Day 113: 'We need to do something drastic'
A permanent increase to Alaska’s public school funding formula is a step closer to reality.... but, wait, but aren’t schools swimming in money?
Good morning, Alaska! It’s Day 113 of the legislative session.
In this edition: A permanent increase to Alaska’s public school funding formula is a step closer to reality after the Senate Finance Committee put the finishing touches on legislation to increase the base student allocation and sent it to the floor for a vote. Also, I’ve got an overdue deep dive on a wildly misleading document the Dunleavy administration is circulating that suggests that schools are swimming in money. The only problem is that it’s seriously outdated and not even that hard to double-check.
Current mood: 🙃
Coming up today: The Legislature’s marathon joint session to vote on the governor’s appointments, which I’ll be covering live on Twitter starting at 11 a.m.
‘We need to do something drastic’
A permanent increase to Alaska’s public school funding formula is a step closer to reality.
On Monday, the Senate Finance Committee introduced an updated version of Senate Bill 52 that would make permanent the $680 per student increase to the base student allocation formula, which translates to a roughly $174 million increase to K12 funding statewide, and advanced it from the committee, setting it up for a floor vote in the near future.
The amount is scaled back pretty significantly from what the Senate Education Committee advanced and no longer contains a second-year increase. Still, Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Löki Tobin told the committee that it meets the goals of increased, stable and dependable school funding.
“While the numbers are different, the proposed committee substitute here from Senate Finance meets the policy goals set forth by the Senate Education Committee to significantly increase the base student allocation,” she said, recognizing the dozens of meetings and dozens of hours of public testimony on the issue. “It is very clear to us that the Alaska public education system is struggling, and we need to do something drastic. This bill does just that. If passed and it becomes law, it will be a permanent increase that will help every child and young adult who receives a public education here in Alaska.”
The $680 figure is currently contained in the House and Senate operating budgets as a one-time increase that would expire next year, which advocates say would subject schools to yet another round of uncertainty over funding. The increase would technically be the largest-ever increase to school funding in Alaska, but it comes on the heels of several years of either flat funding or mercurial one-time boosts.
While the bill falls well short of the $1,000 increase proposed by the Senate Education Committee, it’s not the only additional funding this version of the bill will send schools’ way.
The committee also unanimously approved a pair of amendments by Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, that would increase funding for residential boarding schools as well as the funding for pupil transportation statewide. That second lump of money, about $8 million statewide, will help schools with the cost of bussing and transportation. It’s a figure that also hasn’t seen a permanent increase for several years, forcing districts to pull money out of the base student allocation to cover bussing costs.
“We’re acknowledging there’s a problem with the bussing,” Bishop said, “and are trying to keep as much money in the classroom as possible.”
The lone vote against the transportation increase came from Wasilla Republican Sen. David Wilson. Bus drivers for the Mat-Su Borough School District went on strike more than a month earlier this year over unsafe conditions and low pay.
Other provisions in the bill written by the Senate Education Committee that would set up a dashboard for school funding and improve reporting requirements were left unchanged.
The underlying legislation advanced without objection. Its next stop will be the Senate floor, which could poise the bill to potentially pass this session. Similar legislation is currently in the House Finance Committee, a step away from a vote on the House floor.
Sen. Tobin told the committee she’s committed to seeing the bill pass this year.
There is a week left in the legislative session.
Follow the thread: Senate Finance amends and approves BSA bill
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Wait, but aren’t schools swimming in money?
While there seems to be a general agreement among most legislators that schools are in deep financial trouble with years of flat funding, soon-to-be-expiring covid-19 money and spiking inflation, not everyone is on board, far from it.
We have legislators who are just generally antagonistic toward public schools and don’t want to fund them no matter the fiscal cliff they’re facing. Still, there’s another group that seems to deny outright there’s a problem in the first place.
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