House, Senate Working to Increase School Funding

The state House and Senate are both working on increasing funding to schools this year. But the lawmakers disagree over how to get there.

House Speaker Mike Chenault from Kenai says he believes the House and Senate are close in principle over approving an increase in funding for local schools.

But while the Senate has approved an increase of the Base Student Allocation – or BSA — over the next three years.  Chenault indicates the House is more in agreement with the governor – who opposes increasing the base amount of the appropriation.  Speaker Chenault says that type of funding adds up.

“Since 2004, the average daily membership cost of education – just in general fund dollars – has went from $6402 per kid to today averages $14,290 per kid – for a total cost of $842.7 million to 2013 at $1.8 billion,” he said.

The current BSA is only $5,680 per student. The amount Chenault refers to comes from the law setting up the formula. It adds extra money to that base for such things as students with special needs, or for costs of providing services in various, remote parts of the state. By combining money for low-cost schools, like Anchorage, with expensive schools like the Yukon-Flats district, the average cost is closer to the number Chenault uses.

Last year, the legislature did not raise the BSA.  Instead it provided extra funding specifically directed to covering the high costs of energy that school districts faced. The governor and proponents of a flat BSA say other special requirements can be met without making a commitment.

But Carl Rose, the Executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, says it all begins with the Base Student Allocation.  He says that’s the lynchpin for all the calculations of other expenses.

“The only way you can factor these things in is through the Base Student Allocation,” he said. “If you put the money anywhere else, it’s not reoccurring and we can’t function from year to year. Oh. I take that back, we will function. The buses will run and the doors will open and we will service our kids.  But we will not be able to provide the kind of opportunity and program that we expect from our schools.”

School district leaders in the capitol last week complained that they could not make plans for next year without knowing if this year’s budget will include those add-on grants – such as the energy costs of last year.

The bill increasing the BSA is currently in the House Finance Committee and is not now scheduled for hearings.

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