Summary: Lawmakers spent most of the session introducing guests, but when the work actually started it was relatively brief. A bill about school residency for the children of military families needs further consideration in committee and was pushed to Friday’s session.
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, has a bill that would make abortion treated as murder and tried to have it moved out of its current committee and into another. Eastman said that’s because that committee’s co-chair Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, has previously said the bill will not move forward. Eastman said he would like to move the bill to a committee where it will get a hearing it deserves.
The House stands at adjournment until Friday, 10:30 a.m. for a technical session.
Eastman is asking to discharge HB 178, a bill which would make abortion punishable as murder, from the Health and Social Services Committee based on the fact that the co-chair of that committee, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, has said the bill will not move forward. (I previously incorrectly wrote that the co-chair who had spoken against the bill was Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel. Zulkosky is co-chair of the HSS Committee but was not the chair Eastman was referring to.)
The vote fails: 25 nays, 19 yeas.
Various legislators are asking for their names to be replaced on bills previously sponsored by Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, who resigned last week. Her seat is currently vacant.
The first bill, HB 109, would allow school districts to consider a student a member of their district if that student’s parents are active duty military members assigned to that area. Parents will have 10 days to provide proof of assignment.
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, is attempting to add an amendment which would clarify language about a student’s residency. Eastman is concerned that certain schools which have lotteries for attendance could potentially have these students automatically enrolled before they are even present in the state.
The amendment fails: 31 -4.
A substitute of the bill from the Education Committee needs further consideration and is moved to Thursday’s calender.
There’s a lot of guests today. The middle schoolers filed out of the gallery and were quickly replaced by a new group of guests, all of whom are being introduced. The senate is also is session currently, but there is no legislation on their calender. The senate is meeting to give legislative citations.
A large number of high school and middle school students from Juneau and around the state are visiting the capitol and their various representatives are introducing them.
The House is meeting this morning to vote on two bills, one for school residency requirements for the children of military members and another to dedicate a committee room at the capitol in the name of the late senator Bettye J. Davis.
Summary: Despite the cutbacks, the UA is strong, Johnsen says. He wanted to stress to the committee and the public the university is focusing its dollars at the most needed programs. They are reaching out to employers in sectors like mining and health care so that UA students can meet their workforce needs.
Going into 2020 the university’s legislative priorities include roughly $52 million in deferred maintenance for aging buildings and $28 million in debt service relief.
Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, asks about what the university could do to help students apply for various forms of financial aid. She mentions speaking with students about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) grants and how many were unaware of those grants. Johnsen says the university has been trying to reaching out to K-12 schools to try and educate students about financial literacy and federal grants.
There have been declines in enrollment and program completion of teacher education programs, according to Johnsen. The University of Alaska Anchorage School of Education lost its accreditation in January, 2019. Enrollment in education programs at UAF and the University of Alaska Southeast have increased slightly according to data provided by Johnsen but program completion at UAA and UAF has declined. Program completion at UAS has remained steady. The Board is not looking at trying to re-accredit UAA’s education program and will be relying on UAF and UAS for its teacher’s programs.
High unemployment, population loss and the state’s economy have led to the decline in university enrollment, Johnsen says. Also a failure to invest in technology and programs for the “knowledge economy,” have affected students’ consideration of the university. The university’s tuition is very competitive across the nation, Johnsen says, but the system’s community college tuition are high when compared to other campuses across the country.
Costello is asking about high turnover rate for faculty at UA campuses. She cites a survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education which gives a national average turnover rate of around 4%. Across the system, faculty turnover rate for UA is 7.8% according to data provided by Johnsen. Budget cuts and reductions have caused morale problems, Johnsen says, which is affecting the turnover rate.
Costello asks for information from the faculty exit surveys to find out the main reasons faculty are saying their leaving the university.
Several university buildings will be sold or closed, Johnsen says. Because of declining enrollment there are a few university dormitories that are currently underutilized.
Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, asks if students have been polled as to why students are leaving.
Johnsen says students are surveyed regularly. Many of the students are part time or the first in their families to go to college which can lead to financial tensions. The average age of UA students is in the late 20s, Johnsen says. Many students have jobs already and the course availability can conflict with their schedules.
Most recently the news of severe budget reductions negatively affected enrollment, Johnsen says. But enrollment was even declining while the budget was increasing in 2011-13, according to Johnsen.
Costello wants to know what the university is doing to proactively recruit new students. Hughes suggests expanding the middle college program, which allows high school students to take college courses. Johnsen says the university is working to expand those programs. A virtual middle college high school has been established with agreements for 31 high schools in the state.
Before signing the three-year compact with the governor the university experienced six weeks of, “real turmoil.” Had the governor’s vetoes gone through it would have meant $405 million, Johnsen said, but under the compact the cumulative cuts to UA will be around $145 million.
Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, asks that if any additional funding from the Legislature would be vetoed by the governor.
“We do have an understanding with him,” Johnsen said, but the governor did not say that specifically. The budget the university submitted to the governor reflected the compact, and that is part the budget the governor forwarded to the legislature, Johnsen says.
Sen. Shelly Hughes, R-Palmer, wanted it put on the record that the governor’s reductions constituted a large reduction in state funding, roughly 41%. But when combined with federal funding, reductions to UA were much smaller, around 17%.
The three year compact signed with the governor last year has the university still looking at cuts, “but at least they’re manageable,” Johnsen says. The Board of Regents has ended its consideration of moving to a single accreditation entity until the University of Alaska Fairbanks completes its own accreditation process in 2021. The Board has voted to increase for the next year, but there will be waivers for low-income students.
Enrollment peaked in 2011 and has been declining ever since, Johnsen says. Alaska is what he calls a “high income, low education state,” meaning that there are a lot of high paying jobs in the state that don’t require higher education. There has also been a decline in college enrollment nationally, he says.
The university has been reaching out to high schools for dual enrollment programs to help degree attainment.
Health, mainly nursing programs, are in high demand Johnsen says. As are engineering and homeland security programs (Johnsen said earlier the university works with the military in certain capacities.) While cuts have been made, university officials have made a point to fund those programs.
“The effects of 2019 will be long lasting,” Johnsen tells the committee. “But we are pivoting.”
The University of Alaska is an land grant university but much smaller states like Delaware got larger acreages of land in their grants. The University is the 3rd most affordable in the nation, Johnsen says. Even with the tuition increases coming in the next semester, UA will still be one of the most affordable in the nation.
Today at the Capitol — University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen will present to the House Education Committee on the “State of the University.” Both houses of the Legislature will be holding floor sessions later in the morning. The House meets at 10:30 a.m. and the Senate at 11 a.m.