Dr. Michael Johnson, Commissioner of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, speaks about a reduced funding for education to the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Monday Feb. 18, 2019. (Michael Penn ι Juneau Empire)

Dr. Michael Johnson, Commissioner of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, speaks about a reduced funding for education to the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Monday Feb. 18, 2019. (Michael Penn ι Juneau Empire)

Senate Finance grills OMB, Education Commissioner over budget

Hoffman calls 25 percent proposed cuts to education ‘unacceptable’

Sen. Lyman Hoffman called Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed cuts to education “unacceptable,” setting the tone for the Senate Finance Committee meeting Monday at the Capitol.

The committee went through a budget presentation on the Department of Education and Early Development, grilling members of the Office of Management and Budget, as well as Education Commissioner Michael Johnson.

“It’s one of the key components in the state’s budget that everyone says they support,” Hoffman, D-Bethel, said at the start of the meeting. “The budget reduces (the education budget) by over $300 million. But, to put that into perspective of what is really happening, you’re proposing to cut one fourth of the funds … 25 percent of the budget in education. … From my viewpoint I find that completely unacceptable.”

Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, asked OMB Director Donna Arduin how these cuts would improve education outcomes for students.

“We’re doing this because the state is out of money and we need to balance our budget,” Arduin said. She explained how additional education funding in the current year was allocated from the Constitutional Budget Reserve and that can no longer happen. “We’re proposing this so we can get our budget and our fiscal house in order.”

Bishop responded saying, “With all do respect ma’am, that’s the wrong answer.”

[High school robotics team advances to Worlds competition]

Rep. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, asked Johnson if the state board of education had made a statutorily required recommendation on the proposed budget. Johnson said the board had tabled this decision. The education commissioner is selected by the state’s board of education, not appointed by the governor.

Sen. Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage, explained how spending has increased but the number of students has decreased since 2006. She said most of that is going toward employee benefits. In 2006, the state spent $302 million on benefits and in 2017 the state spent $596 million on employee benefits, a 97 percent increase. Imhof said 2017 was the most recent figures available.

“Districts are spending less on books and curriculum and more on health care for their teachers. No fault, it just is what it is,” Von Imhof said. “So rather than just making a big cut across the board, say all 53 districts. ‘You’re your own.’ Maybe a better approach might’ve been let’s help you with our highest cost driver and see if we can as a state come up with a solution that makes sense that helps everybody. I’m not really hearing that. I think that’s a problem.”

Arduin responded saying the OMB does not have control over school districts and how they spend money.

Hoffman told Johnson that Von Imhof makes a strong case that the administration is not coming forward in a constructive manner in order to address education problems.

“It’s not always about the checkbook,” Hoffman said. “It can’t be only about the checkbook.”

Hoffman recommended Johnson fulfill his statutory obligation and bring his board together and make a recommendation on the education budget, rather than hide behind the Legislature” and wait for it to make changes to the budget.

“That is what the people of Alaska expect you to do, is to defend and preserve education for all the students of the state,” Hoffman said to Johnson.

Toward the end of the meeting, Mike Barnhill, a policy analyst at the OMB, said he would like to say he was happy to be at the finance meeting but that would not be true.

“I think the conversation that just happened is incredibly important to Alaska,” said Barnhill. “There is literally no plan we can put before this committee to which there is some element, someone won’t hate.”

The Senate Finance Committee will continue its review of the budget by department throughout the week.


• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258 or kbaird@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alaska_kev.


Senate Finance grills OMB, Education Commissioner over budget

More in News

This photo shows the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at a pop up vaccinations site the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, in the Staten Island borough of New York. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer)
CDC freeze on Johnson and Johnson vaccine sets clinics scrambling

The odds of being affected are vanishingly rare, but CDC says better safe than sorry.

This photo shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident. On Wednesday, March 24, 2021, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state of Ohio that tried to get the U.S. Census Bureau to provide data used for drawing congressional and legislative districts ahead of its planned release. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)
Alaska joins 15 other states in backing Alabama’s challenge to Census privacy tool

The case could go directly to the Supreme Court if appealed.

Has it always been a police car? (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Tuesday, April 13, 2021

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

After over 30 years at 3100 Channel Drive, the Juneau Empire offices are on the move. (Ben Hohenstatt /Juneau Empire File)
The Juneau Empire is on the move

Advertising and editorial staff are moving to Jordan Creek Center.

This photo shows the National Archives in the Sand Point neighborhood of Seattle that has about a million boxes of generally unique, original source documents and public records. In an announcement made Thursday, April 8, 2021, the Biden administration has halted the sale of the federal archives building in Seattle, following months of opposition from people across the Pacific Northwest and a lawsuit by the Washington Attorney General's Office. Among the records at the center are tribal, military, land, court, tax and census documents. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Biden halts sale of National Archives center in Seattle

Tribes and members of Congress pushed for the halt.

This photo shows Unangax̂ Gravesite at Funter Bay, the site where Aleut villagers forcibly relocated to the area during World War II are buried. A bill recently passed by the Alaska House of Representatives would make the area part of a neighboring state park. (Courtesy photo / Niko Sanguinetti, Juneau-Douglas City Museum) 
DO NOT REUSE THIS PHOTO WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM JUNEAU DOUGLAS CITY MUSEUM. -BEN HOHENSTATT
Bill to preserve Unangax̂ Gravesite passes House

Bill now heads to the state Senate.

The state announced this week that studded tires will be allowed for longer than usual. In Southeast Alaska, studded tires will be allowed until May 1 instead of April 15. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)
State extends studded tire deadline

Prolonged wintry weather triggers the change.

COVID at a glance for Monday, April 12

The most recent state and local numbers.

Has it always been a police car. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Sunday, April 11, 2021

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

Most Read