Alaska education advocates are hoping the state Senate may be their savior, and that senators may do even more than restore the cuts made in the House of Representatives.
The Senate Finance Committee’s Education Subcommittee has added back money cut from the education budget proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell, said Sen. Dennis Egan, a Finance Committee member who chaired the subcommittee.
“We restored all the governor’s requests for K-12 funding,” he said.
That included $2 million for a pre-kindergarten pilot program that advocates say has been showing strong promise in its first two years. They hope it would go statewide after its third year.
Instead, the House Finance Committee’s Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, cut the program’s funding. The full House, voting along caucus lines, backed the cuts.
The Senate’s budget bill is now restored to almost exactly as it was submitted by Parnell.
“The subcommittee is real close to what the governor sent to the Legislature,” Egan said.
“Go Dennis!” said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, who was unable to persuade the House to restore the pre-kindergarten programs, one of which was in Juneau.
“He really stood up for education and turned around an ugly picture that came out of the House,” she said.
One area in which the Senate differed was boosting needs-based college aid for high school graduates, to go along with a merit scholarship the governor has been promoting.
“Our committee felt strongly that we needed more needs-based (assistance) in the scholarship plan, Egan said.
Wilson was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Also likely to be welcomed by the state’s education community is a proposal elsewhere in the Legislature to boost the base student allocation
Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said Tuesday the Senate Education Committee he co-chairs with Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks, is proposing an increase of $110 in the base student allocation of $5,680 next year and further increases in subsequent years is gaining support.
He said Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, who has proposed a larger increase, has agreed to instead back the committee bill.
That bill also includes additional money for vocational technology education that had been highly sought by local districts.
“I’ve been more about that than even the BSA, the schools really wan that,” Meyer said.
Egan said he’s supporting the BSA increase as well, and thinks here is significant support for it in the Senate.
A bill to increase the base student allocation has also been introduced in the House, but it was by Democrat Pete Peterson and has languished in the Republican-controlled body.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.