Knowles proposes budget increases for education, child care

Posted: Sunday, December 10, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles plans to ask the Legislature for $10.5 million from the general fund to offset decreases in state aid to education, along with a series of smaller increases for other education and child care programs, the administration announced Friday.

Knowles also appointed a task force to recommend a five-year spending plan to improve education in Alaska. The group of leaders from business, education and government will report to Knowles and the state's Board of Education and Early Development by Feb. 1, so its recommendations can be considered as lawmakers work on next year's budget.

''Their task is vitally important -- making sure our schools have the resources necessary to improve student achievement and success,'' Knowles said.

Under the formula used to dole out money to school districts, basic state aid for education would decline next year for two reasons, said Annalee McConnell, Knowles' budget director. First, the formula will yield about $4.3 million less because districts will receive more in federal aid and because local property assessments have increased.

Second, $6.2 million in grants lawmakers approved this year to help districts prepare for the new high school exit test won't automatically be repeated.

The administration argues that the state should maintain the $676 million it's currently spending on education to help students prepare for the exit exam and stiffer statewide standards and testing.

''Schools need more resources, not fewer, to help students meet higher academic standards in reading, writing, and mathematics and to be held accountable for student performance,'' Knowles said.

Knowles and outgoing Education Commissioner Rick Cross didn't say exactly how the money would be used, deferring to the new task force.

In other education-related areas, the administration proposed spending:

--$4.4 million to expand the Head Start early education program to more than 325 children in several communities. Of that money, $3.3 million would come from the federal government.

-- $3.4 million to expand child care assistance to low-income families. About $3 million would come from the state's federal welfare block grant. As welfare reform moves more people off public assistance, it drives up the demand for subsidized child care, McConnell said.

--$2 million in federal money for incentives for registered child care providers to become licensed and for licensed providers to receive state accreditation. The money would also pay for background checks for all child care workers.

All told, Friday's budget proposals add up to about $26.8 million, including $12.7 million from the general fund.

The education announcement was only the latest in a weeklong string of proposed budget increases that now add up to nearly $100 million from the state's general fund. Knowles, a Democrat, and his cabinet officials typically stage such events each year leading up to the formal release of the budget on Dec. 15.

Despite the high price of oil that has eased pressure on the state's wallet, the Republicans who control the Legislature may look unfavorably on the governor's proposals.

''Every October, November, December, it's like the Knowles road show when he travels around the state promising millions and millions of dollars to all different kinds of people,'' incoming Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, said this week.

On Monday, Knowles is scheduled to announce his recommendation for the University of Alaska budget. The university's Board of Regents has asked for a $16.9 million increase.

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