Larry Persily. (Juneau Empire file photo)

Larry Persily. (Juneau Empire file photo)

Opinion: No Alaska governor has ever so boldly held schools and students as political hostages

‘Star Trek’ reference looks past real argument for school funding

Gov. Mike Dunleavy sank to a new low last week when he vetoed a bipartisan, long-needed comprehensive education funding package that had passed the House and Senate by a combined 56-3 vote.

Yet he reached for new heights in explaining his low decision to deny school districts their first meaningful increase in state funding since 2017.

More specifically, he boarded the Starship Enterprise, which is as much a stage prop as are his reasons for vetoing the bill.

At a March 15 press conference to explain his veto, Dunleavy called the state’s per-pupil formula that funds K-12 schools the “dilithium crystals of education.” The crystals don’t exist in the real world, only in “Star Trek” movies and TV, where they provide the magical power for warp drives that propel the ship across the galaxies.

Is the governor trying to say that advocates of school funding are delusional, much like Trekkies who dress in costume for conventions and can recite the lines of every episode?

Or is he belittling the importance of an increase in the state’s funding formula — which was the focus of the bill he vetoed — comparing it to a fantasy fuel that does not exist?

Or is he just wandering the galaxies of excuses in an attempt to sound witty?

None of the options are good. Regardless of his admirable recall of the starship’s intergalactic fuel, the governor has been neglecting his duties and ad-libbing decisions throughout his time as the state’s top elected leader.

The governor says the best way to avoid the dangerous asteroid belt of poor student test scores is not about providing adequate funding for all schools, but rather Alaska needs to make it easier for new charter schools to bypass their local school boards and beam directly to a Dunleavy-appointed state board of education for approval.

He believes that paying limited-time bonuses to K-12 teachers will teleport more staff into Alaska’s schools and keep them on the job longer than would providing enough money for school districts to pay competitive wages, provide diverse classes for students and fix leaky roofs.

He seems to think the teachers union is as threatening to schools as the Klingons are to Capt. Kirk and his starship crew.

Maybe Dunleavy thinks of himself as Kirk, leading the state to boldly go where no man has gone before. In this case, no governor has ever so boldly held schools and students as political hostages in a fight with legislators, teachers and school administrators.

Sadly, 20 of his legislative supporters must have memorized the same script lines as the governor, providing just enough Starfleet cast to block Monday’s attempt to override Dunleavy’s veto of the legislation. The vote was 39-20. It takes 40 to override.

At his news conference the day after he vetoed the education funding bill, Dunleavy said it is time for the Legislature to move on from education and address other topics.

Easy for him to say. Hard for schools to accept. Maybe if they had some dilithium crystals, they could sell them to pay the bills.

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal public policy work in Alaska and Washington, D.C. He lives in Anchorage and is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper. This article originally appeared online at Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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