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Alaska House hears bill to forward fund K-12 education, avoid pink slips going out

The Alaska House of Representatives.
The Alaska House of Representatives.(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 3:46 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska House of Representatives is considering a bill that would fund K-12 education for the next two fiscal years.

With a delayed budget process, House Bill 169 was written so school funding for the upcoming fiscal year could go out early. That would avoid temporary layoff notices, better known as “pink slips,” from being sent out to teachers.

Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, introduced an amendment on Wednesday to essentially flat-fund education until July 2023. She said guaranteeing school funding for the next two fiscal years would provide stability for students and teachers.

“The action of pink slipping is very stressful for all parties,” Rasmussen added. “It then becomes a disruption for the students because of the stress that’s involved.”

Some House Republicans argued against adopting the one-page amendment, saying it should be more thoroughly vetted through the committee process. Others said that school funding should compete against other priorities during normal budget debates.

Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla, suggested the proposal could effectively tie the hands of the Legislature.

“These are very volatile times and we don’t know what next year will bring,” he said.

Rasmussen, who is not part of either caucus, was joined by three House Republicans from the minority and all 21 members of the majority coalition in supporting the amendment. It passed 25-14.

The bill itself will go before a final vote on the House floor on Thursday morning. It would need to pass through the Senate and be signed by the governor to pass into law.

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, wholeheartedly supports forward funding education. A former school board chair, Stevens said he hopes the bill comes to the Senate so it can be passed as soon as possible.

Fellow Republican Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka said education funding should be part of the operating budget. With the addition of federal COVID-19 relief, and unchanged formula funding, Stedman said districts will soon see plenty of resources.

If pink slips do go out, teachers should just throw them in the trash, he added.

The 30th Legislature passed similar legislation in 2018. Gov. Mike Dunleavy was elected that November and proposed deep cuts to schools as part of his first budget in 2019.

Legislators from the 31st Legislature used the 2018 forward funding provision to claim that K-12 education had already been funded and that it didn’t need to be included in that year’s budget. Dunleavy later pledged to keep school funding intact, but a “friendly” lawsuit went ahead to determine if the Legislature could do that.

The case is currently before the Alaska Supreme Court after a Superior Court judge said the Legislature could use forward funding in that way.

Rasmussen said her proposal is different because it wouldn’t bind a future legislature.

It would guarantee the funding formula used per student for the next two fiscal years, effectively setting a predictable base level for school administrators. Sitting legislators could then adjust that formula to add or subtract funding for schools through the legislative process, she added.

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