Proposal to boost min. enrollment makes little headway

A controversial proposal to increase minimum school enrollment seems unlikely to pass this session, if such a bill even materializes.

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This fall, Rep, Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, said she wanted to increase the threshold number of students from 10 to 20, or 25, a move that would cut state funding to more than 50 small schools statewide.

The proposal met with strong resistance from rural schools and superintendents.

And that opposition seems to have carried over into the Legislature. Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage says while it’s still early in the session, it’s unlikely the bill will get enough support to be signed into law.

“There are a number of Republicans I’ve spoken to that oppose it, every Democrat in the Legislature I’ve spoken to opposes it. And if it passes, and the Governor vetoes it, we have enough votes for … if it passes, I think there are Democrat and Republican votes to sustain… becomes whether the Governor vetoes the bill, and I think he would.”

And the issue may not even come to a vote… Rep. Gattis has not filed a bill, but said Thursday she was glad to see her proposal set off a statewide discussion about public education funding.

“I don’t have a bill….that some of these smaller schools… Certainly was not my intention, but I have gotten the attention that I wanted… and that attention is, folks, we gotta start doing things differently, and we all, collectively, be it school districts, be it parents, there have got to be ways that we deliver this great education.”

A few months ago, Gattis said that raising the school enrollment threshold to 20 would save the state about $7 million dollars – that’s less than one percent of the state’s $1.2 billion dollar education budget.

The idea triggered a social media campaign with the hashtag Small Schools Matter, which now has more than 3,700 supporters on Facebook.