Retire, Rehire and new funding are back-to-school gifts for Alaska’s districts
By MARY KAUFFMAN
August 10, 2018
“Alaska is a resource state, and our most important resource is our children,” Governor Walker said. “The quality of education should never be determined by the price of a barrel of oil. Students, parents, and teachers can be confident that will no longer happen because we have now closed 80 percent of the budget deficit. I’m immensely grateful to those who work every day to improve education in Alaska, from the home to the House to the classroom.”
One of the bills signed into law today changes the management structure of the $675 million Alaska Public School Trust Fund to a percent of market value (POMV) system. POMV has become the standard global management approach for large endowments and trusts. House Bill 213, sponsored by Representative Justin Parish (D-Juneau), will result in a significant increase in funding available for public education in Alaska.
“Modernizing the Public School Trust Fund makes good sense. This bill brings the Trust up to the industry standard and will make better use of a significant financial resource,” said Rep. Parish. “Switching to a POMV model will enable a higher earnings rate and protect the value of the trust fund while yielding several million more dollars per year for schools.”
HB 213 authorizes a yearly draw of no more than five percent from the Public School Trust Fund. Once implemented, the restructured trust fund will make an additional $18 million available for local school districts and the Mt. Edgecumbe Boarding School based on the size of the fund in Fiscal Year 2019.
HB 213 also creates a new education endowment fund and authorizes a new yearly state raffle. Both funds will be financed by voluntary donations of a portion of the yearly Permanent Fund Dividend given to each eligible Alaskan.
“My thanks go to every lawmaker, staffer, and stakeholder who worked on this bill, which I believe serves the best interests of our children and future generations of Alaskans. Together we can make a brighter future,” said Rep. Parish.
House Bill 213 initially passed the Alaska House of Representatives in March by a vote of 21-16. The Alaska State Senate passed the bill on May 12 by a unanimous vote of 19-0, and the members of the Alaska House quickly concurred with the changes to the bill made in the Senate. Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed House Bill 213 into law today during a ceremony in Fairbanks. The bill takes effect on January 1, 2019.
Also signed into law today by Governor Walker is a bill allowing school districts to temporarily fill vacancies with qualified retired teachers.
SB 185, sponsored by Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna), provides school districts with an additional staffing option until a permanent teacher can be hired, helping school districts maintain quality education while balancing their budgets.
“Alaska’s school districts are facing staffing challenges,” said Sen. Micciche. “Currently, Alaska is experiencing a shortage of qualified educators, especially in remote communities. As state budgets continue to be reduced, it is important that districts are given adequate tools to hire qualified, appropriate educators, even during challenging times.”
SB 185 allows school districts to re-employ retired educators to fill short-term needs. Retirees who are re-employed under these new allowances will continue to receive retirement benefits during the period of reemployment. School districts will still be required to contribute to the Teachers Retirement System at the same rate that districts contribute for active employees.
“This is a nationwide issue and we don’t expect to rebound any time soon,” said Sen. Micciche. “SB 185 is a critical tool for local school districts to keep experienced educators in front of Alaska’s children while they continue their efforts in hiring the best and brightest new teachers to fill empty positions.”
SB 185 passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House by a vote of 37 to 1, for a combined vote of 56 to 1.
Also signed into law today by Governor Walker was HB 212 expanding Alaska’s rural school construction fund so that major maintenance projects at existing schools can qualify for money, instead of funding only the construction of new schools, and SB 216 removing the immediate financial penalty for school consolidation. Schools now have a five-year grace period to adjust to the lower levels of per-student funding that come with larger student counts.
Earlier this week, House Bill 135 was signed into law giving Alaska school districts more time and flexibility to provide the local match required under the School Construction Grant Program. House Bill 135 loosens the existing three-year deadline, which can now be extended by the Commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development to a maximum of seven years; provided there is good cause, the extension doesn’t jeopardize successful completion of the project, and the extension won’t increase state funding of the project cost. House Bill 135 was sponsored by Representative John Lincoln (D-Kotzebue).
Lincoln said, "We have seen districts around the state struggle to meet the three-year deadline for local match, especially in districts off the road system working with multiple levels of government and facing complex project logistics,” said Rep. Lincoln. “The flexibility provided in HB 135 will help districts address major maintenance and new school construction while reducing the chance that already approved projects will come back before the legislature unnecessarily. That will get Alaska students into quality classrooms sooner and allow districts to focus more resources on educating students and less on project management and lobbying.”
This was of direct concern for District 40 and the new school planned for Kivalina. That project is taking longer to put together because of the additional need for almost eight miles of new road to the school site. HB 135 will also address other existing projects that need more time in the Yukon Flats School District, Yupiit School District, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
House Bill 135 passed unanimously through both the Alaska House and Alaska Senate. Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed HB 135 on Wednesday during a ceremony in Kotzebue.
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