House and Senate Education members rolled out two bills this week geared at helping schools who are having to dip into classroom funds to pay for outside expenses.
"Of course people talk about the BSA so we'll talk about that elephant in the room, we'll just get that out of the way,” said Representative Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla. Rep. Gattis chairs the House Education Committee.
The BSA or Base Student Allocation, Alaska’s formula for funding public schools, stirs up plenty of discussion in Juneau. It's a dollar figure attached to each student, and it goes to classroom instruction, books and other materials.
Rep. Gattis says, "I want to remind folks, the BSA is one form of funding, but we have other forms of funding outside of the BSA, one of those things is pupil transportation."
Supporters claim the transportation bill, along with legislation allowing school district employees to get volume discounts from buying into larger insurance plans; will help defer some of the expenses normally paid for with BSA dollars.
Some in the Democratic Minority say the bill doesn’t go far enough.
"I call it dancing around the edges, or nibbling around the edges,” said Representative Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage. “They're making changes around the edges, but they're not willing to admit that the Base Student Allocation itself needs to be adjusted."
Rep. Drummond said the legislature uses Anchorage's "Consumer Price Index" to gage how much of a dent inflation is making on the district's budget before deciding on whether to increase funding.
"Somewhere, somebody is agreeing that costs are going up,” added REp. Drummond. “So we have to reimburse for transportation based on the CPI, why aren't we increasing the Base Student Allocation, based on the CPI."
According to Rep. Gattis, a task force is being assembled that will go around the state after the legislative session ends to meet with individual school districts and hear their concerns.
The task force will submit a report to the Governor, the Legislature and the Department of Education by October of 2014.
Contact Adam Pinsker