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Senate committee moves gov's education omnibus bill

Posted: March 16, 2014 - 11:02pm

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate Education Committee moved Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill Friday after rejecting amendments offered by the committee’s lone Democrat.

The bill moves to the Senate Finance Committee.

Democrat Berta Gardner from Anchorage offered two amendments to Senate Bill 139 in attempt to prevent the forcing of a charter school upon a local school district by the state school board. Her third amendment attempted to raise the per-pupil allocation rate by $404 in the first year and tie it the inflation rate for the following years.

All three amendments failed by a four to one vote along party lines.

“It’s the wrong path to go down when the state school board can tell a local school board that they are going to have a charter school to run,” Gardner said.

Gardner’s first amendment called for the state to operate a charter school that is rejected by a local board but approved by the state education board similar to the state-operated Mount Edgemont School in Sitka. But Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, said the amendment was too radical for him potential creating a host of new school districts.

Her second amendment proposed the state school board could not override a local school district’s decision unless it did not follow state law.

The committee did change the appeal process for charter schools taking the approval decision from the education commissioner and placing it solely in the hands of the state school board.

Gardner’s third amendment was for raising the per-student allotment by an additional $404 the first year and from then on tying it to an inflationary formula. In contract, Gov. Parnell’s plan calls for a raise in the per-student allotment by $85 the first year.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said the issue was a matter for the Finance Committee.

“I would just prefer giving indigestion to them,” Stedman said.

Gardner said this was the education committee setting education policy and the per-student allotment should be determined by the committee.

Her third amendment was voted down four-to-one along party lines.

Gardner raised objections over the bill saying it does not improve the quality of pre-school programs nor support affective, highly affective teachers.

The committee also deleted the school construction debt reimbursement section of the bill in its entirety.

The section would raise the level of reimburse by the state to certain school districts who had gone into debt for facilities from 70 percent to 80 percent. It also contained a measure for retroactive reimbursement of $128,000 to the Lake and Peninsula School District for work on Port Alsworth school.

Huggins objected when it was discovered no fiscal note was attached but the financial impact could be as much as $20 million to the state.

“If we did this and then went ahead and approved retroactive payments on everything, there may not be any money left for a raise in the base student allocation,” Huggins said.

The committee also deleted a tax credit for intermural collegiate sports.

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