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BSA battle now moves to House

Posted: February 14, 2012 - 12:02am

School board members from around Alaska are in the Capitol this week trying to win more money for education, but are acknowledging an uphill effort on their new battlefield, the House of Representatives.

The Senate last week passed a three-year plan for updating the base student allocation, the per-student amount that local school districts receive from the state.

House Republican leaders told reporters Monday morning they’ll decide later on education funding, but doubted there was support in the House for a BSA increase.

“The constituents I represent have told me they’re very concerned about increasing funding to our school districts without some commensurate improvements in performance,” said Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage.

The legislators said schools haven’t improved with money they’ve already been given, and that additional increases should be linked to measurable performance improvements.

Hawker said he wanted “some serious evaluation of what we’re getting for our money.”

That may make it difficult to get approval for more money that’s not targeted for specific costs or programs, said Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon.

“There’s got to be commensurate performance increase in the schools before we can justify spending more money on the BSA, in my personal opinion,” he said.

Additional one-time money, such as was done last year, might be a better way to go than changing the school funding formula that will obligate the state to provide more money in future years, he said.

“What we did last year was a very reasonable, common sense approach,” he said.

Also in the Capitol on Monday were school district representatives from around the state, lobbying for more financial support.

Flat funding from the state means painful cuts as costs rise, said Lon Garrison, a school board member from Sitka and president of the Association of Alaska School Boards.

“We’re at a point now where we will simply be cutting major programs, and not a teacher here or there,” he said.

Juneau School District Board Member Andi Story said her school district needs additional money to hire more staff to take the courses required to qualify for the Alaska Performance Scholarships that Parnell has championed.

The district now needs more math and science teachers, she said.

Previously “our students were not taking four years of math and four years of science,” she said.

School measurements such as test scores and graduation rates are improving, but need funds to continue, a variety of speakers said.

The school board members, along with students, superintendents, and other supporters met with a group of 10 senators who had been part of the 18-2 Senate vote in favor of a BSA increase last week.

“We heard you,” said Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, Senate majority leader, of the need for a BSA increase.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said there was support in the Senate for more than the modest BSA increase included in Senate Bill 171, the education-funding bill.

“It’s politics,” he said. “We were frightened that it was not going to make it through if we added more to it.”

While special funding for specific costs, such as energy, distance learning, or student transportation is important, what districts really need are steady increases that meet costs, such as the BSA, said Nome Superintendent Mike Brawner.

“Funding the BSA increase allows us to bring funds into the classroom,” he said.

Stevens said the education bill is now out of the Senate, where support was strong, but the battle for the education advocates has just begun.

“It is up to you now to push it forward,” he said.

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

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