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Senate and House Reach Tentative Agreement on Education Plan

Plan provides $300 million over 3 years including increase to BSA & several additional components

JUNEAU-The Senate and House Joint Conference Committee reached a tentative agreement on House Bill 278. The plan includes several improvements to Alaska’s Education Opportunity Act, otherwise known the Governor’s education package. The plan focuses on providing more choices for parents, giving more resources to teachers and creating more opportunities for students.

“The Legislature pledged $300 million of additional support for education to be distributed over the next three years,” said Conference Committee Co-Chair Senator Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage). “Although the House and the Senate started at a wide disparity when we first began these discussions, through a respectful and thoughtful debate, we were able to devise a plan which creates a robust, healthy education package for the next three years.”

“The Senate recognizes that education is a constitutional mandate and, as a result, it must be adequately supported,” said Conference Committee Member Senator Mike Dunleavy (R-Mat-Su Valley). “With that said, the Senate also recognizes that education does not have to be delivered in the same manner it has been for the past 100 years. Technology, along with charter schools and independent learning programs, has opened the doors for a lower cost, more engaging approach to education. This bill recognizes these changes and the educational diversity of students.”

“I am proud we were able to come to an agreement on this bill when we began so far apart. We met in the middle by putting half of the funding into the BSA and the other half into other educational programs,” said Senate Education Chair Senator Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak). “I am particularly pleased we kept the change to lower the number of students required to begin a charter school from 150 to 75 students and the one-time $500 per enrolled student grant. I am very proud of the work done.” 

Funding For Education

After considerable discussion and input from individuals and organizations, the conference committee agreed to provide $300 million in forward funding to schools over the next 3 years. Roughly, $150 million will go into the Base Student Allocation (BSA) and $150 million will go towards incentivizing innovation and opportunities in schools.  The breakdown for the increase in the BSA is $150 increase in the first year, with a $50 a year increase each year for the two following years.

“Structuring the funding this way allows us to maintain our current approach to funding our schools while looking at the future and how to create a different delivery system,” said Senator Meyer. “This is the first step in evaluating and promoting innovative methods of instruction and teaching to provide a high quality of education and meet the learning needs of our children. This is about our kids and how we can create opportunities for them to be able to complete in a global market.”

Innovation & Opportunities

The committee recognized the need to create equity for charter schools, which are a proven way to create more opportunities for students through alternative methods. 

  • Incentives for building charter schools include:
    • Lowering the minimum number of required students for 95-percent funding from 120 to 75
    • Allowing charter schools first option to lease empty space in district-operated public schools
    • Providing a $500 one-time credit per student for start-up charter schools  
    • Plan also includes more money for correspondence study programs by raising the 80% funding to 90% funding.

Committee members also carefully deliberated over other incentives and chose to include the following features:

  • Extended a pilot program for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) to middle schools
  • Funding for broadband to provide more opportunities for distance learning in rural and remote communities
  • Allowing students to ‘test out’ of core courses while still receiving credits required for the Alaska Performance Scholarship
  • Repealing high school exit exam instead allowing students to take the SAT, ACT or WorkKeys

Building a Better Future

  • Funding comprehensive studies regarding how state money is distributed to school districts
  • Gathering more information relating to the number, attendance, and performance of students enrolled in the school whose parents or guardians are active members of U.S./Alaskan armed forces. 

“I’d like to thank the House Leadership for their help and cooperation in creating this solution,” said Senator Meyer. “I think between Governor Parnell, the House, and the Senate, we have managed to blend the plans in a way that everyone wins and our kids receive the educational opportunities they deserve.”

The Education Conference Committee will meet this morning to review the new committee substitute and move it the House and Senate Floors.

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