Gov. Sean Parnell defended his commitment to education to the Native Issues Forum on Wednesday, and challenged the Alaska Senate to pass the budget he submitted.
Speaking to the Tlingit-Haida Central Council Indian Tribes of Alaska-sponsored forum, Parnell defended his education budget, saying his proposals have been mischaracterized.
“Even though you’d think from reading the press there’s been a huge cut, there hasn’t been,” he said. “But there has been a discussion of standards, accountability and the like, as part of a funding increase.”
Parnell said his spending proposals, including the budget he submitted on Dec. 15 and amendments since then come within $300,000 of what the Senate is proposing, just structured differently.
The Senate’s proposal adds about $30 million more than was proposed by the governor on Dec. 15, but would include that money in the Base Student Allocation, the per-student amounts that go to schools by formula.
The governor said he wants to target the extra money to help schools cope with rising utility and energy costs for one year only.
In the Senate, a budget subcommittee chaired by Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, opposed the one-time funding and recommended increasing the Base Student Allocation instead.
The typically pro-education Native Issues Forum audience told Parnell they supported some of his initiatives, such as the Alaska Performance Scholarships for higher education for which he’s trying to get ongoing funding, but also advocated for the BSA bump as well.
“Our students will never get to college if we don’t treat them right from the very beginning, that’s where it all starts,” one man told Parnell.
“From personal experience, if you have more students with one teacher, the people who are behind are going to fall further behind,” he said.
Parnell said by helping schools with money for energy and utility costs, more money could go into the classroom.
He also said he was offering nearly the same amount of money as the Senate is, but isn’t able to get the word out about that.
“You wouldn’t know it from reading the press, but as governor I’ve proposed funding every bit as much, save $300,000, as adding to the Base Student Allocation,” he said.
Parnell also got cheers for his advocacy of the Alaska Performance Scholarship program that he’s championed. And he asked for the audience’s help in winning more funding for it.
Parnell said money for next year’s scholarships is in the Senate’s operating budget, but the following year’s funding will depend on a separate bill.
He urged the audience to call their legislators to urge the program be “fully funded,” to include future funding as well.
Alaska has made a promise to students that if they take a more rigorous course load the scholarships will be there for them.
“I will continue to fight for full funding for the class of 2012,” he said.
Parnell also heard suggestions that student loan interest rates be lowered or amounts be forgiven to help Alaskans with college and help build an educated workforce.
Parnell said he understood the value of that, having gone to school Outside at a time when loans were partially forgiven for returning to Alaska.
It would be difficult to return to that system now he said, but the state is trying to keep more Alaskans in state for college, because more of those graduates remain in the state, he said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.