During the recent legislative session, lawmakers heard from constituents and advocacy groups from across Alaska about the pressing issues facing our state. During my first session in elected office, I heard about one issue more than any other: the need to invest in the education of the next generation of Alaskans. Educators, support staff, students, and community members weighed in with a strong and consistent message. After years of flat funding, which has amounted to functional budget cuts for school districts, many districts were preparing for budget deficits in the tens of millions of dollars.
Shortfalls of this magnitude result in drastically increased burdens on our educators and students, with increased class sizes and reduced support personnel contributing to classroom management challenges and teacher burnout. Recognizing the scope and immediacy of this problem, legislators broadly agreed that we needed to increase education funding. While there were varying opinions about how much it should be raised, there was a collective push towards increasing the Base Student Allocation (BSA) – our education funding formula – by $680 per student. To this end, Senate Bill 52 passed the Senate and would have increased the BSA by $680 permanently. However, this bill did not pass the House by the end of the legislative session. It remains in the House Finance Committee. Knowing that a long-term fix was unlikely to get across the finish line in one session, lawmakers turned to a temporary solution in this year’s annual operating budget.
When the House was considering this years operating budget, the first amendment to be considered came from the House majority and was unanimously supported by their mostly Republican caucus. This amendment added a $175 million one-time education funding boost equivalent to a one-time $680 BSA increase. The amendment passed 39-1, with only Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla) in opposition. This addition was subsequently supported by the Senate and was included in their final budget that passed on May 18, being seen by both bodies as a stop-gap measure to stem the continual outmigration of educators from their profession and of families from our state.
On June 19, Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) issued his vetoes for this year’s budget, with $130 million in vetoes of education funding for K-12 and the University of Alaska. Most concerning is Dunleavy’s $87 million cut that reduces by half the one-time increase passed for the Base Student Allocation. This will cost our local Fairbanks school district millions of dollars. Without an immediate override of this veto, our local Borough Assembly will have to divert limited funds away from other important services and increase their contribution to K-12 education. Even with increased local funding, it is looking highly likely that educators will once again head to school this fall with fewer resources and more students in their classrooms than ever before.
Alongside the K-12 vetoes, our avowedly pro-family and pro-workforce governor has made $36 million in cuts to the University of Alaska. These funds were set aside to address a small portion of the increasing deferred maintenance backlog, as well as invest in workforce development programs, including for the technical and vocational education jobs the state desperately needs right now and into the future. As an institution, the University of Alaska leads the way in developing Alaska’s workforce. Especially when Alaska is poised to receive billions of dollars in federal infrastructure money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, why would we cut programs to help alleviate the issue of a workforce shortage when ensuring an Alaskan workforce has remained a stated priority of the Dunleavy administration?
Ultimately, I wanted to serve in the Alaska State House because I truly believe in the long-term future of our state. The governor has said that a budget demonstrates our values, but our annual operating budget for this year fails to adequately invest in the most precious resource we have: the next generation of Alaskans.
Without delay, the Legislature needs to go into special session and override these vetoes. My House minority coalition colleagues and I support a very brief special session to make these votes. Our coalition has also formally asked for a poll of the House membership so that we will know who among the House majority is willing to uphold and protect the education funding that they wholeheartedly supported earlier this year.
I urge my colleagues to put their attitudes into actions. Let’s vote to override the Governor Dunleavy’s vetoes.
Representative Ashley Carrick (D – Fairbanks) represents House District 35. She was first elected in 2022.