Alaska House, Senate pass differing school funding bills
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) – Both chambers of the Alaska Legislature have passed bills focusing on state school funding, but the plans vary significantly.
The Senate and House majorities on Saturday passed the bills for school funding – one of the largest remaining issues for the Legislature this year, KTOO Public Media of Juneau reported .
The House plan would increase state aid to school districts by $100 per student into the future. That increase would add slightly more than $25 million every year beginning in the coming school year, KTOO reported.
The Senate plan would provide a one-time infusion of $30 million in 2020 only if Gov. Bill Walker signs a law to draw Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to pay for state government.
Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche noted the bill would also assure that the school budget for 2020 would be funded ahead of time.
“This is about forward-funding education,” he said. “Early funding this year, and forward funding education in the future, which would relieve an enormous amount of stress on our districts, on our teachers.”
Ketchikan independent Rep. Dan Ortiz said the House plan would head off larger class sizes.
“It’s very real and very impactful when you start talking about raising class sizes that reduce the opportunity for that individual connection to take place,” Ortiz said.
Districts across the state say teachers and other staff will be cut without the funding. Anchorage schools would lay off 100, Kodiak schools 16 and Kenai Peninsula Borough schools 11, KTOO reported.
Bethel Democratic Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky said the $100 increase would help make long-term school funding more stable.
“I firmly believe that the boom-and-bust economy of Alaska should not translate into a boom-and-bust education system for our youth,” she said.
But House minority Republicans opposed the added school funding. Anchorage Republican Jennifer Johnston said financial pressure encourages school districts to change.
“I know it’s a fine line between how much money you have and how much you can transform, but I do know you can’t have transformation with a lot of money,” she said. “We never do; never will.”