Lawmakers considering changes in school funding

Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Republican lawmakers are considering shifting one-time grants to schools into an increase in the school funding formula.

House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said there is bipartisan support in the House for such a funding change.

The so-called Learning Opportunity Grants -- introduced three years ago to assist schools with the state's Quality Schools Initiative -- have become outmoded, Coghill said.

''I think we've actually done a pretty good job at installing what we see as a results-based education ... and now it's a matter of giving the districts the discretionary money through the formula,'' Coghill said.

Senate President Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, said he believes it is time for the Legislature to consider eliminating the grant system and shifting the money into per-pupil funding.

Therriault said he expects the final fate of the grant program to be part of a larger debate over changes in school funding, including the amount paid into the foundation formula and implementing results of a study on school costs statewide.

Learning grants were $23.3 million statewide last year, rising by more than 10 million from the previous year. Critics of the grants complain that they shortchange rural schools since they don't account for the higher cost of education in Bush Alaska.

Gov. Frank Murkowski does not have a position on whether to shift learning grants into the school funding formula, said spokesman John Manly.

''There are all kinds of possibilities out there currently,'' he said. ''Where the governor's going to go with them is too early to tell.''

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