House prepares to vote on school funding boost

Measure would increase state deficit but reduce class sizes and allow districts to keep more teachers

Correction: The first version of this article mis-stated the bill number for the funding increase. It is HB 339, not 399.

 

Alaska schools may receive a boost in funding under a new proposal heading to a vote on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives.

Late Wednesday, the House Finance Committee voted 11-0 in favor of House Bill 339, which increases the state’s school funding by $100 per student, or about $25.6 million in total.

HB 339 advances from the finance committee to a vote of the full House.

If the bill is approved by the House, Senate and Gov. Bill Walker, the state’s “base student allocation” would rise to $6,030 from $5,930.

The bill is universally supported by the state’s various school districts, which have been squeezed by rising administrative costs. In testimony before the Legislature, various superintendents, including Juneau’s Mark Miller, have said that flat funding amounts to a budget cut because of those rising expenses.

Increasing the base student allocation would obviate the need to cut teachers and increase class sizes.

While HB 339 calls for increased funding, it does not say how the Leigslature will pay for it.

The state’s education budget bill, House Bill 287, does not include the increase proposed by HB 339. If lawmakers in the House and Senate approve HB 339, they could amend HB 287, place the increase in another portion of the operating budget, or simply leave the appropriation unfunded.

In that latter case, the impact of the $25.6 million funding increase would not show up on the state’s balance sheets until next year, effectively obscuring the budget increase as the Legislature has done with Medicaid expenses.

Regardless of which approach the Legislature uses, money for the increase would come from the Alaska Permanent Fund or state savings, barring a surge in oil prices or production.


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


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