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Education increase receives Finance approval

BSA boost faces challenge from House, governor

Posted: February 10, 2012 - 1:15am

The Senate Finance Committee approved an increase to the per-student Base Student Allocation for education on Thursday, despite acknowledgement it was opposed by Gov. Sean Parnell.

Senate Bill 171 would provide regular increases to the BSA for the next three years of $125, $130 and $135 per year, said Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, co-chairman of the Senate Education Committee, which sponsored the bill increasing the BSA.

He thanked parents, business people and school officials for turning out to support the bill.

North Slope Borough Superintendent Peggy Cowan, in turn, thanked the Senate for “taking the lead” on the BSA increase.

The other two players in the school funding process, Parnell and the leadership in the House of Representatives, have said they might support increased education funding, but preferred one-time payments that wouldn’t obligate the state in the future.

Juneau accountant Max Mertz was one of the business leaders who urged regular increases in the BSA, but he said he wasn’t representing the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on which he sits, but was instead representing his two school-age daughters.

The Juneau School District, he said, can’t deal with flat funding in any other way than cutting into education.

“There’s no fat there, the school district isn’t sitting on fat they can easily cut,” Mertz said.

And when businesses seek to attract key employees, one of the factors those people look at when deciding to relocate is the quality of the schools, he said.

Nine-year Juneau School Board member Andi Story thanked the legislators for last session’s one-time funding, but said what was really needed was the regular advances that the bill proposed, and the certainty that provided.

NEA-Alaska’s John Alcantra cautioned that while SB 171 was better than nothing, the increases that it contained were still less than likely inflation.

“This bill doesn’t do the job of meeting inflation,” he said.

Mary Hakala, who runs a statewide science education program based at the Juneau Economic Development Council, said Thomas’ bill was a help, but not a full solution.

“It will not keep schools whole, but it is moving in the right direction,” she said.

Juneau parent Jenny Malecha, said she was worried about the cuts that Parnell’s education budget would require.

While her son is eagerly anticipating going to school, she said she’s worried that funding won’t be adequate.

“My son talks about starting kindergarten all the time,” she said.

But Malecha is worried that his Type 1 diabetes will leave him at risk if the Juneau School District’s cuts to school nurses take place.

Passage of the bill by the Senate Finance Committee clears the way for it to be sent to the Senate Floor for a vote by the full body. Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, questioned Thomas about whether Parnell was in favor of the increase.

“A fair answer would be ‘No,’” Thomas responded.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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