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Juneau – Wednesday night, the Alaska House of Representatives passed legislation to early fund Alaska’s K-12 public education system. House Bill 287 prioritizes public education by advancing it from the normal budget process. The author of HB 287 is House Finance Committee Co-Chair Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer).
“School administrators, school board members, parents, and even lawmakers have looked at education funding with dread because often politics enters the equation and delays passage of the budget. The budget is usually the last item to pass, and that delay creates uncertainty for school districts and municipalities. Districts have repeatedly been forced to give teachers non-retention notices and just days or weeks later rescind those notifications when a budget deal is reached. House Bill 287 represents a better way to budget for public education in Alaska and I look forward to the State Senate quickly considering the bill,” said Rep. Seaton.
HB 287 appropriates $1.32 billion for K-12 public education, the same amount as proposed by Governor Walker, and includes $1.2 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) and $67.8 million from the Statutory Budget Reserve (SBR). The decision to fund public education from the CBR preserves more money in the higher earning Permanent Fund Earning Reserves Account.
“Providing for quality public education in Alaska is among our core constitutional responsibilities and warrants this innovative approach. This bill gives school districts the ability to plan their operations for the upcoming year more effectively and efficiently. Taking the guesswork out of school funding shows that we are serious about doing things better,” said Speaker of the House Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham).
School districts and municipalities have had to prepare for funding delays from the State in each of the last three years. In 2015, the budget was passed in mid-June just a couple of weeks before a possible shutdown. In 2016, the budget was passed 15 days after teacher layoff notices went out. Last year, the operating budget was passed on June 22, just a few days before a lack of a budget would have forced a government shutdown in Alaska.
“This bill is an honest and forthright attempt to put the best interests of our children before politics. It is time to end the yearly stalemate over education funding as part of budget negotiations. I hear all the time that education is a priority for nearly every member of the House and Senate. If that’s so, then let’s fund it and get it off the table early in the session,” said House Education Committee Chair Rep. Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage).
House Bill 287 passed the Alaska House of Representatives Wednesday night by a vote of 33-3. The provision making an appropriation out of the CBR required a three-quarters vote of House members. It failed by a vote of 20-16. It is still possible to use the CBR to early fund public education if the bill and CBR appropriation are approved by the Senate and three-quarters of House members vote for the provision at final passage in the concurrence vote.
HB 287 will now be sent to the State Senate for consideration.
Source: Alaska House Majority Coalition