Education bill rewrite leaves some frustrated

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Tuesday, April 8, 2014 11:05pm
  • News

JUNEAU — The broad-ranging education bill that passed the state House after hours of debate seemed to leave few representatives completely satisfied.

Some, like Reps. Alan Austerman. R-Kodiak, and Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, expressed concerns with the proposed spending for education and the sustainability of that funding. Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said his constituents want accountability for how education money is being spent.

“We are not paying for a middle-of-the-road education,” he said in floor debate late Monday. “We’re paying for a very good education and being happy with the middle of the road? I’m not happy with a C.”

Others, including minority House Democrats, wanted more money for schools included to help districts avoid cuts and saw the bill as a missed opportunity for having meaningful, positive impact on public education.

The bill, HB278, underwent significant changes during the course of a floor debate that began late Monday afternoon and culminated in a vote around midnight. Representatives added $30 million in one-time funds for schools on top of a roughly $300 increase over three years in the per-pupil funding formula known as the base student allocation. They also severed from the bill a plan to address the teachers’ retirement system, which Gov. Sean Parnell had urged them to do.

It remained unclear Tuesday just how lawmakers might yet proceed in addressing the unfunded pension obligations for both the teachers’ and public employees’ retirement systems in a session scheduled to end in less than two weeks.

The bill included elements related to charter schools, teacher tenure, certain tax credits for donations to private nonprofit schools, a grading system for school performance and a call for state recommendations on salary and benefits for districts.

It bore a glancing resemblance to the bill originally introduced by Parnell as a way to bring changes to the state’s education system.

The bill passed 29-11, with majority members Wilson and Rep. Mark Neuman of Big Lake joining minority Democrats in voting against it. The lone minority Democrat to vote in support was Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka.

With the bill now before the Senate Finance Committee, Education Commissioner Mike Hanley said Tuesday that he would seek to have provisions related to residential school stipends and the repeal of the high school graduation exam added back in the bill.

He said the bill doesn’t represent significant reforms but steps in the right direction, including with regards to charter school applications and allowing for students to test of our classes they’ve mastered.

Ron Fuhrer, president of NEA-Alaska, a major teachers’ union, said in a statement that while he appreciated the proposed increases in the base student allocation, they don’t alleviate past years of flat-funding the formula and ongoing costs to operate schools, “leaving grave concerns regarding the future of education in Alaska.”

Hanley said any time there is a bill with this many pieces, there will be a small group that supports every one of them.

He was happy to see both the retirement portion and a change in the calculation in the average daily membership to determine state aid for larger schools removed from the bill. The latter would have allowed larger schools to receive more funding under the formula. Both those pieces were added in House Finance.

Parnell in his State of the State address dubbed this the “education session.” While it is still unclear what the final education package might look like, Hanley said the conversations surrounding education this session have been “deeper and broader than we’ve had at any time in recent history.”

But “we certainly can’t stop at the end of session and call it good,” he said. “We have to continue moving forward.”

As part of the overall reform discussion, Hanley said schools need to be looked in the context of the communities in which they operate and the academic, social and physical well-being of children also needs to be taken into account. Children, he said, are “more than test scores.”

More in News

Golden-yellow birch trees and spruce frame a view of Aurora Lagoon and Portlock Glacier from a trail in the Cottonwood-Eastland Unit of Kachemak Bay State Park off East End Road on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, near Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong)
State parks advisory boards accepting applictions

Alaska State Park advisory boards provide state park managers with recommendations on management issues

A recently added port-a-potty is available in the parking lot of Slikok Multi-Use Trails on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Slikok makes sanitation upgrades

A port-a-potty was installed to due to the increased popularity of the trails

Sen. Dan Sullivan speaks at the Kenai Classic Roundtable at Kenai Peninsula College on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Local students nominated to compete for appointments in military academies

Students interested in pursuing appointment to the military service academies can apply for nomination through their state’s congressional delegation

Kenai resident Barbara Kennedy testifies in support of allowing more city residents to own chickens during a city council meeting on Wednesday, Feb.1, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai council bumps back vote on chicken ordinance

The ordinance,would allow Kenai residents to keep up to 12 chicken hens on certain lots

Sens. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage, right, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, and Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, discuss a bill proposing a nearly 17% increase in per-student education funding Wednesday at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini /Juneau Empire)
State Senate bill would bump per-student funding amount by $1,000

If approved, the legislation would bump state education funding by more than $257 million

Recognizable components make up this metal face seen in a sculpture by Jacob Nabholz Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, at the Kenai Art Center, in Kenai, Alaska, as part of Metalwork & Play. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Metalwork gets time to shine

Metal is on showcase this month at the Kenai Art Center

This 2019 aerial photo provided by ConocoPhillips shows an exploratory drilling camp at the proposed site of the Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope. The Biden administration issued a long-awaited study on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, that recommends allowing three oil drilling sites in the region of far northern Alaska. The move, while not final, has angered environmentalists who see it as a betrayal of President Joe Biden’s pledges to reduce carbon emissions and promote green energy. (ConocoPhillips via AP)
Biden administration recommends major Alaska oil project

The move — while not final — drew immediate anger from environmentalists

Homer Electric Association General Manager Brad Janorschke testifies before the Senate Resources Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Juneau, Alaska. (Screenshot via Gavel Alaska)
Senate group briefed on future of Cook Inlet gas

Demand for Cook Inlet gas could outpace supply as soon as 2027

Most Read