Alaska Senate Bill 140, the education package, is on the governor’s desk. The bill underwent arduous negotiations between the House and the Senate, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a former teacher and superintendent, making known his priorities which were specifically designed to improve student outcomes. The bill on his desk, however, left out some of those priorities and watered down others.

Some legislators seem to be taken back by the governor’s strong stance that he will veto SB 140 if items to improve student outcomes aren’t moved through the legislative process by his veto deadline of March 14. They are unaccustomed to this type of Wally Hickel/Jay Hammond strong move. Dunleavy has the full constitutional authority to veto the bill, and with the votes present to uphold his veto, those legislators who want the $680 Base Student Allocation increase, better get on board or they will lose that increase altogether.

One item left out of the bill is, in my mind, a significant key to helping lift our children out of the academic deficiency hole: teacher bonuses. Growing a school budget is not correlated with academic improvement; supporting teachers specifically is. Valuing and supporting our teachers, ensuring they get a larger piece of the pie and stay in our communities, is fundamental to student success.

In its current form the bill slightly expands both charter and correspondence options, attempts to address K-3 reading, reasonably boosts pupil transportation, and increases the base student allocation by $680. I made extremely clear in my remarks on the Senate floor, however, that the absence of funding targeted directly to teachers was a mistake. I stated on the record that after the bill passed and the ball was in the governor’s court, if he chose to play hardball to make improvements for the sake of our students, I would be on his team.

So here we are – playing hardball. I’m on the team to help our students and to help our teachers.

In addition to including a provision for teacher bonuses, the bill’s that is intended to help K-3 students with reading needs to be restructured. Right now, the bill incentivizes a district to keep a child in the “deficient” category until mid-school year. Instead, the funding should be a set amount per K-3 student. I would support a provision to allow intensive needs students who choose public correspondence schooling to receive additional funding; I would also support transportation vouchers for low-income students attending charter schools that don’t provide bussing.

If the $680 increase to the BSA holds, those dollars will only help our students if districts allocate those funds wisely. Districts are well aware of our chronically low student performance across our state; they know they’re responsible for increasing proficiency; they know the task ahead, and they know they are under scrutiny. Based on the Moore vs State of Alaska 2007 case, the state will be constitutionally required to intervene if results don’t improve.

We need to pass the additional provisions that will help our districts help our students achieve proficiency by March 14. No one should be opposed to that.

The views expressed here are those of the author.


— Click here to contact Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

OPINION: Governor plays education ‘hardball’ with AK lawmakers in effort to improve schools

Shelley Hughes
Shelley Hughes serves as an Alaska state senator from Palmer.


  • Diana says:

    The bill on Dunleavy’s desk is over and above what should be put to a budget for schools and students. It needs to be shaved even further. It is still too much money out there for the schools. Cut more on the bill.

  • DaveMaxwell says:

    Shelly are you aware of “fletch” at diamond high school? Was it a mis quote from you about bonuses? Did you mean boners? More money in any fashion towards these institutions of perversion is completely out of the question! Why can’t you see this? The outrage of how out of control we have fallen to is causing mental disorders amongst students and leaders! This crap needs to stop! Put your pen down and go home!

  • Matthew says:

    He can’t pick and choose. He may veto the whole bill or veto nothing. If he wants to line item things out of the bill, he must do so after the bill has passed. Effective way to “line item” is to strike or limit the fiscal portion tied to specific pieces of the bill he disagrees with, after the legislation has passed.
    There is no such thing as striking specifics from a bill. It’s either a big thumbs up or a big thumbs down. It’s simply a veto power.

  • Cherie K says:

    Thanks for standing strong for students and TEACHERS.

  • John J Otness says:

    A waste of money while the communist NEA is in charge of the failing schools…… insanity is funding illiteracy…. defund the indoctrination centers.

  • micah says:

    Government schools need to be shut down. They are a plague on children and society, and fail to educate. We need to better model.

    No more money for government schools

  • John J. Otness says:


  • Independent Observer says:

    Not another nickel. Alaska has the highest dollar to student allocation in the country and we have not received the proverbial bang for our buck. The education system is broken and all we do is what is typically done, we throw money at it. We continue to have low student performance at all levels of testing in math and reading, while we see teachers encourage students to focus on social issues, prioritizing they’re pronouns, Drag Queen story hour and a plethoric list of distractions which are taking future generations out of the running for stewarding our state and country. Drop-out rates are still at all time highs and that is a confidence issue as students feel they cannot compete with a sub-par grasp of the basics, yet teachers want bonuses? Bonuses are a recognition for marked performance, when we all benefit, the student, the parent and the community, and not for the straining we see to barely cover curriculum. Classroom teaching priorities are way out of balance and I don’t think that pouring more money into a broken system is going to fix that. It is a top down problem from administration leadership to the teacher who is paid to apply tried and true learning methods, instead of finding new ways to shortcut the learning process, rewrite history, or seeking to accommodate the social delusions of the culture while allowing students to run the education systems. So glad my children are grown and have left Alaska.

  • Mhj says:

    Who should be rewarded? The Districts and schools who show the greatest improvements. But then, as a retired teacher I know how the test game can and is played. “Teach only to the test!” That would be called cheating. Students need to learn to think not regurgitate answers as is taught in China.

  • S.B. says:

    I graduated several years ago now, but most my teachers in the Mat-Su were extremely good and effective without including any slanted politics. Don’t believe the teachers are all bad because the few evil ones are showing their faces so thoroughly. Teachers need pay increases just like everyone in the country, with this excessive inflation. I have been looking into the local schools because of what my siblings in the schools have told me. I have noticed a lot of the bad comes from school policy and administration. Perhaps limiting the amount of people that are getting school funds without teaching (administrators) would prevent them from having time to make so many bad policies. Look into how many people that your superintendent has working for him…how many years have these positions existed? Do we really need that many administrators working on school policy? What good do they do for us and our students?

    These administrators are the schools government. The numbers of administrators compared to teachers and students has been growing rapidly in recent years. This growing government in our local school districts is what needs stopped and reduced significantly.