Fairbanks senator seeks to boost education spending

Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Sen. Gary Wilken has prefiled a bill seeking to deliver $20 million more in state spending to public school classrooms than is proposed by Gov. Tony Knowles.

''This bill represents the first year of (my) five-year plan to restore the purchasing power of the student dollar lost to inflation since 1988,'' said Wilken, R-Fairbanks.

Wilken's legislation calls for state per-pupil formula funding to increase from $3,940 to $4,085 next year.

''The bill is only a one-year bill,'' he said. ''But certainly in my sponsor statement the thrust of the thing is to restore the buying power lost over the last 12 years.''

Knowles plans to ask the Legislature for a classroom spending boost of $10.5 million from the general fund. The money would replace automatic declines in state funding caused by increases in required local contributions, more federal aid, and the loss of one-time legislative grants to prepare schools for the new high school exit exam.

Wilken agrees the $10.5 million should be reinvested in the school funding formula. But he also wants the additional $20 million from the general fund for his plan.

''Alaskans are asking our public schools to take on more and more responsibility,'' said Wilken, noting new standards and the high school exit exam. ''And the state has an obligation to provide adequate funding to all school districts so that our schools can meet their responsibility.''

Sen.-elect Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, said it was too early to gauge the chances of Wilken's bill.

The Legislature will have to look at how everyone's particular spending priorities fit into an overall budget plan, Therriault said.

Therriault said Knowles is seeking a total $145 million general fund spending increase for next year.

''Now we see the price of oil taking a big hit,'' Therriault said.

Knowles' press secretary Bob King said the governor has not reviewed Wilken's bill and cannot comment on its merits.

''I think it is good, though, that he has recognized the needs of Alaska's school districts,'' King said.

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