Legislature Still Working To Make Deal On Education Bill

The Alaska State Legislature is still at an impasse over the Governor’s education bill.

A committee tasked with brokering a deal met for the first time today — about 36 hours after the Legislature blew past its deadline for gaveling out.

The “free conference” committee has the power to rewrite the education bill entirely, and it’s made up of three House representatives and three senators. The House named Anchorage Republican Mike Hawker, Wasilla Republican Lynn Gattis, and Juneau Democrat Sam Kito III as its representatives. The Senate sent Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer, Mat-Su Republican Mike Dunleavy, and Bethel Democrat Lyman Hoffman.

The group spent the day trying to find places where they could agree. They debated whether students should be able to test out of pottery classes, and whether the state should change the rules on teacher tenure.

But as Committee Chair Mike Hawker laid out, the real question is education funding.

“Probably the largest sticking point between the Senate approach to this legislation and the House approach was the House’s desire to include some element of funding within the [base student allocation] and the Senate’s preference to not put that money in the BSA, but yet to make substantial commitments for the next three years outside of the BSA,” said Hawker, an Anchorage Republican.

When Hawker means by the “base student allocation” is the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled. That has sat at $5,680 for four years. The House version of the bill adds $185 per student to that formula, and they’ve budgeted about $225 million over three years for that increase along with $30 million in one-time funding for this year. The Senate included even more money — $330 million over three years — in their bill, but they left it outside of the formula.

Education advocates, the state’s biggest teacher’s union, and the Legislature’s Democratic minority have all pushed for putting the money in the BSA, because they believe it gives school districts more security in crafting their budgets. They also believe the proposed education funding boosts don’t go far enough to prevent layoffs, because it’s been years since the Legislature increased the BSA.

Legislative leadership has said whatever compromise they broker should include some money inside the BSA and some out of it.

But when that deal will be brokered is unknown. Committee Chair Mike Hawker said they want to take the time needed to rewrite the bill in a way that makes both chambers happy.

“This is not going to be something that we rush through,” said Hawker. “It will come together really as quickly as we can find consensus in the building over today, tomorrow, or throughout the coming week.”

While the Legislature has already gone two days over their statutory deadline, they can meet for 29 more days without running afoul of the Alaska Constitution.

agutierrez (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.209.1799 | About Alexandra

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