School funding bill passes on final day

Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Lawmakers approved a change in the formula for funding schools Wednesday, imposed a tax on car rentals, boosted business license fees and removed a requirement that the minimum wage go up with inflation.

They also gave final approval to a resolution asking the federal government to fix parts of the USA Patriot Act that may infringe on civil liberties.

On the last day of this year's legislative session, the House approved a bill that changes the way schools are paid for busing kids and rolls money that had been distributed through grants into the state's school foundation formula.

Senate Bill 202 boosts the per student amount distributed through the school foundation formula from $4,010 per student to $4,169. Most of the $32.1 million cost for that comes from putting money into the formula that in the past had been distributed as learning opportunity grants.

Supporters said that gives school districts more stability in funding because the formula does not change from year to year. The formula also takes into account variations in costs in different parts of the state, which the learning opportunity grant did not.

''It does help all the school districts throughout the state by doing that,'' said Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage.

Because some urban districts would lose money by putting the funding into the foundation formula, the Legislature is also adding about $2.8 million over last year's funding in Senate Bill 202 and in the capital budget to keep those districts from losing money.

The bill also puts funding for pupil transportation into a formula based on student enrollment.

Currently, school districts submit their busing costs to the state for reimbursement, but Gov. Frank Murkowski and some legislators have complained those costs are rising too fast and simply reimbursing them gives districts no incentive to control costs.

The bill calls for pupil transportation money to be distributed on a per-student formula that is based on a district's 2002-2003 transportation costs.

Some lawmakers were frustrated that the bill does not take care of increased transportation costs expected in the 2003-2004 year and that it does not take into account the higher costs of busing special education students.

''Certainly this is not a perfect solution by any means,'' Meyer said.

But he said it was better than Murkowski's original proposal to cut the 2002-2003 level of transportation funding by 20 percent.

''If we didn't pass this, then we'd go back to the governor's numbers,'' Meyer said.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to boost the per student funding to $4,303 per student, at a cost of about $30 million more.

Amendments by Gara to adjust the spending for inflation each year and to keep districts from losing transportation money if their student population dropped also failed.

The bill itself passed 37-0.

Gara said he voted for the bill reluctantly because it does not add money for education when inflation and extra costs for pupil transportation contracts are considered. But he said it's better than the governor's proposal or an earlier House budget proposal.

''Believe it or not, that's the best of any of the Republican proposals this year,'' Gara said.

The bill had already passed the Senate, so it now goes to the governor for his signature.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, a bill to remove a requirement that the minimum wage go up with inflation passed late Wednesday night on a vote of 12-8, with all Democrats opposing the measure. The House passed the bill earlier in the session, so it now goes to the governor.

The Senate also voted 11-9 to impose a 10 percent tax on rental cars and a 3 percent tax on recreational vehicles. Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, joined Democrats in opposing the measure. That bill had also already passed the House and goes to the governor.

Also headed to the governor is a bill to boost business license fees from $25 a year to $100 a year. An exception would be made for sole proprietors age 65 or older, who would have to pay only $50 a year.

The Senate approved the business license bill 12-8, with Democrats Bettye Davis, Johnny Ellis, Kim Elton, Gretchen Guess, Lyman Hoffman, Georgianna Lincoln and Donny Olson and Republican Con Bunde casting ''no'' votes.

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