Increased student funding; an uphill battle for rural lawmakers

by Angela Denning-Barnes on March 27, 2013

There are two and a half weeks left in the Alaska legislative session and one thing lawmakers continue to debate is education funding. Governor Parnell does not want to raise the Base Student Allocation—the money that goes to schools per student–and Y-K Delta lawmakers are fighting an uphill battle to find support.

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Parnell and his supporters say they want to see better student scores before handing out more funding.

“We are pushing a ton of money to schools already, that’s kind of the issue,” Parnell said during a live KYUK show last month.

Parnell said he wants to see the state’s dropout rates improve. In recent years, only 68-69 percent of students starting the 9th grade end up graduating. Instead of increasing the Base Student Allocation, Parnell says he supports giving more money to schools for specific energy needs, similar to the $25 million spread out among schools last year.

“There’s no way to tie expenditures to results and that’s really what we are trying to do,” Parnell said.

In other words, there’s no proof that increasing the Base Student Allocation helps students. But supporters of more funding say there’s also no proof that more money doesn’t help schools.

Representative Bob Herron of Bethel is one of them. He supports raising the Base Student Allocation and believes that putting more money towards students can bring positive results. He questions how holding back money can drive schools to producing more graduates.

“There is inflation, and that’s just the cold, hard facts of life,” Herron said. “So, it’s got to be a fair balance. And apparently, some of our colleagues are being punitive and that’s sad.”

Herron says it’s unlikely that raising the Base Student Allocation will get enough support among the whole Legislature.

Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, another Y-K Delta Representative, also supports more student funding and is trying to convince other lawmakers.

“As rural legislators we have school districts with much higher cost factors and we work overtime trying to make that known,” Edgmon said. “If flat funding continues for another year, those smaller school districts pay a higher price for it and so do the students.”

Edgmon says the push to fund education can often come down to the very last day of session, so there is still time for changes to be made.

“With two and a half weeks left, there’s still opportunity,” Edgmon said. “There’s opportunity until the final gavel comes down for sure.”

The Alaska Legislature’s regular session goes until April 14 with the possibility of a special session to follow.

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