Juneau School Board members are hopeful about two bills being considered in the Alaska House of Representatives. The bills would partially make up for long-standing issues with Alaska’s base student allocation. That’s the per-student state funding that goes to schools.
The bills came up during a Juneau assembly meeting with the school board on Monday.
The state stopped reimbursing school bond debt for school building projects in 2015. School board member Will Muldoon explained that the cost of those projects, combined with a decrease in enrollment in Juneau, means that there’s a higher burden on the city to pay for schools.
Currently, the per student funding from the state is just under $6,000. It’s been flat-funded — that means not adjusted for inflation — since 2016.
School Board President Elizabeth Siddon says that’s created a funding deficit, which impacts how many staff members Juneau schools are able to hire.
“For all of the sort of confusion around funding formulas and legislation, it really — all of it — impacts every single classroom,” Siddon said. “Because it’s how many kids you have in a classroom and the teachers’ ability to give that instruction. Whether that’s to, you know, 20 kids or 30 kids in a classroom makes a big difference.”
Juneau Rep. Andi Story introduced two bills that would correct much of this deficit. One bill, HB 272, would “catch up” the base student allocation to $6200 over the next two fiscal years and add a bit more after that. The other, HB 273, would “inflation-proof” the amount for the future.
Still, board member Brian Holst says the increase would only make up for a fraction of the inflation the U.S. has seen in the last decade.
“Even though we’re super excited that Rep. Story has a bill and we hope it’s successful,” he said. “It won’t even get us back to where we were 10 years ago in terms of funding for schools. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
With that step, the Juneau School Board hopes that it can increase the ratio of teachers to students again.
The bills still must be heard in committee before they could head to the full House for a vote.