House bill will need Senate rewrite to fund schools early

Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, talks to reporters at a Senate Majority press availability in April 2017. Kelly says he thinks House leaders were “knowingly misleading” in saying that an education bill would fund schools early. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The fate of an education funding bill is now up to the state Senate. The House passed it last week.

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House Bill 287 provides early funding for student transportation across the state and for Mount Edgecumbe High School.

But the bill as it’s currently written no longer accomplishes its original primary purpose.

More than $1 billion to fund per student funding for all Alaska schools was stripped out of the bill. That happened because the House failed to fund the bill.

Mount Edgcumbe and transportation were funded through a separate source of money.

Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said he thinks House leaders were “knowingly misleading” in saying that the bill would fund all schools early.

“I don’t want you to think that the Senate doesn’t have a desire to early fund education, because we do,” Kelly said. “We’re just very disappointed that in a discussion about early funding that three weeks were completely wasted in the House.”

The House bill would have funded schools drawing from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. But three-quarters of each chamber must approve drawing money from the CBR. And only 20 of the 36 House members who were present voted for the draw.

Homer Republican Rep. Paul Seaton, the House Finance Committee co-chairman, said the Senate could vote for a CBR draw or fund the school money by drawing from Alaska Permanent Fund earnings.

“It just depends on the priority of your funding source,” Seaton said. “And so the options are all on the table for the Senate to put whichever funding source that they think is best in that.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which hasn’t announced a hearing on it.