Alaska Senate passes major one-time education funding increase
Advocates say there’s still a dire need for a permanent increase
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, speaks about the budget at a news conference on Thursday. Pictured with him are Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
The Alaska Senate passed what lawmakers described as the largest one-time education funding increase in state history on Wednesday night. It will cost the state roughly $175 million in a $6.1 billion budget.
Senate President Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said education was a top priority for the body and called the funding a “major accomplishment.”
The budget bill increased the base student allocation, used to set what the state pays schools per student, by $680 above what Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed. The amounts school districts receive are adjusted higher based on factors like school sizes and the number of students with special needs.
Unfortunately, it doesn't address long-term systemic needs in the school system that have been caused by virtually a decade of flat funding and the erosion that inflation has caused on the school district budgets
– Tom Klaameyer, NEA-Alaska Board President
Education advocates said they appreciate the boost in funding, but schools are still in dire need of a permanent increase.
National Education Association Alaska Board President Tom Klaameyer said that while it is an historic amount of money, school districts will continue to see the same problems until the Legislature makes a permanent increase to the BSA.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t address long-term systemic needs in the school system that have been caused by virtually a decade of flat funding and the erosion that inflation has caused on the school district budgets,” he said.
Education funding has been flat in Alaska since 2017, even as inflation caused a price increase of nearly 25%.
Klaameyer said a big part of the reason Alaska districts struggle to attract and retain employees is a lack of financial stability—jobs in schools disappear when funding doesn’t come through or keep up with costs.
“That means programs go away for kids,” he said. “That means class sizes go up. That means fewer counselors, fewer school nurses, fewer supports for students. And everything about education becomes harder.”
The Senate passed a bill that would permanently increase the base student allocation, but that legislation did not pass in the House.
The House is now considering the Senate’s budget in a 30-day special session.
Rep. Julie Coulombe, R-Anchorage, opposed a bill in the House Finance Committee that would make major education policy changes, including a permanent BSA increase. While she said she supports a permanent increase and would prefer that to one-time funding, she wants to first see the BSA formula changed so that districts with greater needs get more money.
She said she would support the one-time funding in the Senate’s budget.
“I think that at this point, it’s going to be really hard to change. I tried. I was a lone voice,” she said. “Now we’re in a special session, I don’t see that changing too much. Maybe a little bit, but I would support an increase.”
Coulombe expressed hope the formula could change next year.
“I’m really encouraged that the education chairs want to dig into the formula in the interim,” she said. “I suspect that’s where our problem lies.”
NEA-Alaska’s Klaameyer said that schools need to get funding clarity from the Legislature as soon as possible so districts can make hiring decisions by the end of the school year — this week and next for many districts.
Even if the House concurs with the Senate’s budget, the governor could still reduce or outright veto the education increase in budget.
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