Senate panel proposes $100 million in one-time education funding

A tense mood turns jovial as the Alaska House Finance Committee prepares to adjourn after discussing Senate Bill 49 and House Bill 173; similar bills that would restrict Medicaid payment for abortions. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The Alaska House Finance Committee prepares to adjourn. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

While the Legislature is still hammering out how much money to put toward the base student allocation, the Senate Finance Committee has included a major injection of funds in their version of the operating budget.

Where the House had proposed giving school districts $25 million in one-time education aid, the Senate Finance Committee has bumped that number up to $100 million to be divided among school districts based on their enrollment numbers. Their operating budget would allocate $100 million to schools during the 2015-2016 academic year as well.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican who co-chairs the committee, said the number serves as a placeholder while lawmakers figure out how they want to adjust the funding formula.

“We want as a group to figure out education,” Kelly told the committee. “We may need some time to do that. This amendment gives us time, while we are not putting the school districts too much out on a limb as we make our determinations.”

The number could change if the Legislature settles on a more permanent fix for education funding by increasing the base student allocation. That’s the amount that each school gets for every student enrolled, and it has sat at $5,680 per child for the past four years.

Gov. Sean Parnell has proposed increasing the BSA by $85 per student this year, which adds up to a little over $10 million for the whole school system. His plan would build in future boosts to the BSA over the next couple of years.

The Democratic Minority in the Legislature has argued Parnell’s plan does not do enough to plug school districts’ budget shortfalls and avoid teacher layoffs. Their legislation would increase the BSA by $404.

The Senate operating budget is expected to come to a vote next week, and then be sent to the House so that differences can be worked out.

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