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Tuesday, December 11, 2018
HomeColumnsThe education funding bill? It has no funds for education. Go figure.

The education funding bill? It has no funds for education. Go figure.

By GARY WILKEN
GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

A few days ago, spirits were running high in the education community because the Democrats in the House of Representatives had sold everyone on the idea that they had passed a bill (House Bill 287) that early funded K-12 education. Such an event does indeed represent forward progress on K-12 funding, but unfortunately, they didn’t.

After passage of HB 287, Rep. Scott Kawasaki was quoted in the Daily News Miner as saying:

“Basically, what the vote meant yesterday is that we were putting our money where our mouth is: funding education in its entirety.”

If by funding education in its entirety Scott means the bill made a 90 percent reduction — yes, 90 percent — in education funding and included zero money for the public education foundation formula, then unfortunately, he was correct.

Rep. Kawasaki wasn’t alone in his misplaced enthusiasm. The Democrat majority’s press release on HB 287, dated Feb. 7 and released immediately after passage, stated:

“Tonight, the Alaska House of Representatives passed legislation to early fund Alaska’s K-12 public education system … HB 287 appropriates $1.32 billion for K-12 public education, the same amount as proposed by Gov. (Bill) Walker, and includes $1.2 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve.”

As a longtime supporter of our K-12 education system and a fan of early education funding, I wish this were indeed true.

What the House Democrats actually passed was a bill with botched language that appropriates only 10 percent of what’s required to fund K-12 education.

In fact, the bill is completely void of any reference at all supporting $1.2 billion expenditure required for K-12 education, or, for that matter, any fund source for this critical expenditure.

In a further blunder, the bill that passed directs a small amount of money specifically to pupil transportation and to Mt. Edgecumbe School.

So, if your kids need a ride to a school in Sitka — the House Democrat Finance Committee has you covered. Where were our Interior representatives in this debacle? Asleep at the wheel?

This mess was created because the Democrats chose to fund education from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, which requires 30 votes in the House. If 30 affirmative votes are not cast, the language automatically is deleted from the bill because a funding source has not been identified.

“Backstop language” is then added to make sure something as important as this ultimately gets funded in some manner. All this language isn’t exactly rocket science, and there have been examples of it in practically every budget for decades. It should have been a no-brainer.

However, when the Republicans offered the amendment on the House floor to fix this glaring error and thereby assure a funding source for early education, the Democrats shot it down. As a result, the backstop wasn’t included and there is no funding for the education formula in the legislation that on Friday was transmitted to the Senate. Our Fairbanks Democrats joined in voting it down, led by Rep. Kawasaki and Rep. David Guttenberg, both of them Finance Committee members.

As a former co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’m aware of the wealth of information available to these folks from extremely competent professionals attached to the House and Senate Finance Committees. However, if you don’t or won’t listen to the pros who work for you, you get what you deserve.

There’s some explaining to be done. Our local representatives need to take their game up a notch. Our local representatives should have known better, and Fairbanks has every right to expect better.

We are a community that should be proud of producing seven Senate presidents, including the current one – Sen. Pete Kelly — and nine chairs of Senate Finance, a list that includes Sen. Kelly as well. Sen. Kelly is relevant to this discussion because the only hope of fixing this nonsense will be in the Senate with Sen. Kelly and his crew of competent professionals.

Hopefully the Senate will be able to use this somewhat useless appropriation bill to correct the House’s negligence and actually get this issue straightened out so that educators, parents and children can really rely on early funding for education, a goal sought by all supporters of Alaska’s outstanding K-12 system.

Gary Wilken has lived in Fairbanks for 62 years, and was a state senator for Fairbanks and Fort Wainwright from 1997 to 2009. He was a member of the Senate Finance Committee for eight years, co-chairing for four years.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Is this the same “Alaska’s outstanding K-12 system” that had this showing on the past year’s PEAKS test? http://www.alaskajournal.com/2017-09-01/latest-assessments-show-poor-results-state-students#.WoO1ja6nHIU

    How many graduates from our K-12 system must take remedial courses at college course rates to qualify for entry to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks?

    Perhaps it is time to admit that Alaska Education funding has nothing to do with education and everything to do with public employee union payoffs. Not all of us who attended Alaska Public Education are stupid, you know…

  • The Alaska House Democrat led coalition, which includes 3 Republicans(?), authored and passed HB 287 and then led the charge to vote down a backup funding source on purpose. This process is what I have always called “real good feel good” legislation because it has little to no real world meaning, but it makes for good political headlines. Will the media and the public explore the reasons for the lack of a dedicated funding source and blame the Democrats? The Democrats are counting on the fact that they probably won’t.

    The whole purpose of this process is to throw the blame for finding, or not finding, the funding source on the Republican led Senate and make them carry the weight. My belief is that the education lobby (read the teachers union) will be even more active this session than in the past.

  • I tend to agree with Sen. Wilken that it was a mistake by the majority caucus; they didn’t see Amendment 1 coming and had to vote against it in typical knee-jerk fashion. Then when Amendment 2 called for recommending 70% of State funding go to the classroom, they had to vote against that, too. Finally, Amendment 3 called for finding other places to cut before cutting teachers and the Majority is now on tape pontificating about how important it is that school boards and superintendents should be able to cut teachers in the budget instead of through due process described in every teacher contract in the state.

    As a teacher myself I see some learning going on here…

  • Also, Amendments #2 and #3 were offered by Rep. Lora Reinbold, who truly does care about teachers and putting maximum resources into the classroom.