Legislative education funding task force begins work

Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2007

The state’s new education panel charged with finding a more equitable way to distribute state funds to local schools is set to begin its summer-long work today in Anchorage and will stream the audio content over the Web.

The Joint Legislative Funding Task Force, created just prior to the end of the legislative session, will meet periodically over the summer to find ways to fix the complex Foundation Formula the state employs to distribute state money to local school districts. Alaskans will be able to listen to the proceedings on their computers.

The issues are critical to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, which considers the current formula inequitable. Specifically, borough and school officials estimate the state’s formula has underfunded peninsula schools by perhaps as much as $100 million over the past decade.

Task force members have been directed to recommend changes by Sept. 1 that would make the formula fairer to the students of the state’s 52 rural and urban school districts. A new formula would be written into legislation and considered during the 2008 session. There also has been some talk of a possible special session this fall, but none has been scheduled.

The task force’s new Web site and access the Gavel-to-Gavel Webcast audio stream can be found at www.housemajority.org. The stream also can be accessed at www.ktoo.org/gavel.

Alaskans seeking more information about the task force meetings or who wish to submit comments may do so at jletf@akleg.org.

House Majority press secretary Will Vandergriff said Wednesday that the task force is expected to meet for two days every couple of weeks throughout the summer, and that some meetings would be scheduled for various locations across Alaska. That schedule has not yet been set.

Vandergriff also said some of those meetings would include public testimony both in-person and via teleconference.

The task force includes two state lawmakers from Kenai Peninsula legislative districts. Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, whose district includes the lower Kenai Peninsula, and District 35 Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, have been named to the panel.

Stevens said recently it was urgent that lawmakers find an equitable solution to the problems with the current formula. Seaton called the formula rewrite effort “probably one of the most important revisions in anything we are doing in the Legislature.”

Other state lawmakers named to the panel are Sens. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, and Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, Bob Roses, R-Anchorage, Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, and Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue.

Gov. Sarah Palin has named the panel’s 11th member — Carl Rose, executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards.

Today’s meeting will begin the analysis of the funding formula and pertinent state statutes and introduce key issues, according to a House Majority press release.

The task force will meet today and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office at 716 W. 4th Ave.

For more information, contact Juli Lucky at 269-0255 or e-mail jletf@akleg.org.

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