Education funding stalls in Legislature

Lawmakers worry bill discussion may have come too late

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2007

With just four days left in a four-month legislative session, no solution is in sight on K-12 education funding.

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Over the weekend the Senate Finance Committee introduced its own bill, but negotiations in the Legislature appear stalled in the House of Representatives, said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

"The word is, the co-chairs of House Finance (Committee) are discussing it," said Kerttula, House Democratic leader.

The process is complicated by the search for a way to increase education funding in a way that is fair to urban and rural districts, Kerttula said.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, called it surprisingly late in the session to not have even begun a public discussion on education funding.

In most years, that's one of the key legislative issues, but it has been overshadowed this year by the natural gas pipeline battles.

The Senate Finance Committee introduced its bill Saturday, and then angered some members by suspending rules so they could hear it without the required public notice. Sunday, however, there has been no action on it at all.

Despite that, Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, called the Senate education funding bill "very good" for Juneau.

A spreadsheet provided by the Senate Finance Committee when the bill was introduced shows Juneau receiving $1.5 million more than the base budget submitted by Gov. Sara Palin earlier in the year.

Smaller districts are well represented on the Senate Finance Committee, co-chaired by Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel. Elton, too, is a member of that committee.

The House Finance Committee chairmen are divided between urban and rural schools, however. Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski and Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage are reportedly trying to work out a school budget deal, Kerttula said.

The Senate's school funding plan calls for implementing half of a plan called the ISER cost factor study, named after a consulting group that advised the state on how to more fairly allocate education money and recommended additional funding.

Kerttula said she'd like to see even more than that.

"I'd like to see full funding for the ISER report," she said.

The bill is Senate Bill 178.



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