Millions may be spent to help kids pass exit exam of 2002

Posted: Friday, March 31, 2000

Schools would receive extra money next year to ready their kids to pass a new graduation test under a Senate Finance Committee proposal.

The committee agreed Thursday to put an extra $5.8 million, or $43.75 per student, into the budget next year to provide ``learning opportunity grants'' for schools.

The idea is similar to a plan Gov. Tony Knowles has pitched to help students meet new standards. Those standards include a requirement that students pass a high school exit exam to receive a diploma. That requirement takes effect for the graduating class of 2002.

Knowles, a Democrat, had proposed spending about $7.6 million more on the state's Quality Schools Initiative grant program, which is designed to help students meet the standards.

``We share the administration's concern on how important the '02 exit exam is,'' said Sen. Gary Wilken, a Fairbanks Republican on the Finance Committee.

The differences are that the Senate committee proposal is a couple million dollars less and it's one-time-only money, rather than a continuing program.

Also, under the Senate committee plan, the money would be handed out strictly on a per-student basis, with no adjustments for remote schools with higher operating costs.

The Juneau School District stands to gain about $247,056 under the plan.

Under both the governor's and the Finance Committee's proposals, the money would have to be targeted specifically at programs that help students meet the new standards, such as summer school and after-school programs.

``It isn't to add new programs. It isn't to fund basketball trips. It's to get ready for the '02'' test, Wilken said.

Making it one-time-only money will require districts to be accountable, so they can make a case for the funding again next year, Wilken said.

Knowles' spokesman Bob King said the administration is happy with the Finance Committee's move.

``It's not quite as much as we asked for and it's just for one year, but this substantially fulfills the governor's objectives when he proposed the Quality Schools Initiative grants earlier this year,'' King said.

The House version of the budget does not include the Senate Finance Committee proposal.

Rep. Gene Therriault, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, said he doesn't know whether the House will go along with the plan.

``There's a desire to do something to help with the results of the tests, but whether it's this Senate plan or not, I'm not sure,'' he said.

The plan will also compete with other needs for money, he said, including pupil transportation.

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