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Education still a sticky subject for Alaska lawmakers

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(The Center Square) – Members of the Alaska House Majority and the Senate Majority said Tuesday some major issues are still undecided on how the state will fund education, including possible increases to the base student allocation, known as the BSA.

Senate Bill 140 would increase the BSA by $300 to $6,260. That number is not enough, according to some lawmakers and education organizations.

“Last year’s bipartisan agreement on a one-timing funding increase of $680 seemed to represent an inadequate but modest compromise position,” the Association of Alaska School Boards, NEA-Alaska and the Alaska Council of School Administrators said in a joint letter. “Since then we have experienced another year of inflation and have heard from districts around the state about astronomical increases in the cost of energy, health care, and insurance. Simply put, a $300 increase to the BSA is unacceptable.”

A team of six lawmakers are meeting to work on a plan for funding education. House and Senate Majority leaders said at separate news conferences Tuesday that the BSA is one of those undecided issues.

“It’s not a negotiation, it’s a conversation,” said Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, chairman of the House Rules Committee. “None of us have the authority to negotiate anything.”

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said concessions are on the table.

“This is a place where compromises are made,” Stevens said. “We are prepared to do that, we have our principles certainly and have some concerns about some of the issues that are in that bill, including some of the issues that have been included in the governor’s bills in education. The three on our side, the three on their side, are not going to present us with a deal, saying, ‘This is it, sign or not.’ Negotiations, I guess, might mean the wrong word, but certainly, there is an open discussion to try and find the answers.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has his own education bills, including one that would give teachers raises between $5,000 and $15,000 depending on the district and years of service. A BSA increase is not the only solution to the state’s education woes, according to the governor.

“If you just put money in the BSA, there’ll be no change in performance, because we’ve done that year after year,” Dunleavy said in a news conference on Thursday. “Does that mean that schools and school districts don’t need money? They do – we’re putting money in the BSA. But why don’t we target it to the problems we know we have?”

Johnson said he was more concerned about turning out a product from the House than the Senate or governor.

“The governor’s going to do what the governor’s going to do, the Senate’s going to do what the Senate’s going to do,” Johnson said. “And we’re going to do what we’re going to do.”

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