizens. I don’t know, maybe the schools are actually very successful in doing what they’re really there for.

    • Alaska doesn’t need more money poured into education, we need fewer (small) districts which means fewer administrators which translates to more money for students. We have 53 school districta, 1/5 of which have less than 100 students, several with less than 30. All of these small districts have highly paid administrators.

  3. NO!! Do not raise the “BSA” and use the left-over monies that each school district still has in their accounts of the COVID money. Budget only, year by year. Do not look to more in your district budget. Teachers should look for less and work on term appointments. The Superintend of schools should be on a Term Appointment as well. Conditions need to be met and have not been through the years of budgeting, so we know that plans that beg for more money is not a good plan. School choice and charter schools is a better solution.

  4. Screw the Mafia.. sorry meant the Union.

    Does anyone remember last year when the Senate was voting on the largest one time funding increase for schools and Senator Shower introduced an amendment that said that 70% of the money had to go to teachers and the classroom????

    Well how did the teachers and classrooms fare after the illegal binding caucus of RINOs and Dimwits got jabbed by the cattle prod wielding Unions???…. Oh yeah… 17-3 against TEACHERS and CLASSROOMS. Only Senators Shower, Hughes and Myers voted to help Teachers and Students, the rest of Senate was all caught up in the back room promises for campaign contributions and whatever else the Mafia, err Union could throw at them in the local bars or houses of pleasure.

    By the way, how is that new whore house, opps, frat house, oops legislative hang over house coming along that we just spent $10 million on?? That building was a bribe. Title 29 says Public Property has to go up to bid. Let’s see some warrants for the liberal Juneau council. I want to bid on that building and so does a lot of other people.

  5. Based on the under performance, the lack of quality results, and the inflated ‘excessive’ costs … It’s quite apparent that the Dept of Education deserves to be “CUT” by a minimum of 25%. At least, until performance and results significantly improve!

    QUESTION’s:
    … Why would you continue to spend lavishly for dismal results?
    … Is it selfish and/or too demanding to expect higher performance?
    … How come the Department of Education is never held accountable?
    … When will residents demand school choice, including homeschool?
    … What ranking will Alaska fall to next year?

  6. No confrontation needed. It is almost impossible to get a 3/4 majority over-ride. Better to do the supplemental and then let the Governor veto that too. HA!
    This is all nibbling around the edges. Inflation caused by government over-stimulus has blown a hole in every budget. Unfortunately, your dollar buys 20% less than it did before. Even the Permanent Fund value is much less despite its portfolio gains. Top that off with a $1-2 billion dividend and the pie is shrinking fast.

  7. I have an idea. Why not “let” the people’s executive who they duly elected execute the people’s will and just not the special interest’s will. A.K.?

  8. Kelly Merrick will have no problem voting with the Demoncrats. She’s a union shill with a union fat cat for a husband. She is not a republican.

  9. Considering that we already put more money into education than any other state, how about we consider putting in more when we see results commensurate with the investment?

  10. Instead of commenting on Must Read, call your Republican legislator and tell them to vote no on Governor over ride!

  11. Someone needs to search out just what all was spent on all of the supplies & books they bought to update the education(?)and libraries on ALL of the woke and transgender educational equipment they purchased. I would dare say quite a lot of extra $$ was spent and they’re trying to get more. That type of stuff is NOT cheap. They tossed out all the GOOD teaching and learning books to be replaced by this “garbage”.. I like to ask if Don Donley has access to the receipts showing just how much the books and items bought to teach on THIS particular subject? I know they are included with alot of other books and items not pertaining to this particular subject. Is there an itemized listing that can break down the items bought so it can separated from the normal teaching supplies? I’m sure there are alot of others that would be interested..

  12. In previous years, this group of self-proclaimed educators would have been laughed out of town stuffed into their clown car. We taxpayers paid for this event, and will be paying for many more public swaying events, concerts, commercials, ect. Until we finally give in. What a bunch of carnival rubes the common people have become. Maybe too much weed in the diet. Back to the weather forecast. No news here. Happy happy.

  13. Every year it’s all about more money while education in Anchorage fails. I said it during Covid and I’ll say it again: Anchorage could benefit from emulating the Mat-Su.

  14. Really? More money to the unions and administration’s? How about actually do something about the poor job your already performing. 80’s Alaskas education was in the top percentage in the nation, now its in the cellar. Make improvements, then money can be considered. Didn’t the drop in students tell you anything?

  15. Money is not the issue is proven the more we throw out at the worst of grades got it’s the administration and the school board get rid of it and start over and maybe our grades will come up without having to raise more money and taxes to pay for all the administration. The test scores and being second to the last of nation shows how bad our schools are but they want more money to fix it. No more money make the grades go up without more money get rid of administration people.

  16. One problem is that the good students are leaving. Engaged parents who care about a quality education are going elsewhere. They’re also afraid their child could come home a different gender.

  17. What about our school district only allow teachers to teach only the subject and not any radical agenda such as gender identity, antisemitism, America is evil and so on. Then maybe we can talk.
    No ideological agenda.

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