Flags flank the entrance to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office at the Alaska State Capitol on Thursday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Flags flank the entrance to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office at the Alaska State Capitol on Thursday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Dunleavy vetoes sweeping education bill that includes $680 increase in per-student funding

Legislature expected to meet for veto override session Monday, unknown if enough votes exist.

This is a developing story.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Thursday vetoed a comprehensive, bipartisan education bill that included a $680-per-student increase for public schools, stating legislators have failed to act on educational policy priorities he’s seeking, with legislative leaders stating a veto override session is expected Monday.

The Legislature passed the final version of Senate Bill 140 by a combined vote of 56-3 following intense negotiations, but some legislators and other officials have stated they are unsure there are the 40 votes necessary for a veto override. Also, even if an override occurs Dunleavy can use a line-item veto on some or all of the increased funding to the current $5,960 Base Student Allocation when he signs the budget in June.

“Although I support an increase to the BSA – there were no new approaches, other than enhanced funding, to increase educational outcomes,” Dunleavy said in a prepared statement. “SB 140 lacked sufficient changes in how charter schools are chartered in order to allow more students and families charter school possibilities. The lack of such reforms, given our success, with charter schools did not justify the passage of this bill that increases spending without needed reforms.”

The increase would have provided an estimated $5.2 million in extra funding for the Juneau School District. The Juneau Board of Education on Thursday night approved a budget for next year that patches a $9.7 million deficit during a meeting that adjourned moments before the governor’s veto decision was announced publicly.

About half of the shortfall is covered by consolidating schools, while the rest is occurring through staff reductions and other cost-cutting, much of which district officials said could be negated with the increased BSA funding.

Superintendent Frank Hauser, in an interview immediately after the meeting, said he’s disappointed by the veto, but emphasized district administrators and school board members adopted the budget on the assumption there will be no increase in BSA funding.

“So we’re going to continue to move forward in the hope that a BSA (increase) does come through,” he said.

The veto occurred hours before a midnight deadline, after the House passed the bill by a 38-2 vote and the Senate by an 18-1 vote, transmitting it the governor on Feb. 26. Dunleavy had 15 days to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature, and on Feb. 27 he threatened to veto the bill unless legislation addressing his priorities was also sent to him.

However, the Republican-led House majority scheduled few meetings of its Education Committee during the 15-day period, and legislative leaders in both the House and Senate said during the interim described the status of discussions with the governor as ongoing.

Dunleavy said “there is still time in this session to address some of the issues” in the bill and on his priority list. However, he also noted that while he will continue to work with legislators on education reforms “I will review the appropriations bills following the legislative session to ensure schools are being adequately funded and the state’s limited resources are being spent appropriately.”

Among his stated priorities are allowing a state board to approve new charter schools — a power that currently exists with local districts — and year-end teacher retention bonuses.

SB 140 originated last year merely as a proposal to help rural school districts boost their broadband speeds, passing the Senate unanimously on May 12. But the extra BSA funding and other provisions were tacked onto the bill by the House Finance Committee near the end of last year’s session while lawmakers were attempting to reach a deal on the budget. The bill expanded even further in the House at the beginning of this year’s session as provisions ranging from homeschooling support to services for hearing-impaired students were added to provide a package that ultimately got near-unanimous support.

Both Senate President Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, and House Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican, have confirmed the Legislature’s plan is to hold a joint session to consider a veto override on Monday. A vote in favor by two-thirds of Alaska’s combined 60 lawmakers is required for a successful veto override.

However, Rep. Ben Carpenter, a Nikiski Republican who voted for SB 140, stated Thursday night he will support Dunleavy’s veto and work on replacement legislation.

“I’ve been advocating for parents to have a greater say over their children’s classroom,” Carpenter stated in a text message. “Why did the education unions have those provisions stripped out of S.B. 140? Very shortsighted. What’s good for parents is good for kids.”

Several other Republican legislators who voted in favor of the bill declined to say in media interviews Thursday if they will vote to override the veto.

However, House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent, said the 16 members of his caucus “stand ready to override this veto and ensure SB140 becomes law.”

“Throughout this session, Alaskans have made clear that the Legislature must address the funding crisis facing our students, educators, and schools across Alaska,” he said in a prepared statement. “Alaska’s education system is in crisis and SB140 provides essential support to Alaska’s students whether they attend charter, correspondence, or neighborhood brick and mortar schools while directing funds into the classroom and funding the Alaska Reads Act.”

If the governor uses a line-item veto in the budget to reject an increase in BSA or other funding it will take a three-fourths majority of the Legislature to override.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306. Ashlyn O’Hara of the Peninsula Clarion contributed to this story.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 25

Here’s what to expect this week.

Bill Thomas, a lifelong Haines resident and former state lawmaker, has filed as a candidate for the District 3 House seat that includes the northern half of Juneau on Wednesday. (Alaska State Legislature photo)
Former Haines lawmaker Bill Thomas challenging Rep. Andi Story for District 3 House seat

Challenger served in Legislature from 2005-13, been a lobbyist and commercial fisherman for decades.

The student band performs at Thunder Mountain High School. (Screenshot from student film “Digging a Hole in the School Budget”)
Thunder Mountain High School graduates win film festival award

Documentary by Jade Hicks, Hayden Loggy-Smith portrays human impacts of school consolidation plan.

The city of Hoonah, which is petitioning to incorporate as a borough that includes a large surrounding area that includes Glacier Bay and a few tiny communities. (Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development photo)
Hoonah’s petition to create Alaska’s 20th borough opposed by state boundary commission staff

Xunaa Borough would rank 8th in size, 18th in population; final decision, public vote still pending.

Ian Worden, interim CEO at Bartlett Regional Hospital, presents an update about the hospital’s financial situation during a board of directors meeting on Tuesday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Bartlett officials seek to extend interim CEO’s contract to end of year amidst financial crisis planning

Ian Worden took over temporary leadership in October; 39 applicants so far for permanent job.

The LeConte state ferry departs Juneau on Tuesday afternoon, bound for Haines on a special round-trip following two cancelled sailings due to a mechanical problem. (Laurie Craig / Juneau Empire)
LeConte returns to service with special trip to Haines after weekend cancellation

State ferry will pick up half of nearly 60 stranded vehicles, others may have to wait until July.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, May 27, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Anchorage pullers arrived at Wrangell’s Petroglyph Beach on May 23 for a canoe-naming ceremony. One of the canoes they will paddle to Juneau was dedicated to Wrangell’s Marge Byrd, Kiks.adi matriarch Shaawat Shoogoo. The canoe’s name is Xíxch’ dexí (Frog Backbone). (Becca Clark / Wrangell Sentinel)
Canoes making 150-mile journey from Wrangell, other Southeast communities to Celebration

Paddlers expected to arrive in Juneau on June 4, one day before biennial Alaska Native gathering.

The Alaska State Capitol and Dimond Courthouse are seen on Thursday morning, Jan. 18. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Judicial Council recommends Alaskans keep all judges, including figure behind correspondence ruling

The Alaska Judicial Council has voted to recommend that state voters retain… Continue reading

Most Read