Anchorage gets biggest proportion of increased school funds

Posted: Friday, May 11, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Every Alaska school district will get more state money to run schools next year, with about $25 million in new funds. But a bigger proportion of the increase will go to urban districts than to rural ones.

Anchorage is getting nearly $9 million in increased state operating funds.

''We're getting the crumbs, and they're eating the cake. That's my interpretation,'' said Bill Ferguson, superintendent of the Lower Kuskokwim School District based in Bethel. He estimates Lower Kuskokwim will get about $600,000 in additional state money.

Rural districts fared better in the capital budget. Nearly all of the $76 million in grants to build new schools and renovate old ones is directed at the Bush.

The bills still must be approved by the governor to become law.

The funding increases come at a time when Alaska students also face a new requirement that they pass state exams in reading, writing and math to earn high school diplomas. Districts say they need additional money to re-tool their curricula, retrain teachers and offer remedial classes to prepare students for the exams, now expected to be required beginning with the class of 2004.

The actions of the 22nd Legislature left state educational leaders pleased at the attention to education issues and at funding increases. Some are also frustrated at the urban-rural funding split. And even those who are happy say the Legislature in future years needs to raise the state's financial commitment further if it expects academic improvement.

Gov. Tony Knowles, backed by a task force of business and civic leaders, had asked for an increase of $42.5 million this year to correct widespread weaknesses in school systems, such as outdated curriculum and textbooks, poor building maintenance, and teacher salaries that are not competitive with those of other states.

That proposal went nowhere despite lobbying by influential business leaders.

''I'm a bit disappointed'' about that, state education commissioner Shirley Holloway said Thursday. ''They did such a good job outlining the need.''

However, she said, she's grateful for the $25 million in additional funding.

When the Legislature convened in January, members of the Republican majority said don't expect increases in school operating money, don't look for any construction money and, by the way, we'll be paying for only part of school bus costs, said Carl Rose, who watches the action daily as executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards.

The results in May compared with the expectations in January made it ''a great year for education,'' Rose said. ''You don't get everything or as much as you think you need. But I thought the Legislature did a good job.''

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