Recruiters in the schools?

Committee inserts military recruitment provision in state budget

Posted: Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A state senator wants to make sure recruiters from the military, CIA and FBI have the same access to Alaska's public schools as other recruiters.

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At the request of Sen. Fred Dyson, the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday put language into the state budget that says no school district should have a policy refusing recruiters from those groups from contacting students on campus if the district allows recruiters from colleges or businesses.

The Eagle River Republican said he was looking to head off a nationwide problem before it gets to Alaska.

"I don't know of any problem anywhere (in Alaska) on these issues," Dyson said. "But around the nation, there (are) huge ones."

Dyson's amendment to next year's operating budget also says public schools shouldn't refuse the Boy Scouts the use of their facilities or prevent in-school ROTC programs.

The amendment would carry no penalties for school districts that didn't comply. An early version of the amendment would have yanked state funding from a noncomplying district, but Dyson said that was a mistake and the punitive language was removed.

John Greely of the Association of Alaska School Boards said the Federal No Child Left Behind Act already requires school districts to allow military recruiters access to students on school property unless a parent specifically requests not to.

"I guess budget intent is nice, but I don't know if it's a real problem or not they're trying to address," Greely said.

Amy Paige, a spokeswoman for a Juneau group called Southeast Alaska Truth in Recruiting, called Dyson's amendment superfluous because of the No Child Left Behind Act. But she was skeptical about including CIA and FBI recruiters in the access provision.

"Why on Earth would the FBI and CIA be recruiting (in) high schools?" Paige asked.

Southeast Alaska Truth in Recruiting is a project of the Alaska Veterans for Peace that tries to "alert young people to many of the realities" of enlisting in the military, Paige said. She said the group doesn't discourage military enlistment, but provides information such as actual scholarship rates and the terms of enlistment to would-be soldiers.

The Senate Finance Committee finished its work on the operating budget Tuesday afternoon. Senate Finance Co-Chairman Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, estimated the product was more than a 13 percent increase over last year's budget, but was still $154 million less than Gov. Frank Murkowski's budget request.

Some of the savings come from accounting shifts, such as using $20 million of the 2006 surplus to pay for next year's state debt instead of using 2007 general-fund money.

Before moving the budget out of committee, a number of amendments were passed adding money from a funding source called the Investment Loss Trust Fund, which state budgeters had thought was dead.

The Investment Loss Trust Fund was created in 1991 to protect participants in the state supplemental annuity plan from possible default by the Executive Life Insurance Co., which was taken over by California regulators that year.

Most of the balance of the fund and what was being held in escrow was appropriated in 2000 and Alaska officials thought the fund would lay dormant.

But Cheryl Frasca, Murkowski's budget director, said the state of California recently released a $9 million payment to the fund.

Using that newfound money, the Senate Finance Committee appropriated $2 million for the Alaska Statewide Mentor Program, a teacher development program.

The fund was also used in a $1.3 million appropriation to the Department of Fish and Game to help the department pay for several programs, including the defense of its predator control program, which has come under fire this year.

Another $2.8 million from the fund will be earmarked for state's primary and general elections. Plus, $51,600 will be used from that fund to pay for the election in which Ketchikan voters will decide whether to consolidate the city and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.

The committee also added money back in for Alaskan Pioneer Homes, children's services and behavioral health and Emergency Medical Services grants before passing the bill out.

The committee thwarted an attempt by Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, to reduce the University of Alaska's budget increase from 14 percent to 12.7 percent above this year's budget, what would have been a $3 million reduction.

Stedman said even with the reduction, the increase would have been the largest the university has ever had from the state treasury, and he questioned whether such increases can be sustained by the state over the long term.

Wilken said the university has been accountable for the money it spends, and Stedman's amendment failed 2-5.

The budget will be on the Senate floor next week, Wilken said.

Once it is passed, a conference committee will be appointed to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

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