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Task force co-chair says more info on the way

Wilson: Reports to be worked on in committee during 2014 session

Posted: January 8, 2014 - 9:09pm  |  Updated: January 9, 2014 - 1:09am

The House Sustainable Education Task Force has spent $20,666.59 of its $250,000 appropriation so far, according to a legislative accounting document acquired by the Juneau Empire.

The task force came under scrutiny last week after its first report was released. The two-page report, which was labeled as preliminary, didn’t provide any hard numbers or analysis related to the state’s education system as anticipated. It did, however, note “that current education spending is not sustainable.” That statement provoked ire from task force member Andrew Halcro.

Critics, including Democratic Juneau lawmakers Beth Kerttula and Dennis Egan, said that the report provided no new information and that it wasn’t as credible as it could be if there were more teachers or education administrators on the task force.

Criticism about the task force’s report may stem from all-around anxiety about the future of education funding in Alaska. The base student allocation hasn’t increased in four years, but one-time funding increases for specific costs have been appropriated.

The resolution that created the task force set specific goals for the final report to include data and analysis of energy and pupil transportation costs, core academic requirements and more. Such a comprehensive report about Alaska’s education system hasn’t been done recently, if ever.

“They had the budget to do a comprehensive job,” said Ron Fuhrer, president of National Education Association-Alaska. “They had direction in terms of specific investigations and they did not accomplish that task.”

Fuhrer said he believes that the report detailed in the resolution would be helpful to the education system in Alaska, but he’s not sure if an unbiased report will come out of this particular task force.

“If they did a thorough investigation and found out that district X is administrative heavy, that would be nice to know,” Fuhrer said. “But to come out with a report that says we just can’t keep paying money, that’s unacceptable.”

Task force co-chairs Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, and Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said the deadline for the full report isn’t until Jan. 1, 2015, when the task force expires, and that the preliminary report fulfills the Jan. 1, 2014 deadline specified by the Legislature.

Wilson said Wednesday that elements of the final report will be released as more data becomes available, and she expects the House will be able to look at reports on energy costs and teacher salaries and benefits during the 2014 session. She said earnest discussions about adjusting the education funding formula would likely wait until the 2015 session, by which time all of the final report’s elements should be complete.

“We’ve done a lot of the number crunching already,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of documents that haven’t been put out publicly yet because we’re still gathering the information from the Department of Education, and some of it we have to go through the local school districts to get.”

Wilson said legislators and the public should expect that most of the work would be done during the upcoming session in committee and task force meetings. She said the task force’s biggest hurdle right now is painting a full picture of where all the money that funds education in Alaska comes from.

“We need to know what makes up the formula before we know what needs to be changed,” Wilson said. “That’s what we’re going to try to break out. It won’t be a perfect system, but hopefully it will work.”

• Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at jennifer.n.canfield@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/canfieldjenn.

 

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