Kodiak's Stevens pre-files bill for increase in education money

Posted: Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, has pre-filed a bill that would increase the size of the per-student funding formula and require the Legislature to approve an education budget by April 1 each year.

The bill will get a number and be assigned committee hearings in January, but in a press release last week, Stevens said the proposed $293 per-student increase to the state's Foundation Funding Formula would push the annual figure to $4,869 per student. The formula determines how much each school district will get in state funding.

State lawmakers increased funding last year by $82 million, the largest such increase ever. But much of it went to cover contractual salary and benefit obligations.

An April 1 deadline for establishing the level of state funding will make budgeting by school districts significantly easier, Stevens said.

"By state statute, school districts are required to submit funding requests to their municipal governments by May 1," he said.

"In most years, the operating budget has not been passed until the very end of the Legislative session in mid-May. This makes it difficult for school districts to prepare an actual financial plan, putting an added burden on local government officials in development of their budgets."

The uncertainty caused by that scheduling mismatch has at times forced school districts to lay off teachers and then try to rehire them once the budgets are finalized.

"Early education funding will greatly offset this problem," Stevens said.

Stevens also said he intends to pre-file a bill to help local governments avoid costly special initiative elections and referendums.

"In many cases, these measures are not so pressing in nature that they could not wait for the regular municipal election," he said.

Special elections typically draw fewer voters than regular elections and sometimes end up costing taxpayers unnecessarily.

"This legislation would give the municipal governing body the option of calling a special election if the council or assembly wished to have the initiative and referendum considered in a timely manner," Stevens said.

His Republican colleagues recently named Stevens, a second-term member of the Senate, Senate majority leader for the 24th Legislature.

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