Home Part of States Newsroom
News
Alaska public school funding bill is in limbo after failed vote

Share

Alaska public school funding bill is in limbo after failed vote

Feb 19, 2024 | 10:45 pm ET
By James Brooks
Share
Alaska public school funding bill is in limbo after failed vote
Description
Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome (left), and Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham (right), talk during a break in the Alaska House floor session on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. Seated at right is Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The Alaska House of Representatives on Monday failed to advance the latest version of a proposed multipart education funding bill endorsed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Republicans in the House.

If some version of Senate Bill 140 fails to pass within days, rural schools could miss out on federal funding needed to increase Internet speeds. A longer delay — or failure to pass a bill altogether — could leave school districts without a funding boost that many say is necessary.

Already, school districts in Fairbanks and Juneau are preparing to close schools, while officials in Anchorage and elsewhere are planning to cut classes.

Legislators had been expected to begin debate on dozens of amendments to SB 140, but the House failed, by a single vote, to set the House Rules Committee’s version as the starting point, a necessary procedural step.

That failure left the House stymied and it eventually adjourned for the day with no further action.

“I don’t think the plan went off the tracks. I think that with this kind of bill … people are just trying to figure out where they’re at with it,” said Speaker of the House Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla.

After the House adjourned, Tilton said leaders of the House and Senate, including figures from the majority and minority caucuses, will meet Tuesday morning to figure out next steps.

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, said nobody in the House knows what the plan is. “We have punted and some people will meet at 9 a.m. and have a conversation,” he said.

Key to Monday’s situation were the votes of Reps. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham; Neal Foster, D-Nome; and CJ McCormick, D-Bethel. 

All three are members of the 23-person House majority, but on Monday, they broke from the majority and voted against starting with the House Rules Committee’s version.  

The three prefer a larger increase to the base student allocation — the state’s per-student funding formula — than the $300 increase proposed in the Rules Committee version of the bill.

If the House can’t agree to use the Rules Committee’s bill, it would be asked to consider the House Finance Committee’s version. 

That includes rural-school Internet funding and a $680 increase to the BSA, but it doesn’t include elements added by the Rules Committee, such as changes to the way charter schools are handled and extra funding for correspondence programs used by many homeschooled students.

Speaking on the House floor, Edgmon said, “I didn’t know how I was going to vote this morning, honest to God.”

In the end, he was swayed to vote against it. He said the rules committee’s additions hadn’t been sufficiently vetted. 

House Rules Committee chair Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said he had been expecting Edgmon, Foster and McCormick to support his committee’s version.

“I’m not disappointed in anything. We just go on,” he said.

It’s unusual for three legislators to break from the majority on a critical bill, but Tilton said that because the House majority doesn’t have a binding caucus — which requires members to vote together on procedural matters — that legislators are permitted to “vote their conscience.”

Before the House adjourned, Johnson proposed a revote on the failed procedural action. That didn’t happen before the end of the day.

Asked what will happen on Tuesday, Johnson said, “Right now, the Rules version is before us. We’ll take it up. Where it ends up from there is going to be determined by the votes.”

Alaska Beacon senior reporter Claire Stremple contributed to this article.