A bill containing the funding increases for schools that a legislative task force recommended last summer got off to a smooth start Tuesday.
Officials representing school boards, teachers, support staff and administrators heaped praised on House Bill 273, which would put into law part of the recommendations of the joint legislative education funding task force.
Included in the task force's recommendations was an increase in the starting amount in a formula the state uses to determine how much a school district receives per student, called the base student allocation.
That allocation is now $5,380. The task force recommended increasing it $100 a year for the next three years.
The task force also recommended increasing the amount districts receive for severely handicapped students with special needs, and upping the compensation schools get based on how their operation costs compared with Anchorage's. Those changes are to be phased in over three and five years, respectively.
Some school board officials speaking via telephone to the conference asked lawmakers to "step it up" and increase those amounts sooner.
While some lawmakers and officials expressed concern on some parts of the bill, no one spoke against it as a whole. The House Health, Education and Social Services Committee approved the bill and moved it on to the House Finance Committee, where it will have its next hearing.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, acknowledged that it was a friendly hearing and said a more robust discussion was likely down the road.
"The debate escalates at every step," said Hawker, who also was chairman of the task force.
Rep. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, questioned the sustainability of the task force's recommendations.
But Hawker said there were plenty of bones of contention scattered among the recommendations, and there were parts of the task force's work even he didn't endorse. He cautioned lawmakers and school officials to accept the work as a whole, and not to dwell on any one particular issue. Otherwise, he said, there was a "great risk of a carefully crafted compromise collapsing."
Contact Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.