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How Dunleavy's decision on the State's education bill could impact Dillingham, Bristol Bay Borough

The Bristol Bay Borough school opened for the first day of the 2022 year on Aug. 22, 2022.
Shannon Harvilla
Bristol Bay Borough School District
The Bristol Bay Borough school opened for the first day of the 2022 year on Aug. 22, 2022.

Governor Dunleavy’s deadline to either sign or veto Senate Bill 140, the legislature’s omnibus education bill, is March 14. The bill would increase the base student allocation – that’s roughly how much money schools get per student – by $680, the first significant increase since 2017.

In Bristol Bay, the Dillingham City School District and Bristol Bay Borough School District said that without an increase in funding, they will need to consider cuts. Currently, both schools provide some services with the help of grant money, but they will see grants expire this year. The districts said they do not have funding ready to fill those gaps.

Dillingham City School District Superintendent Amy Brower said that Dillingham’s middle and high school after-school programs won’t have a viable funding option after the grants that support them end.

“We have been very fortunate to receive a lot of state and federal grant money to create and provide extra programming for our students. As the grants expire, if we don’t have that additional funding, then we will not have ways to keep up with that,” she said.

She said another grant supports the district’s summer school program and that without that grant, or funds to replace it, the district will need to reduce the program’s scale.

In Naknek, Superintendent Shannon Harvilla of Bristol Bay Borough School District said money from a state literacy grant helps the district to fulfill the requirements of the Alaska Reads Act. That grant ends in June, he said, and without the funding it provides, the school may struggle to stay in compliance with the act.

“We do have to employ a reading specialist and we were fortunate enough to have a literacy grant this year in order to help cover her salary,” he said. “That grant may go away so we will need to figure out a way to fund that position that is mandated by the State.”

Harvilla said that local school boards have the best insights on what to fund in schools and by increasing the BSA, rather than provide funding earmarked for specific functions, the State allows districts to decide what they need.

Along with increasing the BSA, the proposed education bill boosts transportation funding, gives money to increase internet speeds to 100 megabits per second for schools part of the Alaska Broadband Assistance Grant program, provides money for correspondence schools and creates a new appeal process for charter schools facing termination from their districts.

Harvilla said that transportation costs are a serious concern for Bristol Bay Borough School District. The district still flies three students across the Naknek River from the community of South Naknek every school day.

Further, he said the district’s two, 25 megabit-per-second connections limit the number of students who can use the internet at one time.

“It’s not enough bandwidth to do all of the mandatory state testing all at the same time or to have a lot of students doing advanced classes online,” he said. “We don’t really have the bandwidth right now to do that. 100 megabits per second would be great.”

The State Legislature started the Broadband Assistance Grant program in 2014 to help schools increase their internet download speeds. In a phone call to KDLG, House Representative Bryce Edgmon of District 37 said the education bill would provide up to $40 million to help schools participating in the program get faster internet.

Edgmon said that the bill connects the state’s program to a federal program which means for every one dollar of state money there are about nine dollars of federal money.

School districts had to apply to the federal E-Rate program, which helps subsidize broadband costs for schools and libraries, by February 28. On February 27, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s commissioner Deena Bishop sent a memo to superintendents around the state saying that districts have a March 27 deadline to finalize their application and they can, therefore, adjust their requests depending on the bill’s outcome.

At a press conference late last month, Governor Dunleavy said that without amendments to the bill, including teacher bonuses and a new approval process for charter schools, he would veto it.

Southwest Region School District and Lake and Peninsula School District both did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. 

Get in touch with the authors at or 907-842-2200.

Christina McDermott began reporting for KDLG, Dillingham’s NPR member station, in March 2023. Previously, she worked with KCBX News in San Luis Obispo, California, where she focused on local news and cultural stories. She’s passionate about producing evocative, sound-rich work that informs and connects the public.