Legislators reach education compromise; vote scheduled for Thursday morning

Annual per-student increases are $150, $50, $50

Republicans in the House and Senate agreed on the omnibus education reform bill late Wednesday, and the funding level falls between what each side wanted.

The compromise on Republican Gov. Sean Parnell’s education bill, HB278, provides $100 million in education funding for each of the next three years. Those figures will be split evenly between one-time funding and increases to the Base Student Allocation, the amount the state pays school districts per student.

The increases to the BSA will be $150 next year and $50 each of the following two years. Those increases will be accompanied by one-time grants of $42.95 million, $32.24 million and $19.94 million each year, respectively. These grants will be divided among Alaska school districts.

The $100 million each year includes between $11 million and $12 million in added programs, so the effective amount of money going to districts to be used as they see fit falls between about $88 million and $90 million, annually.

The Juneau School District, as well as the Anchorage School District and likely others, budgeted for their share of $25 million in one-time funding. That means the districts are getting about $63 million more next year than they received this year.

The compromise represents about $88 million more than what the House recommended for the next three years and about $75 million less than what the Senate approved.

Democrats and school officials had protested the Senate version of the bill because its funding was entirely in one-time money, and there was no BSA increase. School board members said that kind of funding made long-term planning difficult because it was subject to appropriation each year.

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, said the compromise bill should alleviate those concerns. The entirety of its funding will be ensured without future appropriations, he said.

“It’s in the budget now,” Hawker told reporters after the meeting.

The conference committee is set to reconvene at 10 a.m. today and is expected to quickly approve the new bill. The House and Senate will then debate and vote upon the bill on their respective floors.

The capital budget, which will include the $300 million in education funding, also needs to be approved by the House and Senate before the Legislature can end the 2014 session.

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