Education News

Alaska House fails to pass education funding bill backed by governor and GOP

The Alaska House of Representatives on Monday failed to advance a proposed education funding bill that had the support of Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the House Republican minority. The bill, which would have provided $175 million in one-time funding for public schools, fell short of the required three-quarters majority by a vote of 25-14.

The bill’s provisions and supporters

The bill, House Bill 169, was introduced by Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, the House minority leader, as a compromise between the governor and the House Republicans, who had previously opposed any increase in education funding. The bill would have allocated $175 million from the state’s constitutional budget reserve, a savings account that requires a supermajority vote to access, to the public education fund for the fiscal year 2024.

The bill’s supporters argued that the one-time funding boost would help schools cope with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as increased costs for online learning, health and safety measures, and student support services. They also claimed that the bill would provide certainty and stability for school districts, which are facing budget shortfalls and potential layoffs.

Gov. Dunleavy, who had vetoed $87 million in education funding last year, said in a statement that he was disappointed by the House’s failure to pass the bill. He said that he had worked with the House minority to craft a bill that would “ensure our students and educators have the resources they need to succeed.”

The bill’s opponents and critics

The bill’s opponents, mainly from the House majority coalition of Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans, said that the bill was insufficient, unsustainable, and unfair. They argued that the bill would not address the long-term needs of public education, which has been underfunded for years due to inflation and rising costs. They also said that the bill would favor urban school districts over rural ones, as the funding formula would not account for the differences in student populations and needs.

Alaska House fails to pass education funding bill backed by governor and GOP

Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, the chair of the House Education Committee, said that the bill was a “band-aid” that would not solve the underlying problems of education funding. She said that the House majority had proposed a more comprehensive and equitable education bill, House Bill 169, which would raise the base student allocation by $300 and provide additional funding for special education, pre-kindergarten, and broadband access. She said that the House majority’s bill would also use federal funds, rather than the state’s savings, to pay for the education enhancements.

The bill’s fate and future

The bill’s fate is uncertain, as the House can still reconsider the vote within five days. However, the bill’s chances of passing are slim, as it would need at least 30 votes to advance to the Senate, where it would face another supermajority hurdle. The bill’s failure also raises the possibility of a government shutdown, as the state’s fiscal year ends on June 30 and the Legislature has not yet passed a budget.

The bill’s failure also highlights the deep divisions and gridlock in the Alaska Legislature, which has been struggling to agree on a fiscal plan amid declining oil revenues, a $2 billion budget deficit, and a looming constitutional crisis over the Permanent Fund dividend, a yearly cash payment to Alaskans from the state’s oil wealth fund. The Legislature has been in session for more than 100 days, exceeding the 90-day limit set by voters in 2006.


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