Over the weekend, the state legislature was unable to come up with the votes to make any major changes to Governor Mike Dunleavy’s budget, or his plans to let certain funds revert back into state coffers. Those funds go to things like electric subsidies for rural Alaskans and scholarships for college students.
Tyle Owens is one of thousands of Alaskans who could lose scholarship dollars from the state if the House and Senate can’t conjure up enough votes to overturn decisions from the governor’s office. I caught up with him in between bike repairs at Beemun’s, where he works part time. In the fall, he’s planning to go to AVTEC, the Alaska Vocational Technical Center in Seward, to pursue a career as an electrician.
"This one was a little bit different than the typical scholarship, instead of applying and it’s kind of luck of the draw. This one, I had to go through and to meet their requirements you have to take an extra math course and an extra science course through high school. This had some extra work that went into it.”
He says that Alaska Performance Scholarship that he earned would have been worth almost $5,000. Minus room and board, that covers most of the cost of a semester for his program at AVTEC, but that money is in jeopardy if the legislature doesn’t act soon. It comes from funds that are getting a lot of attention this year.
A number of funds that cover a range of social programs are set each year to automatically revert back into the state constitutional budget reserve. Typically, it’s not difficult to get the votes to prevent that from happening and things like state-funded scholarships or rural electric subsidies go out like normal. But this isn’t a normal year in the legislature. Not even all the members of the House showed up for a vote over the weekend, including Nikiski Republican Ben Carpenter. He was one of seven who weren’t in Juneau.
And that deadlock isn’t doing much to change the opinion of another student I spoke with, Catherine Wolk. We actually met her back in February when the governor’s budget was rolled out.
“I was absolutely appalled," said just days after the governor's budget proposal was released. "Yesterday, I opened my email and I saw (University President) Jim Johnsen’s letter to all students and faculty and I didn’t know what to think. At first I was worried about how my degree program and the degree programs of my friends are in jeopardy. And I’m concerned about my future, their future and the future of the university as a whole.”
On Friday, I caught up with Catherine at Kaladi’s in Soldotna where she works part time. She’s not as concerned now as she was this spring about being able to continue working toward her degree in anthropology at KPC in the fall. But there’s still a lot of doubt about what happens after that.
“I know that fiscal year 2020 for KPC and UAA looks like all things are a little up in the air. As far as fall semester 2019 goes, I’ll be able to take the courses I need. But myself and others may not be able to take the courses that they might need to graduate for instance in spring 2020 because we don’t know and... it’s kind of scary.”
Owens and Wolk both have been trying to follow the news about the budget and education funding, so even though some of these decisions aren’t a total surprise, it doesn’t make them any less disappointing.
“I’m on the right track, I’m following all the rules so therefore, it should be coming," Owens says. "So it was a little bit of a surprise when it just went away. But also, with everything else that was getting cut, it was on the back of my mind that this might actually be in there, too.”
“I think other people are in a worse boat than me because I’m so close to graduating," Wolk says. "But I can only imagine for people coming right out of high school and getting these scholarships and being afforded these opportunities and then having them taken away from them, you know, what are they going to do? A lot of these students grew up here. Where are they going to go?”