Alaska House passes bipartisan education bill with historic school funding boost

By Sean Maguire

Updated: 15 minutes ago Published: 36 minutes ago

JUNEAU — The Alaska House on Thursday night overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan education agreement with a historic increase in public school funding.

The Senate is expected to concur with the measure, which would then send it to Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s desk for his consideration. The package is roughly estimated to cost more than $200 million in additional spending per year.

The vote was 38-2 in favor of the bill. Only Republican Reps. Mike Prax and David Eastman voted no.

The package includes the largest single increase to school formula funding in state history, extra funding for home-schooled students, and provisions intended to support parents navigate the charter school application process.

The $175-million increase to school formula funding equates to a $680 boost to the Base Student Allocation — the state’s per-student funding formula. Education advocates have said a funding increase twice that size is required as school funding in Alaska has not been substantially boosted since 2017.

The education package also includes $14.5 million in extra funding for home-schooled students; provisions to boost internet speeds for eligible schools; and $10 million to help students struggling with reading after education advocates said a wide-ranging reading bill passed two years ago was underfunded.

The House earlier in the week twice rejected a sweeping education package from being debated on the House floor on 20-20 votes. The package was loaded with GOP education priorities, including provisions for more charter schools; $58 million in teacher bonuses and roughly $40 million in extra funding for homeschooled students.

After days of closed-door meetings, the bipartisan education deal came together quickly late Thursday before being debated on the House floor in the evening. Several legislators said it was an “ugly process” to forge a deal, but applauded the result.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Craig Johnson said before the final vote that “you rarely get what you want,” but he supported passing the bill early in the legislative session because he said it would give school districts time to plan their budgets for the next fiscal year.

Juneau Democratic Rep. Sara Hannan, a former teacher, said she supported the bill, but that the school funding boost was inadequate with schools slated for closure in Juneau.

Across the state, education advocates have said that without a substantial school funding boost this year that class sizes would increase; popular school programs would be cut; and teacher positions would be eliminated.

Lawmakers have been racing to pass an education bill by the end of the month so eligible schools can apply for grants to increase their internet download speeds. School districts need to submit applications for those grants by Feb. 28 or they could miss out on substantial funding over the fiscal year that starts in July.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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