House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, speaks during Thursday night’s floor debate on an education bill. (Screenshot from akl.tv livestream)

House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, speaks during Thursday night’s floor debate on an education bill. (Screenshot from akl.tv livestream)

House approves $680 BSA increase, extra support for charter schools in education bill

Bill passes by 38-2 vote, Senate expected to concur with changes after days of negotiations.

This is a developing story.

The state House on Thursday night overwhelmingly approved a wide range of changes to an education bill that, among other provisions, includes a $680 increase in the Base Student Allocation for public schools.

The 36-4 vote in favor of an amendment making the changes to Senate Bill 140 came after days of stalled floor sessions interrupted by lengthy negotiations behind closed doors. The amendment also boosts funding and other support for charter schools and homeschooling, declares a “legislative intent” to fund teacher retention bonuses, provides extra funding for district-level reading improvement plans — and contains a provision to help primarily rural districts get funding to boost internet speeds, which was the sole purpose of the original bill.

The bill subsequently passed the House by 38-2 vote and now goes to the Senate, which will vote to accept or reject changes made since the bill passed that chamber last year. Both of Juneau’s Democratic representatives, Sara Hannan and Andi Story, voted in favor of the amendment and the bill.

Members of the bipartisan Senate majority, which has stated a significant BSA increase is a top priority, said Thursday night they will vote to concur with the House changes. It was not immediately known if Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who has no BSA increase in his proposed budget for next year, supports the revised bill.

The BSA increase to the base rate of $5,960 would provide about an additional $5.2 million to the Juneau School District for the coming fiscal year starting July 1, according to district officials. The amendment passed while the Juneau Board of Education was in a special meeting seeking to move forward on a plan to address its financial crisis, with dozens of people testifying during a hearing expected to last several hours.

The extra funding would cover more than half of a nearly $10 million deficit the district is projecting during the coming fiscal year. Even so, a consolidation/closure of existing schools would likely be necessary to cover the remainder of the gap.

“It could lessen the severity of the actions we need to take, but I don’t think it eliminates it,” said Will Muldoon, chair of the school board’s finance committee, during a break in Thursday night’s meeting.

Board Vice President Emil Mackey, during the meeting after news of the bill’s passage was shared, suggested district officials and local residents not get excited about the BSA increase approved Thursday night, since the same amount of one-time funding was approved last year and Dunleavy vetoed half.

Muldoon said the 38-2 vote in the Republican-led House means the bill should be veto-proof, although Mackey noted the Legislature earlier this session failed to override Dunleavy’s veto from last year.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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