By James Brooks
Alaska Beacon 

Legislature fails to restore vetoed school funding

 

January 24, 2024



The Alaska Legislature failed on Jan. 18 to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of $87 million in one-time additional state funding for the 2024-2025 school year.

The vote was 33-26 and did not fall along party or political caucus lines. Forty-five votes were needed to override.

The failed override capped days of legislative maneuvering and months of unsuccessful lobbying by public-education advocates. Attention now switches to a bill that would permanently increase the state’s funding formula for public schools.

Unable to agree last year on a permanent boost in the funding formula. the Legislature appropriated $175 million as a one-time boost for school district operating budgets this year. The governor vetoed that amount in half.

The Wrangell School District was allocated about $210,000 under the vetoed amount but would have received twice that number if lawmakers had overridden the governor’s action. State funding covers about 60% of the district’s operating budget.

Rep. Mike Cronk, a Tok Republican, is a former teacher and voted against the override.

“I’m not interested in one-time (funding) again,” he said. “In all of our conversations, we hear that we need a permanent increase. So as a teacher and a former school board member, I want to make sure that we have a permanent increase.”

Twenty-one House Republican voted against the override, sealing its defeat.

Rep. Stanley Wright, an Anchorage Republican, represents a district where the school board is considering closing schools to save money. He was among the “no” votes, and also said a permanent increase, not temporary funding, is needed.

“I think we need to stop putting a Band-Aid on education. It’s time for some meaningful action,” he said.

House Democrats and independents, including Ketchikan Rep. Dan Ortiz, who also represents Wrangell, voted in favor of the veto override.

Several of those voting “yes” said the temporary increase would have been a helpful addition to any permanent increase later approved by the Legislature.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat and a “yes” vote, said he hoped there would be enough votes for an override, “but we knew it was gonna be tough. It’s a very high threshold. It’s the highest threshold in the United States for a veto override.”

Partly because of that threshold, Alaska’s state Legislature hasn’t successfully overridden a veto on an appropriations bill since 2009, and that involved special federal economic stimulus money. An ordinary budget veto hasn’t been overridden since 1987.

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

 

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