Alaska Gov. Dunleavy's budget has millions for education, but no increase to funding per student


December 21, 2023

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said education is among his top priorities in the coming fiscal year. He proposed spending millions on education, but did not include an increase to per student funding, known as the base student allocation, in his proposed budget.

His proposed budget puts $1,267,522,300 to the education department, a 9% decrease from last year, due to shrinking enrollment.

“I want the public to understand that, as a former educator, I understand that schools cost money, education costs money, there’s no doubt about it,” Dunleavy said. “The question has always been whether we put money in the BSA, and that’s the base student allocation that’s part of the formula for funding, or whether we put money into the education world, in various forms and for various purposes.”

He specified that, though his proposed budget contains no increase in the BSA, it does not rule out an increase as the legislative process plays out.

As an example of putting money into the education world, Dunleavy pointed to a bill his office introduced last year that would “put money in the pocket of classroom teachers.” House Bill 106 would put $58 million towards recruitment and retention incentives for teachers.

He said he proposed spending money on teacher incentives like this, rather than increasing the per-student funding, because “They’re the ones who sign the contract or not. They’re the ones deciding to leave or not.”

“We’ve heard for decades, we need more money, we need more money, we need more money. Where do we need more money? We need money in the classroom. That’s where we need more money,” he said. “This is really a research piece to see if in fact that does get people and keep them there. If it does, then we’ve solved that issue.”

Dunleavy said he planned to put money towards charter schools and home schools and highlighted that Alaska’s charter schools ranked number one in the nation by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance.

“There are models of excellence in Alaska. We’re the top of the United States in charter schools. I hope that’s the headline somewhere at some time, ‘Alaska’s charter schools are number one.’ We’re going to find out why. And see if we can duplicate that for all kids,” he said.

He said that would likely be a combination of increasing charter schools and homeschools, as well as bringing those practices into other public schools.

Sen. Gary Stevens — R-Kodiak, Senate president and vice chair of the Education Committee — called the governor’s budget a “starting point,” and said it was a “shame” that there is no increase to the base student allocation.

“I know that our districts are and are really badly in need of some additional funding,” he said.

Last year, the governor’s largest budget cut was half of a $175 million one-time funding increase for K-12 public schools approved by the Legislature.

“It’s really a matter of our working with the governor because if we put more money into the BSA and he vetoes it again, then we’re worse off than when we started,” he said. “That’s my job as the Senate president, to work with the governor and work with the House and to try to find a way to make some progress here.”

Sen. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage and chair of the Senate Education Committee, said that Alaska needs to fully fund its schools, but “a status quo budget is not great for public education in Alaska.”

Tobin said in an email she hopes the governor will join the Senate majority in supporting a “significant increase in the Base Student Allocation and investing in other proven measures to get more resources into classrooms.”

Jharrett Bryantt, superintendent of the Anchorage School District, said in a prepared statement that he was disappointed in the “lack of emphasis” placed on education funding.

“Underfunding of public education in our state is reaching crisis levels,” he said, adding that districts cannot compete with the wages and benefits offered by schools in the Lower 48.

“For example, the last time ASD was forced to issue layoff notices to teachers, a third of those certificated professionals left Alaska altogether – taking with them their talents and families. This is how a community fails. I know we can and must do better,” he said.

A statement from the Association of Alaska School Boards said the decision not to include increased per student funding in the proposed budget comes as schools are saddled with high inflation and have an urgent need for resources.

“Despite the persistent efforts of educators, parents, families, and advocates across the state, the budget announcement falls far short of addressing the critical needs of our public education system,” it said.

Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman said not to get “too excited” about a budget that is a starting point: “Don’t panic in the streets over education funding — yet.”

Yereth Rosen contributed reporting to this story from Anchorage.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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