Despite no layoffs, Alaska to get layoff prevention money

Posted: Sunday, August 15, 2010

Federal money to help prevent teacher layoffs could be on its way to Alaska, if Gov. Sean Parnell chooses to accept it.

What's not yet clear is how that money would be used and who might get it, or even why any money is coming to Alaska at all.

The money is part of what the Obama Administration calls the "Education Jobs Fund," and is being promoted as a way to save teacher jobs at risk nationwide as state and local tax revenues that go to schools decline.

Alaska is eligible to receive $23.5 million dollars of the $10 billion total, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Alaska's allocation comes despite a healthy revenue surplus this year that has allowed the state to actually increase school funding.

A press release from Sen. Mark Begich, D-Anchorage, said the Ed Jobs bill will "address gaps in education funding by providing $23.5 million to Alaska School Districts preventing imminent layoffs of educators."

A Begich spokeswoman, Julie Hasquet, said she couldn't identify where in Alaska those layoffs might be happening.

"The National Education Association told us that teachers in Alaska would be affected," she said.

Begich voted for the funding, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage, voted against and Rep. Don Young, R-Fort Yukon, did not vote.

Juneau School District Finance Director David Means said Juneau schools aren't having budget-driven layoffs, and he hadn't heard of any who were having layoffs.

"Maybe somewhere where grant-funded programs are ending," he suggested.

Means said he was surprised to learn Alaska was eligible for any money because he had originally heard it was going to be based on where the job layoffs were.

Instead, it was allocated to each state based on the funding for the federal Title 1 program, which provides additional help for educating children from poor families.

NEA-Alaska President Barb Angaiak said she couldn't name any schools in Alaska facing teacher cuts because of budgets.

"We haven't had a lot of job layoffs in Alaska," she said.

In some cases, positions weren't being filled, and some non-teacher school employees have seen hours reduced because of budgets, she said.

The NEA's national office said the funding would "save" 400 jobs in Alaska, while an Obama Administration press release said the money would "support" 400 jobs.

Angaiak said the exact number wasn't important.

"We can't be sure ever of an absolutely firm number," she said.

The important thing, she said, is the money for Alaska can be spent to improve education.

And while funding has increased, so have costs, sometimes more than funding, she said.

"I can't imagine that the governor would not want to support and help make sure our schools have everything they need," Angaiak said.

Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Alaska has not yet made a decision about accepting the money.

"We are still in the analysis phase," she said Friday.

The state Department of Education and Early Development is now reviewing the law and what Alaska's obligations might be, said Eric Fry, spokesman for the department.

Federal guidelines for the money were only provided Friday, he said.

"We did get clarification from the feds that the funds can be spent over the next two school years and summers for just about anything that relates to any kind of school-level staff, not just teachers," he said.

He said districts don't have to have had layoffs to get the money.

Last year, then-Gov. Sarah Palin vetoed $28.6 million in federal money for weatherization, prompting the Alaska Legislature to call itself into special session in Anchorage to override the veto and accept the money.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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