“I had a few tears” KIBSD faces another year of flat funding after Dunleavy vetoes education bill

Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed a bill that would have permanently increased state education funding last week. The Alaska State Legislature failed to overturn that veto by one vote on March 18. As KMXT’s Brian Venua reports, school officials in Kodiak are left wondering when, or if, the state government will help. 

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The Kodiak Island Borough School District’s Board of Education at a budget planning work session. From left to right, Duncan Fields, Kerry Irons, Jim Pryor, Judy Carstens, and Dave Johnson, January 9, 2024. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

Judy Carstens has been on the Kodiak Island Borough School District’s Board of Education for about six years. She said she wasn’t surprised when the governor vetoed the bill, but had hope until Monday, when the override vote failed.

“I had a few tears, not just for Kodiak, but for the whole state and there’re so many districts that are suffering much more than we are,” she said. “And that makes me sad.”

Districts around Alaska have had to operate without a significant increase to the Base Student Allocation – or how the state funds districts per student – since before the pandemic. The Alaska Reads Act, which passed last year, only included a small boost to the education funding formula. 

The Legislature has approved some one-time funding boosts, but Dunleavy slashed an increase last year in half in a line-item veto. The Kodiak Island Borough School District ended up needing to cut about $2 million from its budget over the summer to help pay for the current school year.

Since the last increase to the BSA in 2017, schools have had to face high inflation, with no financial commitment to education from the state. Carstens said Kodiak’s school district was also hit with a double-whammy since the island’s population is shrinking. That means less money for the district overall.

“The population is decreasing, and we know that’s for a lot of different reasons, but we still need to provide an education to every student on this island,” Carstens said.

KIBSD currently serves 2,228 students, according to the national center for education statistics. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

Carstens said she’s heard some legislators are rushing to write a new education bill to try to get some kind of one-time funding to school districts again before the end of the session; but that might not be enough. 

“We have to look down the road, we can’t just look at the 24-25 budget,” Carstens said. “We’re going to face this for three, four years ahead, unless we get funded very well.” 

She said she feels Gov. Dunleavy is holding education funding hostage.  The governor said he vetoed the bill because it didn’t include funding for charter schools or bonuses for teacher retention.

Carstens said despite the recent snafu she’s still hoping for an increase of about $680 this year. The last education bill, SB 140, would have increased the BSA by the same amount. KIBSD is in budget negotiations with the Kodiak Island Borough, however any boosts to education funding this year would likely go to the district’s fund balance. 

The Alaska Legislative session is set to end May 15. 

 

Editor’s note: For transparency, Judy Carstens serves on KMXT’s Community Advisory Board, but is not involved in newsroom decisions.

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