School transportation bill resurrected

Posted: Wednesday, April 19, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill aimed at reining in the cost of busing Alaska kids to school was resurrected Tuesday by the Senate.

Senate Bill 290 had failed on Monday after lawmakers loaded the bill with new education-related spending. Most of that spending was stripped out on Tuesday, but the bill still alters the state's school funding formula to send more than $600,000 to schools in Sen. Robin Taylor's Southeast Alaska district.

Under current law, local school districts negotiate transportation costs and the state pays the tab, even though neither the Department of Education and Early Development nor the Legislature has a say in the deals.

That system brought the state a $5 million increase in the program's costs for the fiscal year, which begins July 1.

So the Senate Finance Committee proposed a bill that would limit state reimbursement to only half of future increases that weren't driven by new schools, increased enrollment or a 4 percent yearly cost-of-living increase.

The money for next year's increase was tied to the passage of the bill, adding urgency to its passage.

But the bill collapsed under more than $8 million worth of spending amendments for charter and alternative schools that passed Monday.

That forced the Senate's Republican majority to retreat into a closed-door caucus. On Tuesday, the Senate resurrected the bill, stripped out most of the spending and passed it 12-8 with little debate.

''Apparently the Republicans went to caucus and exercised some discipline,'' said Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, who supported the spending in the version of the bill that failed Monday. ''I call it a woodshed caucus.''

However, the bill still contains language sponsored by Taylor, R-Wrangell, to change the state's school funding formula to channel about $1 million more to three school districts.

Taylor contends the 1998 rewrite of the formula shorted Wrangell and Petersburg, which lie within his district.

His change would send $249,584 more per year to Wrangell, $351,925 to Petersburg and $408,2989 to the Delta-Greely School District in the Interior, according to the Department of Education.

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