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State Democrats Propose New Per-Student Funding Plan

Published On: Feb 21 2014 08:49:00 AM AKST

Democrats say Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposal to increase classroom funding is not enough, and on Thursday they offered their own plan.

At the same time, the legislature’s Republican majority says democrats are blurring the numbers.

The Democrats are proposing a $404 increase in the per-student funding formula known as the base student allocation, or BSA. Those three letters are the focus of the education debate in Juneau this session.

The BSA is set in statute was $5,680 per child. Parnell has called for an increase of $85 dollars in the next fiscal year. Democrats say it's not enough.

Rep. Les Gara (D-Downtown Anchorage) said the $404 figure is “just to prevent next year's cuts, and a little bit more so we can start reversing the loss of the 600-plus teachers that we've had the past few years."

Gara says the Anchorage School District needs at least a $251 dollar increase per student to avoid staff cuts. Fairbanks needs $300; Juneau, $425; Kodiak, about $400.

But the numbers vary wildly across the state. In Kenai, Gara says the BSA needs to go up $270, but in Sitka, he said the number has to be higher, around $760.

"To say that all of that money in the BSA only goes to the classroom is just a lie," said House Speaker Mike Chenault (R-North Kenai).

Chenault says fuel, energy, and health insurances costs come out of the BSA as well. The governor has $25 million dollars included in his budget to help offset the cost of energy expenses. According to a document provided by the speaker's office, classroom funding alone increased statewide by nearly $10,000 from fiscal year 2013 and fiscal year 2014.

“If someone puts money in your right pocket or your left pocket, it's still going to you for use on however you want to allocate it,” Rep. Dan saddler (R-Eagle River) said. “We do have a tremendous amount of local authority on education."

Both sides claim most of their figures come from the non-partisan legislative finance and legal division. But the interpretation of those numbers is vastly different.

The Democrat’s proposal also includes a 10 percent increase in the charter school BSA to cover the cost of rent and utilities they say are paid out of classroom funds.