Legislation would hike spending for K-12 students

Posted: Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee approved three bills on Monday to increase per-student spending in Alaska K-12 schools.

Committee Chairman Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, said the issue would likely be settled in the Senate Finance Committee, which is scheduled to take up one of the measures later this week.

House Finance Co-chairman John Harris, R-Valdez, said the $8 million added to the budget earlier this session is likely to increase.

Education officials are appealing to the Legislature to pay for a mandatory hike in state retirement programs that local districts must absorb.

Increases in the Public Employees Retirement System and Teachers Retirement System are expected to cost Alaska public schools $35.7 million in fiscal year 2005.

The budget proposed earlier this session by Gov. Frank Murkowski funded the state Department of Education and Early Development at its current level.

But the price of oil, which accounts for about 84 percent of state revenue, has been higher than expected. With oil prices about $4.75 per barrel above previous estimates, the state could afford about $140 million in additional school funding, said NEA-Alaska President Rich Kronberg.

The bills approved by the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee would increase the state's $4,169 per student foundation formula.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senate Finance Co-chair Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, would increase the per-pupil amount to $4,263 and would cost about $18.9 million in fiscal 2005.

Senate Bill 14, sponsored by Sens. Wilken and Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, would increase the foundation formula to $4,500 per student. It would cost the state $66.6 million in fiscal 2005.

Senate Bill 91, sponsored by Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, increases the per-pupil spending to $4,600, but also raises per-pupil spending each year based on the increase in inflation.

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