Gov. Sean Parnell said he will reveal details of his omnibus education bill Friday, which will include increased funding for Alaska’s schools.
During his State of the State speech Wednesday, the governor said he’d be willing to work with legislators to authorize an increase in per-pupil spending for the next three years — if they work with him to pass “real education reform.”
Parnell’s bill is expected to include $5 million for his digital learning initiative, $25 million for energy costs and proposals on replacing the High School Graduation Qualifying Examination with state-funded SAT, ACT or WorkKeys exams; the option for high school students to test out of a class for credit; increased technical school options and opportunities for dual-credit courses; and an increase in funding and creation of residential schools for rural students.
During a press conference Thursday, Parnell said his acquiescence on increasing the base student allocation is a change in the stance that he’s previously held that more funding would first require better results from schools.
“I understand that the other side sees the (base student allocation) increase as the be-all, end-all to that,” Parnell said. “So, I’m willing to step forward and say ‘I will accept something that I did not accept before,’ which is a way of funding, assuming we get more opportunity, more access for our kids.”
Parnell said he wants 2014 to be the “education session.”
“We spent a couple years now with parties, including myself, becoming entrenched on one side or the other (of) results or more funding,” Parnell said. “We’re at the right place now where we need to have a bigger, broader discussion and bring the parties together.”
The Juneau School District said this week it would need to cut $4.5 million from its budget unless the BSA is increased or more funding is provided, and Alaska’s largest school district in Anchorage announced this week it would need to reduce its workforce by 6 percent.
As to whether Parnell’s education bill will be enough to make up financially for what democratic legislators have called “flat funding” with no increases to the BSA for the last four years, he said “that’s part of the negotiation.”
It’s a proposed constitutional amendment that would end the state’s ban on public education dollars for private and religious schools, which Parnell supports, that Democrats are taking issue with. Parnell wants the Legislature to debate the amendment and move it forward so the public can vote on it, but he said that it’s not a fixed condition of his proposal to increase the BSA.
Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, on Thursday released a series of reports she commissioned from Legislative Research Services. Gardner asked the department to research what the fiscal impact would be to the Anchorage School District if 11,000 students — about as many in Anchorage who already attend private school — were included in the education funding formula. At the current BSA level, the report says including private school students in the state’s education budget would cost an additional $99.7 million in fiscal year 2014.
“What this shows is a self-imposed blindness to the negative impacts these decisions would have on our public education system and would go towards funding for-profit private and religious institutions,” Gardner said in a statement.