Bill in House committee hikes school funding

Measure may mean $300,000 more for Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Proposed state funding for schools is inching up as a bill moves through committees in the House.

The House Health Education and Social Services Committee on Tuesday passed along a bill that raises the base student allocation from $4,576 to $4,919 for next school year.

The House Special Committee on Education last week approved an allocation of $4,896. That was higher than the administration's proposed $4,880.

The latest version of House Bill 1 would add about $70 million in spending statewide, from the state and municipalities, to what is called basic need. Cities' share of basic need is determined by their property values.

The latest version is worth about $300,000 more to the Juneau School District than Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposal, which would have added nearly $2.4 million to Juneau schools.

Statewide, the HESS committee's base allocation is worth about $70 million, or $8 million more than Murkowski's proposal.

School districts, parents and students continue to ask for a higher base allocation.

The Juneau School Board passed a resolution Tuesday asking for an unspecified amount of more than $4,995, alluding to $5,120 as a figure that would reduce class sizes and the dropout rate, and help students meet expectations in achievement.

Lawmakers said Tuesday that was likely to happen as the base-allocation bill and its companion appropriation bill move along. They now go to the House Finance Committee.

The HESS committee turned down, by a 4-2 vote, an amendment by Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, to raise the base allocation to $5,120.

Some lawmakers said they didn't want to significantly increase the school funding amount early in the legislative process.

Legislators are still working out how to pay for the increased retirement-fund costs of cities and school districts.

And they expect to see a study soon that analyzes the geographic differences in districts' costs. The area cost differential, as it's called, is part of the state's formula for funding schools.

"I want to assure you that this bill still has a long way to go," Rep. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said before voting against Cissna's amendment.

Anne Kilkenny, a parent in Wasilla, said the Mat-Su schools can balance their budget with the governor's proposal, but it's not good enough.

"We are not satisfied with the status quo," she testified Tuesday. "There would have been no No Child Left Behind legislation if the status quo were acceptable."

Laughton Elliott, a student at Juneau-Douglas High School, said schools need more funds because classes are overcrowded.

The Association of Alaska School Boards has asked for a base allocation of at least $4,995.

NEA-Alaska, a union of teachers and support staff, asked for a base of $5,315, an increase of nearly $148 million over this school year.

Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, said constituents want increased school spending where needed, but they also want accountability.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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