Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: A blow to education that will be felt across peninsula schools

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

This week the Legislature failed to override the Governor’s veto on Senate Bill 140, which would have invested money in the learning of public-school students, home school students, and charter school students through the Base Student Allocation (BSA) formula. This decision to not override the veto will have significant consequences for all Kenai Peninsula families who want their kids to get a quality education.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District (KPBSD) has provided an online budget balancing tool for people to use so that they can understand what is at stake if the BSA remains at current levels. Without the increase to the BSA formula, the KPBSD will have to significantly increase class sizes and may be forced to close the district’s pools and theaters. Opportunities for students like sports, music, arts, and vocational education are all on the chopping block as the school district may be forced to find an additional $10.2 million in cuts after exhausting their savings.

Some legislators who voted against the veto override suggested that additional funds may be put into this year’s budget, but one-time money is a very wasteful and inefficient way to fund schools in this state. The BSA is like the salary that we receive from our employers. We’re able to budget for our expenses because we know how much income we expect to have this year and in the coming years. If one-time money comes our way, we don’t count on that money to support financial commitments into the future.

In the same way, school districts can’t commit to keeping teachers on the payroll if they receive one-time money. Because of the failure to override the veto of SB 140, at the end of this school year KPBSD is expected to lay off dozens of teachers, as many as 60 or more. This means larger class sizes for students, creating an environment in which it’s harder to learn. It also means the loss of good teachers, as the ones that receive pink slips often don’t wait to see if there will be funding for them in the future. They leave the teaching profession, they leave Alaska, and they leave an environment that certainly doesn’t attract quality teachers to come take their place.

Public schools aren’t the only ones impacted by this decision. SB 140 included an increase in the portion of funding that homeschools receive from the BSA. This is in addition to the increase in funding homeschools and charter schools would have received through a larger BSA. Instead, homeschool staff that support students and families will have to be cut.

I support increasing the BSA by $680 per student. This is an amount that the State can afford within our current income and would help bridge the deficit gap for the KPBSD and districts around the state. I also support putting accountability methods in place to ensure that these funds are spent well and will improve the performance of our schools.

I am honored to be your State Senator and I want to hear from you. You’re welcome to call my office at 907-283-7996 or email me at Sen.Jesse.Bjorkman@akleg.gov. I hope you’ll take the time to share your questions and ideas.

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