Alaska Performance Scholarships get some first-year money

Amount doesn’t appear to fully fund entire year’s cost

Gov. Sean Parnell got money for his scholarship plan Friday, but not nearly as much as he wanted and maybe not enough to run the program in its first year.

A conference committee deciding between the House of Representatives and Senate version of the state’s operating budget allocated $4.5 million for the Alaska Performance Scholarship program.

That’s half what the scholarships are estimated to cost in their first year, and barely 1 percent of the $400 million Parnell had requested to provide long-term endowment-type funding.

The House of Representatives has proposed to fund the first full year’s cost of providing the scholarships, while the Senate had instead wanted to bolster the state’s needs-based program, which many consider inadequate.

“I think it’s a good compromise,” said Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, who supported the Senate plan.

Advocates of the Alaska Performance Scholarships say it will do more than simply help some Alaskan students afford college. The larger goal is to transform education, by prompting students to take the tougher classes required to receive the scholarships, and parents to push schools to offer the advanced classes needed to qualify for the scholarships.

The House has backed Parnell, appropriating $8 million for the first year, while the Senate appropriated only $1 million for the scholarships, but had put an extra $8 million in the AlaskaAdvantage education grant fund to help Alaskans attend college.

The conference committee split the difference, putting $4.5 million in each program.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau agreed with Egan, despite voting for the House plan that fully funded the governor’s scholarships.

“It’s not a bad compromise,” she said. “We have the worst needs-based system in the country.”

She warned that Parnell could still veto the additional AlaskaAdvantage money.

“If the people want to keep that, they’re going to have to make sure the governor hears that,” she said.

A scholarship plan bill is one of the bills Parnell included in his special session proclamation and holds out the prospect of additional funding.

The conference committee also added $2 million to the Department of Education and Early Development budget for pre-kindergarten pilot programs that had been cut by the House of Representatives. The Senate budget restored that money, and the conference committee chose to adopt the Senate’s budget amount.

Juneau is one of four school districts statewide that had the pilot pre-K programs.

Work continues on the operating budget, which has been slowly progressing in conference committee since the two houses passed their budget weeks ago.

Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, chair of the operating budget conference committee, final agreement would be reached early next week.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com

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