Alaska editorial: Task force must have statewide representation

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

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Five members from the House, five from the Senate and one person named by the governor. Those 11 people are expected this summer to come up with recommendations to stop the annual legislative fighting over the level of state funding for public education.

It was no different this year. Education again found itself caught up in the end-of-session deal-making, with the less-than-desired outcome being the approval of a one-year funding increase and the establishment of a special legislative task force to study the "possible modification and improvement" in the manner of distributing state dollars. The panel is to issue a report by Sept. 1.

A lot of the difficulty in the annual debate centers on geography. Rural school districts have their concerns. Urban school districts have theirs. The big Anchorage School District has its concerns. The smaller Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has its own worries.

That's clear enough reason to ensure the special legislative task force has fair geographic representation.

The resolution forming the task force makes no mention of how the delegates should be apportioned, short of saying five will come from the Senate, five from the House and one other by selection of the governor. There are several ways to determine who will sit on the committee; by geography is just one. And there are probably several ways that geographic representation can be figured.

Under one determination of geographic representation, by student population, for example, the central Interior would deserve two seats on the 11-member panel. The Fairbanks, Delta-Greely and Nenana school districts combined for about 15 percent of the total K-12 student population as of Oct. 1, 2006, the latest figures available from the state. Rounding up, that equates to two seats on the task force.

Fairness across the board is essential if the work of the task force is to have credibility later this year. One way to help ensure it is to have voices from across the state represented among the panel's membership.

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