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Gov. Dunleavy vetoes bipartisan education bill

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, R-Alaska, delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Jan. 30, 2024.
Clarise Larson
Gov. Mike Dunleavy, R-Alaska, delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Jan. 30, 2024.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have raised state education funding significantly for the first time in years.

In a statement late on March 14, Dunleavy said that the bill “lacked sufficient changes in how charter schools are chartered in order to allow more students and families charter school possibilities.”

The bill, Senate Bill 140, would have raised state per-student funding by $680. In his statement, Dunleavy said that he supports increasing the base student allocation, the largest part of the state’s school funding formula. But he said that the bill offered “no new approaches, other than enhanced funding, to increase educational outcomes.”

The $175 million increase in general-purpose education spending greenlit by the House and Senate by wide margins would have been the first significant boost to the state’s education funding formula since 2016.

The bill also sought to raise student transportation and correspondence school funding and create a new state position dedicated to charter school support.

But during debate on the House floor, lawmakers stripped out provisions that would have allowed the state school board, appointed by the governor, to directly approve new charter schools, bypassing local districts. That’s after a version of the bill including the charter school provisions failed to win support from a majority of the House.

The bipartisan Senate majority appears skeptical of the governor’s charter school proposal. Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, a former school board president, said that he believed it would take power away from local elected officials.

“I do believe in local control. I think that works best in education,” Stevens said on March 13.

House and Senate leaders said lawmakers were prepared to call a joint session on March 18 to consider overriding the veto. Despite broad initial support for the bill, some legislators have suggested they may not vote to override a potential veto.

House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, acknowledged divides over education funding within her caucus and said ahead of the veto announcement that members would have to “vote their conscience.”

Even if lawmakers override Dunleavy’s veto, he can still unilaterally reduce state education with a line-item veto of the state’s operating budget later this year. Dunleavy hinted at that power in his veto announcement, saying that he would review appropriations bills “to ensure schools are being adequately funded and the state’s limited resources are being spent appropriately.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the date of Stevens’ comments. He spoke on Wednesday, March 13.

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