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Senate opts for big education funding boost

Money in one-time funding, not BSA increase

Posted: April 18, 2014 - 2:08pm
Mike Hanley, Commissioner the Department of Education and Early Development, left, huddles with Deputy Commissioner Les Morse and Legislative Liaison Marcy Herman to review the Senate Finance version of Gov. Sean Parnell's omnibus education bill, HB 278, during a Senate Finance Committee meeting at the Capitol on Friday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Mike Hanley, Commissioner the Department of Education and Early Development, left, huddles with Deputy Commissioner Les Morse and Legislative Liaison Marcy Herman to review the Senate Finance version of Gov. Sean Parnell's omnibus education bill, HB 278, during a Senate Finance Committee meeting at the Capitol on Friday.

The Alaska Senate Finance Committee is recommending an extra $300 million for education funding over the next three years — a significant boost over previous proposals.

The proposal still requires approval from the committee and the full Senate; the House will also have to agree with the changes. The one-time funding is in lieu of an increase to the Base Student Allocation.

“Education is a top priority for us, and as we work towards making Alaska’s schools the best in the nation, we realized the way we fund education in our state needs to be reevaluated,” Senate Finance co-chair Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said in a press release.

The announcement didn’t elicit cheers from across the aisle.

Democrats and school officials have asked lawmakers to put funding increases in the BSA, a per-pupil funding mechanism.

That avenue was preferred because increases to the BSA are generally permanent increases — the $300 million is in subsequent annual appropriations, meaning future years remain in question.

“No increase to the Base Student Allocation in the senate’s version of the education bill,” Senate Minority Leader Hollis French, D-Anchorage, tweeted immediately after the funding mechanism was revealed.

Generally speaking, a $100 million allocation in one-time money equates to a $400 increase in the BSA. However, some money will be “backed out for other programs” so the result is closer to a $300 BSA increase, Meyer said.

Senators opted for increasing funding outside the BSA so the state could consider alternative funding models over the next few years, according to a Senate press release.

“That’s why we chose to put the money outside of the formula -- to give us time to really study the various factors that go into the formula, while allowing districts the flexibility to be innovative,” Meyer said.

“There hasn’t been a comprehensive look at the formula since 1997, and now is the time to do that,” he continued.

The funding bump is part of Republican Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill, HB278, which also revises laws related to charter schools, teacher tenure and school construction reimbursement to local communities. It also repeals the High School Graduation Qualifying Examination, among other things.

 

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