Senate Committee Approves More Money for Schools

The Senate Education Committee this morning approved an increase to the Basic Student Allocation – or BSA.   The BSA is the amount of money given to cover the cost of educating each student on the rolls – and it is the basis for calculating such things as the difference in operating expenses in different communities.  Last year, instead of an increased BSA,  schools shared in a one-time grant of $20-million.  But that wasn’t automatically renewed and was not money that schools could use in the budgets they’re working on now.

In a hearing last Friday,  the Alaska Council of School Administrators said that schools actually need a $320 per student increase this year – just to keep up.  But Senate President Gary Stevens balanced that figure with an amount that might be possible to get from the House and the Governor.

There’s a lot of work ahead for all of us in this room.  If you find there’s support for $320, I’d be delighted.  But I don’t think that’s the reality of it.  I think this is the best we can do.  I think this is the wisest approach – maybe not the best – but I do appreciate the fact that we have a bill here and that we have a lot of work ahead of us to make sure it gets through the entire process.

The bill increases the BSA for each of the next three years — $ 125 for the budgets being written now,  $130 for the following year and $135 for the 2015 budget.

Sunny Hilz, of the Kenai School Board, praised the committee’s decision to provide more than one year of funding.  She said forward funding will allow schools to plan ahead.

What it does in our school district, it changes the morale of the entire place.  It lets us focus on what we know will work.  A program doesn’t work for one year and then start over again. We have to be able to plan ahead.

House Speaker Mike Chenault didn’t make a prediction on the outcome of the increase when it gets to the House.  He told a press conference this morning that he thinks Education needs more state money.  But he says he has a problem with making a commitment to a Formula.

Putting something into law, it can certainly be changed, but sometimes it’s a lot harder to change it once we’ve put it in so I think we’ve got to be careful – could we come uip with something that’s a year or two or three years certainty for Education. We’ve done it in the past, and we can certainly do it in the future. But I think we have to  have those conversations as we look at the budget continuing to grow.

The BSA increase bill,  SB171 is now before the Senate Finance Committee.

In the House, a bill just introduced would inflation-proof education funding. HB 143 would require the administration to increase the Base Student Allocation by at least the annual rise in the Anchorage Consumer Price Index. Anchorage Democrat Rep. Pete Peterson’s bill would provide an additional $187.52 for each student.

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Rosemarie Alexander is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

ddonaldson (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.586.6948 | About Dave

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