Education funding was at the front of everyone’s minds when Juneau’s city leaders and its legislative delegation met early Wednesday morning to go over priorities heading into session.
There are at least three ways state lawmakers could ease the financial burden plaguing school districts across the state: increase the base student allocation, increase the one-time funding districts have received in recent years, and approve individual legislation requests that fund specific line items or sections of a district’s budget.
According to Juneau’s representatives, two of those options are feasible going into the session.
“We have a great opportunity to raise the BSA or raise additional funds for education,” said Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau. “I certainly support raising the BSA.”
One of the 13 legislative priorities the Assembly tasked new city lobbyist Kevin Jardell with is for the Legislature to fund a portion of the district’s planned curriculum upgrade next year. It’s a proposal that, if passed, would save the school district nearly half a million dollars. Currently the Juneau School District is facing about $4.5 million in cuts.
“One-time funding has a better chance than anything that’s added to the ongoing budget,” Muñoz said. “So (Juneau’s curriculum request) is definitely within the doable. We just have to see how it all works out.”
There has also been talk of legislation that centers on the idea of pooling school districts’ insurance plans — an idea that could save districts between $30 million and $40 million — but that legislation is still in the very early stages, Muñoz said.
“There’s a lot of interest in doing something substantial for education,” she said.
Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, echoed Muñoz’s backing of an increase to the BSA.
“When we have a revenue cut of more than $2 billion, we’re going to have much smaller capital projects and changes to operating budget,” Egan said. “It really worries me.”
Gov. Parnell said he would be willing to increase the BSA during Wednesday’s State of the State address.
Still, any changes to the BSA or one-time funding added across the board for all districts likely won’t be approved or denied until April, Jardell said.
“Budget bills pass, so it’s not so much a timing issue, but a policy discussion that happens throughout the session,” he said.
Assembly members also polled the delegation on the status of a number of other issues that could affect the capital city, such as state jobs leaving and coming to Juneau, a state gas line and the possibility of a permanent residency for the lieutenant governor, among other things.
“As long as we’re continuing to maintain facilities and accommodate employees here in good spaces, then that’s very positive,” Muñoz said of keeping state jobs in the capital.
She keeps tabs on the movement of state jobs in and out of Juneau, and the number of state jobs in the capital has increased significantly in the last 10 years, Muñoz added.
“My office tracks job movement monthly,” she said. “So if there’s any red flags that go up, we fight those.”