A move by Gov. Frank Murkowski to close the Juneau-based Alyeska Central School to save the state up to $1.2 million could be a done deal unless the Senate steps in with budget changes.
An attempt by Juneau Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula to restore funding for the state-run correspondence school failed on a 24-13 House floor vote Wednesday.
The budget amendment was supported by the House's 12 minority Democratic lawmakers and Juneau Republican Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch.
The amendment would have restored $4.3 million in funding for Alyeska. The amount would have been enough to fund the program for the school's full-time students, leaving $1.2 million for Alyeska's summer school out of the bill.
Closure of Alyeska would result in the loss of about 40 jobs - all in Juneau. About 145 Alyeska students live in Juneau.
The Department of Education has said it plans to close the school by June 30.
Kerttula noted that a survey by the National Education Association-Alaska, a teachers' union, showed 80 percent of Alyeska's 4,000 students would turn to regular public schools, not another correspondence school, if Alyeska is closed.
House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz said if 80 percent of Alyeska's students move to brick-and-mortar public schools, it would cost the state about $860,000. Less state funding is allocated to home-schooled students, such as those who use the Alyeska correspondence program, than to those attending traditional schools.
But Alyeska has only about 640 full-time students funded by the state's usual education formula. Another 440 students pay tuition to take a few courses and are enrolled in other school districts or are home-schooled elsewhere. And 3,450 students attended Alyeska summer school last year, a program also funded by the state education formula.
Many of the summer students already are enrolled in regular schools. They are high school students from around the state who are catching up on credits or taking courses they can't get in their home school district.
Berkowitz also argued that cutting funding for Alyeska's regular program would not save the state money. That funding comes from the state education program, state and federal grants and tuition. Alyeska students' new schools will get that money.
"This doesn't cut the budget. ... Somebody tell me how this makes fiscal sense," said Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat.
Republican Rep. John Harris of Valdez disagreed with NEA's numbers.
"I disagree that every one of those students are going to go to public schools," Harris said.
He said the state should not compete with other correspondence schools. Murkowski has said such schools, most run by small districts, will fill the gap left by Alyeska.
But House Democrats argued that Alyeska has been a successful program and that other correspondence schools in the state are not accredited.
After passage, the House operating budget goes to the Senate, where another attempt could be made to restore Alyeska funding.
The Legislature also must pass a statute to close Alyeska because state law now mandates a state-run correspondence school.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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