Alaska House committee proposes using part of rising oil money to fund schools a year ahead of time

The Alaska House Finance Committee meets to discuss the state's improved revenue forecast on Wednesday in the Capitol. The committee's latest version of the budget includes an additional $1.2 billion to fund public education a year ahead of time. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO & Alaska Public Media)
The Alaska House Finance Committee meets to discuss the state’s improved revenue forecast on Wednesday in the Capitol. The committee’s latest version of the budget includes an additional $1.2 billion to fund public education a year ahead of time. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO & Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska House Finance Committee plans to spend some of extra state money from high oil prices on funding public education a year ahead of time. 

The committee updated its version of the budget on Wednesday, with $1.2 billion committed to public schools beyond what it already planned. If the plan becomes law, that would mean there’s enough money budgeted to cover the state share of school costs through June 2024.

Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster, a committee co-chair, said education is a priority for the House majority. 

“Stability is an issue when the school districts need to build their budgets,” he said. “We felt it’s important that with the amount of money that’s coming into the coffers, now is a good time to provide that stability to school districts.”

The amount is roughly one-third of the additional $3.6 billion the Department of Revenue forecast the state will receive in its spring revenue update on Tuesday. 

The committee would save much of the newly forecast revenue. 

Committee member Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said the Legislature should take a cautious approach in how it plans for oil revenue that may never materialize. 

“We come from a commercial fishing background, and I have yet to see a commercial fisherman spend money before his net goes in the water,” he said. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed saving nearly all of the forecast surplus. 

He also wants the Legislature to pass the two permanent fund payments he’s proposed, totaling $3,700.

The forecast didn’t change the House Finance Committee’s approach to the dividend. The committee is proposing a one-time energy relief check that would be the same size as the dividend it’s proposing. The total would be roughly $2,500.

The committee’s current plan is to consider amendments to the budget on Monday.  Once the committee finishes its work on the budget bill, the entire House will vote on it, before it goes to the Senate. 

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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