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Senate committee releases its version of education bill

Posted: April 18, 2014 - 6:09pm

The Senate Finance Committee has released its long-awaited version of House Bill 278, Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill. The legislation has already passed the House and is one of the priority issues to be resolved before the Legislature adjourns its 2014 session, currently scheduled April 20 — Easter Sunday.

The bill adds the equivalent of $100 per student in new funding for the next three years, but does it outside the Base Student Allocation, the formula mechanism within the state education funding program.

The reasoning for appropriating money outside was formula was not made clear but presumably it was done because it leaves the BSA as it is, making it easier to discontinue the funding after three years if needed.

The governor’s original proposal in HB 278 was to increase the BSA itself over three years by $85 in the first year and $58 per student in both the second and third years over the current level of $5,680 per student. The increases would be cumulative, each year on top of the previous year’s increase.

The House added $100 to this for the first year, so the first-year increase would be $168, with $58 added in each of the two following years, again cumulative.

Two other elements of the governor’s bill that were not in the House bill — an end to the state’s high-school exit exam and an increase in funding for mostly-rural boarding schools — were put back into the Senate bill.

The House took those out because they were being done in separate legislation, a bill by Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, in the case of boarding schools, and a bill by Rep. Pete Higgins, R-Fairbanks, with exit exams. 

The Senate bill also retained a controversial feature of the House bill that increases the years needed for teachers to gain tenure in urban schools and larger Rural Education Attendance Areas from three years to five years.

In smaller rural schools the three-year tenure track is retained.

New tax credits for religious and private schools that were in both the governor’s and the House bill are retained in the Senate bill.

There were also changes in the allowable local tax contribution in school districts where there is a municipal tax base, which is a way of shifting costs from the state to local taxpayers, and changes in the percentages of debt service for school bonds issued by municipalities that will be paid by the state.

Senate leaders put a good face on the bill.

“This plan puts education in the hands of the people who can best identify and serve the students: teachers and parents,” said Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, co-chair of the Senate Finance committee.

“Parents know their kids best. This plan gives parents more options to best meet the educational needs of their children,” Meyer said in a statement. “Once inside the classroom, teachers know what works best for each student. This plan puts more resources directly into their hands.” 

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