Re-Forming/Re-Funding/De-Funding Education in Alaska

The House and Senate Finance DEED Subcommittees and the House Task Force on Sustainable Education are all holding their own separate multiple, long hearings this interim, with the stated intent to look at education and education funding.  A number of legislators have said over the past eight months that current education funding is not sustainable, appearing to imply either that education funding will need to be cut in the future, or that there will not be any increases, regardless of increasing costs to school districts. 

In the six years since the Joint Legislative Education Funding Task Force spent the interim investigating education costs and funding, new issues have arisen, including drastically increasing health insurance and energy costs, and increasingly unfunded federal and state mandates.  At the time they released their final report (in 2007) and legislation was passed to address the issues (2008) JLEFTF, the legislature, and school districts thought the issues that were impacting getting dollars to classrooms and students had been addressed.  In 2007, the issues included the ballooning unfunded PERS and TRS pension fund liabilities and underfunding of intensive needs students. 

During the August 21, 2013 Senate Finance DEED Subcommittee hearing, Chair Mike Dunleavy said some of the fiscal tension school districts are currently having is a result of federal and state mandates.  He said the subcommittee is trying to find out what the total cost of education is, and, if school districts can’t get additional funding, the subcommittee will want ideas from school districts about which mandates to cut. 

Another partial solution suggested during that hearing was raising the required local contribution back up to a flat 4 mills, from the current flat rate of 2.65 mills (set by the legislature in 2012).  Meanwhile, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough is exploring whether to file a lawsuit challenging whether there should be any required local contribution for basic need, based on the Alaska Constitution’s mandate that education is a state responsibility, and that required local contribution is, in effect, a dedicated tax: http://www.alaskaeducationupdate.com/sites/default/files/Ketchikan%2C%20required%20local%20funding%20unconstitutional_0.pdf

On Tuesday, September 3, Rep. Tammie Wilson was in Juneau for follow-up meetings to gather information, particularly on the different data systems being used by the Dept. of Education & Early Development, the Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development, and the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education.  She said she doesn’t know why they would want three different data systems, and thinks there should be one system with all the K-12, university, and workforce data in one database.  She said the legislature would be willing to fund such a system, and she will be researching what other states are doing regarding data systems and data collection.  Rep. Tammie Wilson also said they will absolutely reach conclusions this interim and have recommendations for moving forward.

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