Alaska governor threatens to veto education package he claims isn't adequate.

Juneau, Alaska Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has vowed to veto an education package overwhelmingly passed by lawmakers after a heated debate because it lacks measures he likes, including a pilot program paying up to $15,000 annual bonuses to attract and retain teachers.

Dunleavy, a former educator, said last week that lawmakers still have time to solve charter school promotion issues including bonuses and application process improvements. The governor has 15 days, except Sundays, to act on a bill given to him during legislative session. The bill can be signed, vetoed, or passed without his signature. A ruling is due on March 14. Key politicians call the plan a compromise and wonder if the state can afford or even use the bonuses.

This parliamentary session has focused on education financing. A compromise package that included a $175-million increase in school funding formula aid to districts, language encouraging districts to use some of the extra funding for teacher salary and retention bonuses, a state education department position to support charter schools, and additional funding for K-3 students who need reading help was passed 38-2 by the House last week. After considerable debate and Republican-led majority splits, the vote occurred.

The nonpartisan Senate approved the legislation 18-1 on Monday, sending it to Dunleavy. After the House rejected the House Rules Committee's bill for debate, negotiations led to the compromise. Dunleavy's bonus plan, charter clauses, and a $80 million formula increase in state aid were in that version.

After the bill cleared the House, Republican Speaker Cathy Tilton stated that while the compromise “fell short” of the original proposal, “I’d still call it a ‘qualified’ success. School officials requested a $360 million funding increase due to inflation and high energy and insurance costs. But Alaska, which relies heavily on oil and earnings from its nest-egg oil-wealth fund, has had deficits for a decade, and several lawmakers questioned if that amount was practical.

The Legislature approved a $175 million hike last year, but Dunleavy rejected half. An override failed due to insufficient votes. Dunleavy sees charter school bonuses and support as a new approach. He doubts that district financing will boost student performance.

He recommended three-year bonuses of $5,000 to $15,000 for teachers, with the largest sum for remote teachers. According to estimates, the initiative might cost $55 million annually. The language in the education package encouraging districts to spend funding for bonuses “does not ensure the desired ends are realized,” Dunleavy spokesperson Grant Robinson said Thursday by email.

Republican Senate President Gary Stevens told reporters last week that the state can only afford so much. Despite a revised revenue prediction likely by mid-March, MPs have yet to publicly debate how much oil-wealth fund dividends to citizens should be this year, one of the most acrimonious disputes of the session.

Anchorage Democrat Sen. Bill Wielechowski questioned bonuses' efficacy. He believes there is a “fair expectation” that abroad or Lower 48 teachers will leave after three years. He called the compromise bill's support “pretty unheard of these days” for a divisive measure.

NEA-Alaska president Tom Klaameyer said if Dunleavy vetoes the education package, “then our schools remain in crisis.” The proposal “was simply a life preserver that was being thrown or could have been thrown to schools to stem the crisis,” he said.

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