Students walk out of Alaska schools to protest governor’s veto of education package

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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Students in Alaska’s capital walked out of school Thursday and marched through the halls of the statehouse to protest Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s latest education veto and the Legislature’s failure to cancel it.

The walkout was part of a protest organized by the executive board of the Alaska Association of Student Governments, said Felix Myers, a Sitka student organizer. The plans called for 40-minute walkouts in Alaska schools, with 40 minutes representing the number of votes lawmakers needed to override the veto. Legislators were one vote short in his annulment attempt last month. The strike was scheduled for around 11 a.m., a time chosen in part to minimize disruption and ensure turnout, he said.

“We’ve tried to be heard, we’ve tried to be heard and we’ve been ignored, and that’s why we’ve gotten to this point,” he said in a phone interview from Anchorage. Myers is a student advisor to the state board of education, but said he was not speaking or acting in that capacity in connection with the strike.

Dunleavy in March fulfilled a threat veto a package overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers that called for a $175 million increase in aid to districts through a school funding formula. He complained that the measure lacked provisions he supported, including a three-year program offering annual bonuses of up to $15,000 as a way to attract and retain teachers and changes to the application process for charter schools aimed at promoting those schools.

But those elements lacked broad support among lawmakers, who questioned the effectiveness and cost of the untested teacher retention plan and expressed concern that allowing the state board of education, whose members are appointed by the governor, to approve directly charter schools would erode local control.

After vetoing the package, Dunleavy said he would move on to other issues, such as energy, but in a later statement said, “As the conversation about education continues, I will work with all members of the legislature to pass an increase in funding.” and necessary reforms.” He has not specified what increased funding he would support.

School leaders and advocates urged an increase of about $360 million in aid, but still supported the package approved by lawmakers as a positive step. School officials have cited the toll. of inflation, along with high energy and insurance costs, while struggling in some cases with multimillion-dollar deficits and teacher shortages.

They also said unpredictable levels of state support make long-term planning difficult. Last year, lawmakers approved a one-time funding increase of $175 million, but Dunleavy vetoed half of that amount. Lawmakers also couldn’t muster enough support to override that veto.

School funding is expected to remain a closely watched topic for the remainder of this session.

During Thursday’s walkout, students from Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé and their supporters, including some lawmakers, marched about a mile to the state Capitol, some carrying handmade signs and chanting slogans, such as “fund our future”. They shouted loudly in the halls of the Capitol, including on the third floor, where the governor’s offices are located, although Dunleavy was not in Juneau on Thursday.

About two dozen students gathered in the House Finance Committee room and, after concluding a meeting on an unrelated topic, approached Republican Rep. Julie Coulombe. She is one of the lawmakers who voted for the education package but voted against overriding Dunleavy’s veto. Coulombe appreciated her questions.

He said that given Dunleavy’s opposition to the package, he was concerned that even if the override were successful, it would end up cutting at least some additional funding for schools when he gets the state budget. He said he wants to continue working on a plan that would provide additional funding and get Dunleavy’s support. He encouraged students to stay involved.

“Don’t lose hope, this is a complicated process,” he said.

Rachel Wood, a student who marched to the Capitol on Thursday, said the event showed that her young people can play an active role in what happens in the Legislature. She and her classmate Meadow Stanley said they hoped lawmakers who expressed support for education would back that idea by approving a funding increase.

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