JLee Webster stands in front of roughly 150 Soldotna High School students who participated in a walk out in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

JLee Webster stands in front of roughly 150 Soldotna High School students who participated in a walk out in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

SoHi students walk out for school funding

The protest was in response to the veto of an education bill that would have increased school funding

“We need funding.” “Raise the BSA.” “I don’t know what I’ve been told, lack of funding’s getting old.” “We need teachers.”

Those were a few of the chants that erupted from a crowd of well over 100 students who walked out of Soldotna High School on Wednesday to protest Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of a Senate bill that included an increase to school funding and the failure of the State Legislature to override that veto — an effort that fell short by only one vote.

SoHi students began to pour out of the building just before 10 a.m. They filled the space around the school’s flagpole for more than an hour, finally dispersing at 11:15. Though the crowd diminished in size from a peak of roughly 150 over that time, dozens were out in the cold for the full duration; shaking fists in the air, raising signs and calling out for increased investment in schools.

As light snow fell, several students did jumping jacks, pushups and danced to keep warm.

JLee Webster, a SoHi senior, helmed the effort. She said she hadn’t been sure how many other students would be willing participate before “whole classrooms walked out.”

Many of the students wore “Red for Ed” and Webster said that seeing the wider student population at SoHi step up and openly advocate for more funding is “heartwarming.” That’s especially true for the support she saw from members of the school’s sports communities who were coming to the defense of arts programming.

Caitlin Babcock, another SoHi senior, pointed to other walkouts staged around the state earlier this month, and said it was important for their school to add its voice.

“I’ve been feeling the lack of funding,” she said. “Our teachers have been feeling the lack of funding.”

KPBSD’s Board of Education on Monday passed a budget that increases the peer to teacher ratio by one in most classrooms and makes a broad swath of cuts to address a $13.7 million budget deficit. Among those cuts are reductions to days worked by support staff and the elimination of school pools and theaters.

The board has repeatedly said they don’t intend for those cuts to be implemented, but also that without any increase in education funding, the budget represents the realities the district is facing.

Senate Bill 140 would have brought $78 million in education funding to the state, $11 million to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Dunleavy’s veto of the bill put teachers and jobs at risk, Webster said, as well as theaters, pools and “the overall quality of education for our kids.”

Webster said increases in class size, too, mean lesser education for students at SoHi and other KPBSD schools.

“Having 30-32 students to a teacher, you’re not going to be teaching those kids in the best way that you can,” she said. “You don’t have enough time, you don’t have enough help in the classroom. We’re going to be looking at a lower quality of education.”

Babcock said KPBSD teachers deserve stability and the incentive to stay in local communities to continue to teach children. With the continued uncertainty surrounding education funding, they’re not able to feel secure in their futures. Students, too, are repeatedly being faced with the idea that programs they care about will go away.

Over a month after Dunleavy’s veto of the bill, there are still no answers to the questions surrounding education funding. That’s why Webster said she and the other SoHi students were compelled to act.

“I took it into my own hands,” she said. “Our words weren’t working, our actions hopefully would.”

Webster said that, as a senior, she’s tired of fighting and advocating for more school funding. She said that they need to keep pushing to ensure the new students get the same high school experience that she did. Specifically, that means opportunities for creativity like theater and music.

“Without choir in my life, without music or theater, I would be in a very dark place,” Webster said. “There are other students in the same boat as me. I don’t want them to feel like they don’t have a way to properly express themselves.”

As students filled the space outside of the school, Webster led chants, encouraged her peers to take videos and photos, and told them to send those images — and their thoughts — to legislators. That goes especially, she said, for those who voted against overturning the veto, including Reps. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, and Sarah Vance, R-Homer.

“Who did this to us?” she asked the crowd.

“Carpenter and Vance,” they responded.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

AJ Sorrell and Ariana Gonzales join other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

AJ Sorrell and Ariana Gonzales join other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Caitlin Babcock joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Caitlin Babcock joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sean Norris joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sean Norris joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Ada Bon joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Ada Bon joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sean Norris and AJ Sorrell join other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sean Norris and AJ Sorrell join other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

AJ Sorrell joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

AJ Sorrell joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Laylani Williams joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Laylani Williams joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

JLee Webster leads students of Soldotna High School in a chant during a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

JLee Webster leads students of Soldotna High School in a chant during a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

JLee Webster leads students of Soldotna High School in a chant during a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

JLee Webster leads students of Soldotna High School in a chant during a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School walk out of class for a protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School walk out of class for a protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna on Wednesday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna on Wednesday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Caitlin Babcock joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna on Wednesday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Caitlin Babcock joins other students of Soldotna High School as they stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna on Wednesday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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