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Begich Calls For Increased Education Funding

Sen. Mark Begich addresses the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 3, 2014. (Skip Gray/ Gavel Alaska)

Sen. Mark Begich addresses the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 3, 2014. (Skip Gray/ Gavel Alaska)

Sen. Mark Begich chastised state lawmakers for their approach to education during his annual legislative address.

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He highlighted staffing cuts in Anchorage and Juneau as evidence that the Legislature was not allocating enough money to schools.

“I’ll be blunt. I don’t agree with what’s happened in this building on education funding in recent years,” Begich told the Legislature. “It’s like you’ve built a fire in the woodstove but refused to add enough wood. Now some are complaining the stove doesn’t work and we need a brand-new heating system.”

Begich later told reporters that he thought Gov. Sean Parnell’s funding proposal did not go far enough. Parnell has suggested raising the base student allocation, or the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled, by $85 this year. Smaller increases would be built in for two years after that.

Begich also came out against a measure that would allow state funds to be used at private schools.

“I believe strongly we should never amend the Alaska Constitution as a fix for education,” said Begich. “Public dollars are for public schools, period.”

The line got applause from Democrats and from some moderate Republicans in the Legislature.

The measure was introduced last year by Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Mat-Su Republican. It needs approval from two-thirds of the Legislature before it can be put on the ballot for a majority vote of the people.

“[I’m] somewhat perplexed as to why the senator feels his attention should be spent on internal state issues, as opposed to focusing on national issues,” said Dunleavy in an interview.

Following his address, Begich noted that while his son currently attends private school, he think it would be inappropriate for government to cover his tuition.

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