Per-student spending in Alaska would jump to $4,896 - a $320 boost over last year's increase - under a proposal approved Thursday by the House Education Committee.
The bill still has two more committees to go through, as well as the Senate and its committees, meaning efforts to fund education early this year could be in jeopardy.
The Alaska Legislature needs to get the bill through the House and Senate early to give school districts certainty in crafting their budgets, said Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell.
March 15 is the date school districts give tenured teachers pink slips if they are unsure whether enough funding will be available to pay them.
"We've got to get on with this," said Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, who said that waiting to determine the funding levels in the past has resulted in school districts being forced to prepare for the worst.
Early funding, a proposal supported by Murkowski and some lawmakers, would prevent districts from having to hand teachers pink slips in preparation for a potential funding shortage.
The proposed increase is $16 per student more than Gov. Frank Murkowski's plan. The price tag for Murkowski's bill is $62 million, with $38 million covering retirement costs and $24 million protecting the education system against inflation.
Some lawmakers and education officials were disappointed the increase wasn't higher, but others argued that the amount could still be changed in other committees.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, would cost $65 million.
But the proposal falls short of the funding requests made by most school boards and education organizations. The Anchorage School Board requested a base student allocation of $5,120 and the Juneau School District asked for $5,090.
Carl Rose, executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, said his group's request of $4,995 per student would still result in cuts to school districts across the state.
"What will work for one school district may not work for another," he told the committee.
Rose said that although the request doesn't meet the needs for all the school districts, he hopes the increase will represent the beginning of a trend in increased student funding.
"I hope people will give more attention to a slightly higher number," said Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, who introduced a failed amendment to raise the base allocation to $5,086. "This is a year that we can make real progress."
Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, argued that the state is not the only government entity responsible for education funding and that some municipalities are not funding their schools at the local cap.
"We're not the only one at fault for not funding education," Thomas said.
The education committee on Thursday also approved an appropriation bill to pay operating costs and school debt expenses. Pupil transportation would receive $53.5 million, $6.4 million would go to special schools, youth detention centers would get $1.1 million and $185,900 would go to boarding home grants.
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