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Alaska's schools will see an increase in funding of at least $84.5 million for next school year, predicts Sen. Kim Elton. But Senate Republicans are balking at the House-approved bill that would combine school funding with capital projects, he said.
The Juneau School District stands to gain about $3.23 million from House Bill 233, which the body passed last Monday. But the amended appropriation bill passed along with it, Senate Bill 283, would spend money on a number of rural construction and renovation projects and on rural electricity costs.
On Wednesday afternoon, Juneau Democrats Elton and Rep. Beth Kerttula spoke with Juneau Assembly and Juneau School District officials about the status of various bills that affect the city and schools. Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, a Republican, couldn't attend.
The good news, the lawmakers agreed, was education funding.
Elton said he expects the Legislature to raise the per-pupil amount in the formula that determines school funding - at least by the amount that the House approved.
"Everybody is too far out to retreat from that," he said, adding that pressure from parents and school boards helped. "It's the talk outside the Capitol building that has gotten us to 84.5 (million dollars)."
Kerttula said the House hopes $84.5 million will be considered the bottom for discussions of school funding. "We can only go up from here," she said.
House Democrats also agreed, in passing the appropriation bill, to let the government draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, an action that requires a three-quarters vote from both bodies and which usually gives Democrats, in the minority, leverage over Republicans late in the session.
"We did it," Kerttula said, "because we not only got education funding, but we got a fair capital budget for the first time in years."
The appropriation bill pays for such rural projects as erosion control in Shishmaref, school roof repairs in Dillingham, and a boat haul-out in Craig.
But Elton said Senate Republicans want to see an education appropriation bill that is only for school funding, not construction projects or electricity costs.
"It will get us to status quo," Juneau School District Superintendent Peggy Cowan said of the proposed additional state school funding. "It should forestall the deep cuts we were anticipating."
The district has submitted a budget for now that will lay off 26 teachers and make other cuts to fill a $2.1 million gap.