Gov. Walker signs Parish’s education bill

School funding measure is sole item passed into law by outgoing Juneau lawmaker this term

Justin Parish’s bill has become law.

 

In a Friday ceremony in Fairbanks’ Lathrop High School, Gov. Bill Walker signed four education-related bills into law. Among the four was House Bill 213, the sole prime-sponsored bill from Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, to become law this session.

Parish traveled to Fairbanks for the ceremony and said by phone that he’s proud to be part of a public process that created something good.

“I’m grateful for all the help I had, particularly from my staff,” he said. “It’s a great good thing to move the ball down the field some, to have contributed in a real way to the betterment of the state. In this case, it’ll be millions of dollars we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

HB 213, when fully implemented, will turn the state’s public school trust fund (worth more than $600 million) into a smaller version of the Alaska Permanent Fund, generating millions of dollars per year for public education.

The trust fund was established in 1978 by the Alaska Legislature to replace a similar, territorial-era fund. Since 1978, the fund has been managed in classic trust fashion: An untouched principal earns money through investments in stocks and bonds, and that earned money can be spent on other projects.

HB 213 adjusts how the fund is handled. Instead of a division between principal and dividends, the state will be able to take a percentage (in this case, 4.75 percent) of the fund’s total value per year. According to an analysis written in February by the Alaska Department of Revenue, “the goal … is to preserve t he inflation-adjusted value of deposits to the trust while maximizing the income paid out to beneficiaries.”

Had this proposal been established in 1978, according to department estimates, the trust fund would be worth nearly $1.2 billion and have paid out almost twice as much money to the state treasury.

Parish, elected in 2016, has declined to run for another term. Three candidates are seeking to fill his seat in the Mendenhall Valley. They include school board member Andi Story, Juneau deputy mayor Jerry Nankervis, and Parish’s former chief of staff, Rob Edwardson.

Dividend lottery

Also included within HB 213 is authorization for a state raffle funded by Permanent Fund dividends. The brainchild of Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, the lottery was originally included in Senate Bill 78 but was rolled into HB 213 at the end of this year’s legislature.

Under this section of HB 213, the Permanent Fund Dividend Division must create a raffle with a $100 entry fee. Each year, the Permanent Fund Dividend application will include a question asking whether the applicant wants to buy one or more raffle tickets at $100 apiece using their dividend. Ticket sales proceeds go into a raffle fund, and four winners will each win portions of that fund. If the raffle fund exceeds $300 million, the excess will fund education programs.

Other bills signed

In addition to HB 213, Walker signed House Bill 212 by Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome; Senate Bill 185 by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; and Senate Bill 216 by the Senate Finance Committee.

HB 212 allows the state to spend the rural school construction fund on major maintenance as well as the construction of new schools. SB 185 permits school districts to hire retired teachers more easily to fill vacancies. SB 216 reduces the state funding penalty for school districts that merge two schools. Currently, a school district receives more state support from two schools than one, even if both schools have the same number of students combined as the single school. SB 216 permits a five-year transition period before lower funding levels kick in.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


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