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School funding fight moves to House

Senate passes per-student increase early in session

Posted: February 12, 2012 - 1:09am

The Alaska Senate approved an increase to school funding Friday, sending it to the House of Representatives for a looming battle.

Coming to Juneau to fight that battle are education advocates taking part in their annual legislative fly-in, sponsored by the Alaska Association of School Boards.

They arrive in Juneau this weekend, and are expected to fan out through the Capitol to lobby their legislators early next week.

They arrive after big, but expected, victory in the Senate Friday. That body voted 18-2 to increase the base student allocation on a steady schedule over the next three years.

The BSA next year would be $5,805, up $125 from this year. The next year it would go up $130 and the next $135.

Sen. Linda Menard, R-Wasilla, said the Alaska Constitution gave the Legislature responsibly for providing good schools to the state.

“We cannot do that unless the base student allocation keeps up with inflation and other cost of educating or children,” she said.

The bill had a few detractors in the Senate, with some who said the amount should be larger criticizing the bill but voting for it, and Sens. John Coghill, R-North Pole, and Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, voting against.

“How much will actually go into classrooms?” asked Coghill, leader of the Senate Republican Minority.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said there was an “iron relationship” between funding and teachers, and cuts would mean larger class sizes.

French is a member of the Senate Bipartisan Working Group, the caucus that controls the Senate.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said some members of the caucus wanted a bigger increase, but Senate Bill 171 was a compromise.

“Many people in both parties would like to see more dollars, but I think this is a fair balance,” he said.

“I know everybody’s not pleased, but this was a great day for education,” said Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, after the vote.

While the BSA increase amount may not be adequate to keep up with costs, it is an increase, he said.

“Before today the BSA increase was zero,” Egan said.

The bill now moves to the House, where its fate is less certain.

House leaders such as Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, say they support education, but that has to be balanced against the state’s ability to pay.

The state has money now, and a one-time increase that doesn’t obligate the state in future years might be better than a BSA increase, he said.

House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she met with a site council at one of her local schools the night before the Senate vote.

“I was sitting with three people who are going to lose their jobs, and parents worried about education, and it really came home to me,” she said.

“We need secure funding, and one-time funding isn’t it,” she said.

She said that many in the Republican-led caucus that controls the House know that, but she couldn’t predict what would happen.

“I don’t know what’s going to be possible in the majority caucus, that’s the hard part,” she said.

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

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