Lawmaker warns against altering education funding

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The head of a legislative task force charged with fixing the state's school funding warned lawmakers Tuesday that tinkering with any proposed changes could cause a "long-fought, well-discussed compromise" to collapse.

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, told the House Finance Committee that it was premature to consider the $200 increase proposed by Gov. Sarah Palin to the base student allowance, or BSA. That allowance is the starting amount in a formula the state uses to determine how much a school district receives from the state per student.

The Joint Legislative Education Funding Task Force, which met last summer to hammer out a new education funding system, only recommends a $100 yearly increase to the BSA. It is currently about $5,400 per student.

Hawker said Palin's proposed increase could wind up paying liabilities for public employee retirement funds, which he said should not be funded by the BSA and is an issue that needs to be addressed separately by legislators.

"That's classroom money," Hawker said.

But supporters of Palin's increase, including Juneau School Board President Andi Story, said the extra increase was needed to keep up with inflation and help school districts have a stable budget.

"This way, school districts can go ahead and focus on results - increasing student achievement," said Eddy Jeans, director of school finance for the Department of Education and Early Development.

In Juneau, a $200 increase in the allowance means about a $1.5 million a year increase in state funds to the school district, according to Eric Fry, an information officer with the Department of Education and Early Development.

A $100 increase cuts the gain to about $750,000 a year. Fry said those numbers were based on a projected school enrollment of about 5,000 students.

The difference in the increase in the allowance is just one component of the task force's recommendation that is facing scrutiny in what is likely to be a lengthy legislative journey.

School officials from around the state testified that they would like other proposed increases to happen sooner than proposed. The task force recommends phased increases in funding for special needs students and raising the amount for districts outside of Anchorage.

Hawker asked lawmakers to resist proposing any changes for the overall good of the state.

"This is not an issue to be provincial about," Hawker said.

The committee delayed taking action on Hawker's bill until a later time.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or by e-mail at alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.



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