Lawmakers on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives discuss an amendment on an education funding bill on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Some House members are trying to pass a budget specifically for education, a departure from past years. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Lawmakers on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives discuss an amendment on an education funding bill on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Some House members are trying to pass a budget specifically for education, a departure from past years. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

With deadlines looming, lawmakers try to speed up school funding

House members want to fund education ahead of schedule

The Alaska House of Representatives took action Wednesday that could allow school districts to avoid budgetary disruptions by forwarding a bill that would give funds to education and student transportation ahead of the typical appropriation process.

In past years, the Legislature has passed large budget bills typically toward the end of the session, but this year fast-tracked education spending is being handled separately.

Without knowing how much money they’re going to receive from the state, school districts often have to issue layoff notices to school staff, creating uncertainty in the school environment, said Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, in a speech on the House floor Wednesday.

State Lawmakers in the House are trying in a bipartisan effort to pass their education funding bill ahead of the full budget so districts can avoid that process and retain staff. In a bill sponsored by House Finance Committee co-chairs Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, and Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, lawmakers are trying to appropriate an estimated $1,193,475,200 in education and student transportation funding.

Rasmussen offered an amendment with bipartisan cosponsors including Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, that would require full formula funding for Alaksa’s education programs through June 30, 2023. That future funding would give districts the ability to plan several years out and provide a much-needed sense of stability.

School districts are often required to draft their budgets before the Legislature can appropriate funds. Juneau School District finalized its budget late last month. Without knowing when or how much money will be appropriated, districts are forced to draft multiple budgets and anticipate low amounts, the bill’s sponsor statement says.

“In the face of uncertainty school districts will issue termination notices, commonly known as pink slips, to non-tenured teachers by May 15 and to tenured teachers by the last day of school,” the statement says.

Ensuring that spending through 2023 would provide an extra level of security for Alaska’s schools, Rasmussen said, and would conform with the state’s constitutional mandate to fund education.

“We often run out of time to get to some of our really good ideas,” Rasmussen said. “None of the other state agencies have a statutory requirement to pink slip their staff before May 15.”

While the bill had bipartisan support several Republican representatives took issue with the foward funding amendment, if not the education funding bill itself. Some GOP lawmakers said it wasn’t clear exactly how much the state would be spending, and not enough analysis had been done to determine the specific needs of districts.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, said many of Alaska’s schools are failing and there are no provisions in the legislation to ensure increased performance. Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Anchorage, said districts had received large amounts of federal relief money such as CARES Act funding, and it wasn’t immediately clear how much schools actually needed.

[School district announces expansion of in-person learning]

Several Republican representatives also complained they were being asked to make such a large decision through the amendment process, and said the forward funding issue should go through the normal committee process.

But supporters of the bill, including Republicans, said the bill’s funding was already set in statute by the base student allocation formula. Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, said the formula used to determine funding for schools could be changed by the Legislature in the current or future sessions.

Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, a former teacher himself, said he beleived the uncertainty around school funding was driving talented teachers out of the state. The amendment passed 25-14, with Republican Reps. Bart LeBon and Steve Thompson, both from Fairbanks, joining Cronk, Rasmussen and the bipartisan Majority Coalition.

Lawmakers are trying to pass the bill as quickly as possible, and have scheduled a floor session for Thursday rather than the normally scheduled Friday session.

If the bill passes the House, it must pass through the Senate before returning to the House for a final vote.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

The author managed to take a grouse despite being deep in thought for a good half hour of his deer hunt. He made jalapeno poppers that night.
Internal dialogue of a hunter (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)
I Went to the Woods: The internal dialogue of a hunter

There is always something that comes to mind when I am outside.

Courtesy Photo / Molly Pressler Collection
Japanese-Americans interned in Alaska in World War II are shown in this photo at a camp in New Mexico where they endured the majority of the war.
Research into interned Japanese-Americans in Alaska receives grant support

104 Japanese-Americans were interned from Alaska at the outset of WWII.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021

This report contains public information available to the Empire from law enforcement… Continue reading

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Friday, Sept. 17, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a glance for Thursday, Sept. 16

The most recent state and local figures

The Juneau Police Department is seeking more information on a handful of crimes that occurred in Juneau in August. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police seeking information on recent crimes in Juneau

The police need more information if the investigations are to proceed.

The Baby Raven Reads-published book Shanyaak’utlaax̱ – Salmon Boy will represent Alaska at the 2021 National Book Festival, held by the Library of Congress. (Courtesy art / Sealaska Heritage Institute)
Baby Raven Reads book is Alaska’s selection for National Book Festival

It’s the first time a book from the early literacy program has been selected.

Most Read