Lawmakers make tentative deal on education bill

Sen. Kevin Meyer talks to reporters at a Senate Majority press availability, March 25, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)
Sen. Kevin Meyer talks to reporters at a Senate Majority press availability, March 25, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Negotiators from the State House and Senate have reached a deal on the governor’s education bill, and it includes a mix of permanent and one-time funding increases.

The compromise was announced on Wednesday night, three days after the Legislature had blown its adjournment deadline because of disagreement on the bill. The conference committee in charge of rewriting the legislation has decided to add $300 million to the education budget, spread out over three years.

Half of the money will come as one-time grants for education programs. The other half will come through the “base student allocation,” the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled as part of the education funding formula. The new draft of the bill raises the BSA by $150 the first year, and by $50 in years two and three.

The new proposal is a blend of the House and Senate approaches to education funding. Even though both chambers are led by Republicans, the two bodies had different philosophies on education funding. Where the House wanted a slightly smaller amount that came through a more permanent source, the Senate was willing to spend more money but without putting it into the funding formula.

Sen. Kevin Meyer is an Anchorage Republican who is involved in the negotiations. He says that even if the compromise seems obvious now, it was not so clear on Sunday when the Legislature was facing its adjournment deadline.

“Well, you know, I think it took a couple days to realize that — that there’s an easy solution here,” says Meyer. “You know, we can meet halfway on the funding, that overall $100 million. And ultimately, we figured out, ‘Hey, we can meet half way on what’s in, what’s out, and we can be done and out of here.’ So, sometimes it just takes a couple days, and they you go, ‘Wow, Why didn’t we think of that?’”

The funding plan still does not meet the demands of education advocates, who pushed for a BSA increase of $400 this year alone. They argue that the state needs to give school district $450 million over the next three years, if teacher layoffs are to be avoided.

The conference committee also hammered out disagreements on more than a dozen other parts of the bill. They brought back Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposal to repeal the high school exit exam and require students to take the SAT, ACT, or WorkKeys test in its place. They also removed a section of the bill that would have required urban teachers to go through a longer probationary period before they get tenure.

The conference committee is expected to advance the bill on Thursday, the 94th day of the 90-day session.


Watch the conference committee courtesy of Gavel Alaska:

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