Bills would increase school funding

As school districts across the state brace for budget cuts and layoffs, the Senate Education Committee this morning (Monday) will take up a bill to increase the Base Student Allocation – that’s the amount paid to districts for each student enrolled.

The Senate Majority coalition of Republicans and Democrats considers increased school operating funds a session priority, while Gov. Sean Parnell’s budget proposes flat funding at $5,680 per student. Senate Bill 171 would add $390 in three increments over the next three fiscal years: $125 per student this July, $130 in 2013, and $135 per student in 2014.

The Senate Education Committee held the first hearing on SB 171 on Friday. The Alaska Council of School Administrators said districts actually need a $320 increase in the BSA just to keep pace with current programs, and even then many districts will have to lay off staff.

But Senate President Gary Stevens said the Senate has to be realistic. He said a higher amount would not get past the House and Gov. Parnell.

“I don’t want to hear how this is not enough because I don’t think that takes us forward. I want to hear how this helps and how we can get the support of the other body and the administration to do what this bill says,” Stevens said.

Juneau Harborview Elementary School fourth grader Sierra Wood told the committee she was in a class of 27 students.

“In my classroom I see kids who need lots of help. If my school had more money we could have more classrooms so students could have more time with teachers. The best way to learn is to spend more time with the teacher because then you can feel more confident,” she said.

In the House, a bill just introduced would inflation-proof education funding. HB 143 would require the administration to increase the Base Student Allocation by at least the annual rise in the Anchorage Consumer Price Index. Anchorage Democrat Rep. Pete Peterson’s bill would provide an additional $187.52 for each student.

“And that’s just the minimum that is needed just to keep up with last year’s inflation,” Peterson said.

According to the Senate Education Committee, Alaska ranks 22nd among states in the amount it spends on education.

Senate Education Committee Co-chairman Kevin Meyer hopes SB 171 bill can be through the legislative process by mid-March, when districts must wrap up their budgets. School districts annually complete their spending plans long before they know the amount of state funding, which makes up about 60 percent of local district revenue. This morning’s hearing on SB 171 begins at 8 o’clock in room 105 of the state capitol (Beltz Room).

Meanwhile, the Juneau School Board holds another public hearing Tuesday on next year’s proposed budget. The district is facing a $5.8 million shortfall and could cut 69 positions, with at least 7 percent from the certified teaching staff and 10 percent from support staff.

The board also wants written testimony, which can be emailed to budgetinput@jsd.k12.ak.us.

Tuesday’s school board hearing starts at 6:00 p.m. in the Juneau-Douglas High School library.