NEWS: Democrats Move to Fix Broken Education Bill

Alaska state and flag

Amendments to prevent teacher cuts, help charter schools

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 2, 2014 

JUNEAU – Today, Representatives Les Gara (D-Anchorage) and David Guttenberg (D-Interior/Wade Hampton) offered amendments before the House Finance Committee to make much needed improvements to the committee’s omnibus education bill (HB278). 

“Our amendments would have fixed that bill by reversing teacher cuts, and giving our public schools, teachers, and students the commitment to achievement they deserve,” Gara said.  “The committee’s version of the bill leads to more and more teacher cuts next year and down the road, and we had to try to keep that from happening.”

The Democratic lawmakers offered eight amendments to the education bill, aimed at reversing the last three years of school funding cuts, adding significantly to the governor’s proposed spending plan, leveling the playing field for small, rural, and charter schools, and protecting teacher tenure.  The governor’s proposed level of funding has been widely panned by education advocates and school districts for continuing massive teacher and staff cuts school districts have been forced to make over the last three years. 

“The governor called his suggestion a starting place for discussion,” Guttenberg said, “and we’re steering the conversation toward bringing maximum benefit to Alaska’s students.” 

Guttenberg and Gara offered an amendment to raise per-student funding, called the Base Student Allocation (BSA), by $404 for the coming year and by $200 for the two following years.  That level of support would halt cuts over the next three years and actually help some districts hire back teachers already lost to insufficient budgets. Should the Legislature remove the $25 million in one-time funding currently in the operating budget for schools, contingency language in the Democrats’ amendment would have added an additional $100 to the BSA for those three years to offset the loss. Losing that money would lead to more cuts across the state, from Lower Kuskokwim to Anchorage and Juneau.

“For the last three years, this governor has forced schools to cut teachers, career and guidance counselors, and other staff.  The proposal on the table unfortunately continues that pattern,” said Gara. “We did the research and proposed amendments that would let schools reverse those cuts and get back to teaching our children instead of worrying about where to make more cuts.”

Other amendments were designed to:

     • grant an additional $50 per student to school districts facing increased class sizes;

     • head off state government overreach on school district salary and benefit schedules;

     • prevent public dollars from going to private and religious schools;

     • allow teachers in low-performing schools to defer jury duty during the school year. The committee accepted this amendment;

     • protect teacher tenure and retirement benefits;

     • help charter schools cover facility lease payments; and

     • offer additional financial assistance to startup charter schools. The committee also accepted this amendment.

“Instead of concentrating on delivering Alaska’s public schools the resources they need to teach Alaska’s children, the bill funnels public dollars to private schools, erases teacher incentives, and undermines the state’s commitment to teacher retirement,” Guttenberg said. “These controversial side issues do nothing to help educate our children and ignore what parents, students and schools have been asking for. Our amendments were to help refocus this bill on helping students in the classrooms.”

The committee leadership presented its version of the bill on Tuesday morning with many complex and controversial changes less than three weeks before the end of the regular legislative session and required amendments to the bill be submitted to the committee by 5:00 p.m. that same day.

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