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Senate Passes Legislation Ensuring School Construction Funding

SB237 by the Senate Education Committee will benefit schools throughout the state

JUNEAU – The Alaska Senate yesterday voted unanimously to support legislation that addresses the way in which Alaska funds school construction for both Rural Education Attendance Areas (REAA) and Municipal districts. SB 237, sponsored by the Senate Education Committee, makes permanent a program the legislature has, up to now, kept running through regular reauthorizations and codifies in statue a system for the equitable distribution of school construction funds it has historically attempted to achieve through the yearly budgetary process.

“This Legislation is a very positive step forward in assuring that rural districts have reasonable, predictable funding in school construction,” said Senator Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel. “The Kasayulie case pointed out the differences between construction funding opportunities for municipal districts and Rural Education Attendance Areas. This bill helps to close that gap.”

“The State of Alaska’s school bond debt reimbursement program is an important partnership between local communities and the State”, explained Senator Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, Co-Chair of the Senate Education Committee. “It has allowed projects on the Department of Education and Early Development’s approved list to be reimbursed for up to 70 percent of their costs by the State and allowed local governments to perform school construction they might not otherwise be able to afford.”

However, because it only applies to localities with bonding capacity - organized boroughs and municipalities - the bond debt reimbursement program has left a sizable sector of Alaska’s citizens without access to the program’s benefits.  Senate Bill 237 fixes this by creating a comparable statutory mechanism to support rural school construction: an REAA construction fund.

“This bill brings equity to school construction funding across Alaska and gives REAAs the same level of funding predictability urban areas have enjoyed for years”, said Senator Joe Thomas, D- Fairbanks, co-chair of Senate Education. “This is good legislation for both rural and urban schools and is a step in the right direction for coming into compliance with the Kasayulie and the recent Moore decision.”

Consideration for SB 237 now moves to the Alaska House of Representatives for consideration. The bill is scheduled for hearing by the House Finance Committee, Wednesday, April 7, 2010.

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