Gov. Sean Parnell is calling the education funding increase approved by the Alaska Senate last week the “ultimate giveaway,” and saying the increase would actually cost the state half a billion dollars.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she was “appalled” by the governor’s comments.
Parnell said he’d be OK with some extra money for higher heating costs or similar expenses, but that the Senate went overboard with its increase to the base student allocation, the per-student amount provided by the state to local districts.
“They have just spent half a billion dollars more on education and they have not required results or anything transformational with the system,” he said.
Even the help with heating costs shouldn’t be part of a formula that provides more assistance when fuel prices are high, he said.
The Senate’s bill provides an additional $125 per student next year to the BSA, for a total of $30.6 million. Parnell’s mention of half a billion dollars comes from adding that amount, similar increases the next two years and the next four years of expected spending after that, for a total of $475 million.
In a testy exchange with reporters, Parnell denied his budget proposal for no BSA increase was flat-funding education.
“I’ve never said we’d flat-fund education this year, that’s apparently something that you’ve construed from somebody else’s spin,” he said.
Parnell said he’s been willing all along to let the Legislature add one-time money to the education budget, which means he’s not for flat-funding education.
Kerttula said the Senate’s bill would help, but it still wouldn’t meet the cost of inflation and prevent education cuts.
“If we don’t do something we’re going to lose 66 people in the Juneau School District,” she said. “That’s a cut to education, and that’s unacceptable in the richest state in the union.”
Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage and leader of the Senate Bi-partisan Working Group, the caucus that controls the Senate, said the $125 increase was a good number to go forward with.
He acknowledged that educators would like more, however.
“I’ve never met one yet that hasn’t asked for a bigger number,” he said.
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said the Senate bill was kept modest to help it get through the House of Representatives.
“We wanted a bill that was not designed to embarrass the House with a big number that would make educators happy” but would be unlikely to pass, Ellis said.
House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and other leaders say they agree with Parnell that a BSA increase isn’t appropriate, but that one-time funding would be acceptable.
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