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House panel hears breakdown on educational costs

Posted: March 24, 2014 - 9:11pm

JUNEAU — The Legislative Finance Division told the House Finance Committee on Monday that Alaska will spend $1.4 billion on education this fiscal year, and if current spending levels continue, two major reserve funds will be depleted within a decade.

Finance Division Director David Teal said the amounts given to local school districts and the total amount the state spends on education are different issues. Per-pupil allocations made to districts are only part of an overall picture that includes expenses such as transportation and construction.

Using graphs to underscore his point, Teal told a packed room that even though the per-pupil allocation technically has been flat over the past four years at $5,680 per student, it has been declining since 2012 because of inflation. The amount adjusted to inflation was $5,764 per pupil in 2012. Today, adjusted for inflation, the amount is $5,599 per pupil.

Teal said other factors should also be added into the formula, such as capital budget grants awarded to districts for everything from books and computers to intramural sports equipment. The amount in fiscal year 2013 for those grants equated to $262 per pupil, while this year’s amount per pupil is $192.

Transportation funding breaks down to $300 per pupil, both last year and this year.

If factors such as operating expenses per district, capital budgets and transportation funding are accounted for, the average per-pupil allocation is $11,400.

Teal told the committee that school districts are dynamic, yet the overall funding formula put together by the state dates from 1997 and has not been adjusted to current factors.

“The Legislature should be looking at the formula and not just the BSA,” Teal said. The BSA is the base student allocation, or the per-pupil funding.

The educational funding formula developed by the state was deliberately weighed to favor remote school districts, he said.

“What the Legislature needs to do is ask itself who is struggling more, urban or rural schools,” Teal said.

Under the current per-pupil formula, the adjusted average daily attendance count for rural schools can call for one student to be counted four times or more, while an urban school’s population may be counted as less than its actual number of students.

Rep. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, asked Teal why students are not counted equally.

“I don’t think you can live in some places in rural Alaska even if you made twice as much as if you live in Anchorage,” Teal answered.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said the issue of education funding was about more than the per-pupil allocation.

“How do we fund the schools at the level they need as we face continued deficits?” Edgmon said. “The numbers are what they are.”

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