Capitol awaits education funding

House, Senate plans don't match as deadline nears

Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The House Finance Committee adopted an education plan late Sunday night, though they waited all day before going into session after 11:30 p.m.

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The plan put forward in the House includes $48 million to implement half of a study about fairness in school funding, commissioned by the Legislature. It also features $21 million in school improvement grants, being called SIGs, to be distributed on a per-capita basis.

Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said those amounts, combined with state help in reducing teacher and public employee retirement costs, mean a total of $345 million in new money is going to education.

"Education is going to do quite well this year," Meyer said.

The Senate Finance Committee on Saturday had introduced its own education plan, which Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said did well for Juneau.

The House and Senate plans don't match, however, and House Republican leaders spent most of Monday in closed-door meetings sorting out education plans instead of taking it to the House floor. The reason for the delay is unclear.

The House of Representatives went into session, handled some routine matters, and then eventually adjourned until today, when the negotiators could work out a deal.

"Typical end of session," said Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

"We're trying to hammer out an agreement on education funding," she said.

How the increase in funding will be split between urban and rural districts appears to be the hang-up, Kerttula said.

House Finance's two co-chairs come from Anchorage and Nikiski, and have differing views on school funding allocations.

The Alaska Gasline Inducement Act also is caught up in the budget wrangling. It passed in both houses of the Legislature with much fanfare last Friday, but with slight differences that have not yet been settled.

Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, and president of the Senate, has left the bill sitting inexplicably idle on her desk, a process that is sometimes used as a bargaining chip.

Senate Minority Leader Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, on Monday tried to force the bill to be taken up, but Green's Senate Working Group bipartisan coalition backed her on the issue. Therriault's Senate Republican Minority was outvoted 15-5 in the attempt.

AGIA is now on the Senate calendar for today, as is the capital budget that includes the school funding increases. The legislative session ends Wednesday.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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