Education Bills Advanced
By MARY KAUFFMAN
April 15, 2018
“Nearly every school district in Alaska is struggling to do more with less. Without help, students will lose more teachers and lose more opportunity,” said House Bill 339 sponsor Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage). “We have heard from teachers with growing class sizes, students who deserve the right to achieve, and parents considering leaving Alaska due to real concerns about Alaska’s commitment to public education. [Saturday’s] vote shows that education is indeed a top priority.”
In recent years, the loss of anticipated funding increases and continued flat funding has forced school districts to eliminate well over 700 teachers and support staff. The Anchorage School District has cut nearly 400 jobs, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has cut 231 jobs, and the Juneau School District has cut 92 jobs. Without a boost in school support, school officials project major teacher cuts next year.
“Every day I hear from Alaskans concerned about the future. They see teachers leaving for better paying and more stable opportunities elsewhere. They see schools with fewer classes but more students in those classes. And, frankly, they see many of their elected representatives in Juneau unwilling to make the necessary decisions to ensure the next generation of Alaskans have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. I am proud to say that today a majority of the members of the Alaska House stood up for kids, parents, and teachers with their vote in favor of House Bill 339,” said Rep. Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage), HB 339 co-sponsor and Chair of the House Education Committee.
Several statewide organizations and school districts from across Alaska have come out in support of a $100 increase to thebase student allocation (BSA).
House Bill 339 passed the Alaska House of Representatives Saturday by a vote of 22-18. After a reconsideration vote, the bill will be sent to the Alaska State Senate for consideration.
Governor Bill Walker in a prepared statement regarding the passage of House Bill 339 said, “Parents and teachers deserve certainty that Alaska schools will be funded consistently every year. I thank the House of Representatives for taking an important step in that direction by passing H.B. 339. I also thank Representatives Les Gara and Harriet Drummond for leading the way by filing this important legislation."
"I support this legislation and hope to see it on my desk before session ends," said Walker. "We must not deprive our children of the resources they need to succeed. This is something the House and Senate – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – can all rally around. Both bodies have taken actions to increase education funding and to provide budget certainty to educators. Given this broad support, it is my hope that we can finalize H.B. 339 in addition to a mechanism to forward fund education as necessary components of any final legislative package.”
Also on Saturday, in the midst of declining test scores [The Nation's Report Card] and school enrollment, rising healthcare costs, and struggles with teacher retention and morale, the Alaska Senate advanced a series of bills to reverse the downward trend of educational outcomes in Alaska.
“The Senate recognizes the difficulties facing Alaska’s schools,” said Sen. Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River). “This suite of bills will provide Alaska’s educators with funding certainty, open the door to a broader range of educational opportunities for students, and give districts additional tools they need to be successful.”
As a centerpiece of Saturday’s initiatives, HB 287 delivers up to two years of full funding for schools, in addition to a one-time $30 million boost, which the Senate Majority Coalition says amounts to a $117 increase to the base student allocation (BSA) in Fiscal Year 2020. The FY 2020 early education funding and one-time grant portions of the bill are contingent on the passage of SB 26, a bill to protect the use of Permanent Fund earnings and ensure a dividend. Full funding for education in FY 2019, however, is not contingent on the passage of other legislation.
“If we stabilize Alaska’s revenue, we can provide educators with additional resources well in advance,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel). “Passage of SB 26 establishes a responsible draw from the Permanent Fund’s earnings, with protections in place to ensure every Alaskan receives a healthy dividend.”
In conjunction with HB 287, the Senate last week also passed three bills to enhance education in Alaska.
While other departments have experienced cuts in recent years following a sharp decline in oil prices, K-12 education has been held harmless.
HB 287 passed the Senate by a vote of 15 to 4 and is on its way to the Alaska House of Representatives for concurrence, while the Senate bills move to the other body for consideration.
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