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House Finance approves rural school funding bill

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill to suspend a portion of the state's school funding formula that gives less money to some rural schools was passed in the House Finance Committee on Saturday.

The committee preserved about $1.01 million for 22 mostly rural schools that stood to lose money next year under a 1998 change in the state's foundation formula.

It puts off an ''eroding floor'' provision in the formula that saw the state pay such schools only 60 percent for new students under the 1998 change.

''I don't think it was right we should reduce the funding in these areas without good reason,'' said Rep. Bill Williams, R-Saxman, who sponsored the measure.

House fiscal leaders approved the bill to forestall reductions in the funding formula until fiscal year 2004. Williams said he wanted the cuts stalled until a study examining the costs of delivering education to various districts is complete. It is expected to be finished by November.

The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 10-1. Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, voted against the additional funding.

Bunde, who has opposed it in the past, said the state faces difficult fiscal times and other areas of state service also face cuts.

''We're spending a million where people might want the money, but we're not spending a million where people need the money,'' Bunde said.

The committee also increased funding for the Alaska Challenge Youth Program.

The 1998 rewrite of the school funding formula was intended to correct past inequities that saw some districts receive proportionally more funding than others.

To lessen the impact to districts that would lose money under the new formula, the law provided them with supplemental funding. But it called for a gradual erosion by subtracting 40 percent of any extra money districts receive for new students from their supplemental funding.

Districts that fall into that category have been primarily rural and some have been primarily Native, which has resulted in criticism that Native students are treated unequally.



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