Scholarships compromise likely - after session

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2010

Gov. Sean Parnell and state Senate President Gary Stevens say they expect differences over major scholarship legislation will be worked out without calling a special session - but not necessarily before adjournment Sunday.

Stevens, R-Kodiak, says an education task force would be the body for study and compromise after the session ends. A bill to create the interim task force passed the Senate on Thursday and is pending in the House.

Parnell, also a Republican, says he's also willing to negotiate in the interim. Both say the main difference is over funding.

Parnell's plan, as amended, would cost about $37 million a year to run. It encourages systemic education reforms by motivating high school students to take tougher classes.

A leaner scholarship bill passed by the Senate Monday expands existing programs and would cost $14 million a year, but doesn't address the reform goals.

"That bill that passed the Senate does nothing to improve high school graduation rates. It does nothing to improve academic achievement," Parnell said Thursday.

Both Parnell's plan and the Senate bill are pending in the House Finance Committee.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said that rather than throw out the governor's plan, a possible compromise is to reduce its proposed cost.

Stevens said he has problems with the Senate bill, but added that the governor's plan was "too much, too fast" for a 90-day legislative session. He said rigorous curriculum requirements in the governor's plan could exacerbate inequities between urban and rural schools, as documented in court cases.

The task force should examine that and several other education issues, such as school construction bonding and distance learning, Stevens said, and come back with a comprehensive education package that includes scholarships.

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