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House Finance holds testimony on education funding bills – kinyradio.com

Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – The House Finance Committee heard school officials from across the state Friday urging an increase in funding going to districts.

It was during a hearing of bills that aim to increase the funding schools receive per student, HB 272, and to inflation-proof that funding, HB 273.

Juneau Representative Andi Story introduced the legislation, she said the idea is to set out a sound education funding policy and addresses fixed costs that districts are seeing increases in.

Director of Advocacy for the Alaska Association of School Boards, Norm Wooten, said the Base Student Allocation has not been adjusted since 2017 to make allowances for the annual increases occurring in the cost of living.

“It seems disingenuous to expect school districts to increase student achievement while costs continue to rise and districts are forced to do more with less each year,” he said. “As costs continue to rise or fixed costs, the classroom is impacted and students suffer. It seems reasonable to routinely increase the base student allocation amount based on an accepted standard, such as the consumer price index for urban Alaska.

Juneau Schools Superintendent Dr. Bridget Weiss testified before the committee.

“Our required expenses continue to increase which requires us to cut these really valuable supports in Juneau. We have over the past decade cut an assistant superintendent position that has never been refilled. Counselors that are middle school, we have one counselor for 550 students at each of our middle schools, one counselor for 550 students,” she said. “We have lost class size, it has increased. We have cut in every way possible to manage this declining funding.”

Chief Operations Officer at the Fairbanks School District, Andy DeGraw, said there they are facing a $19 million dollar shortfall next fiscal year, and a $23 million dollar deficit the year after.

“Our FY 23 budget currently includes the closure of three schools in our district, about 10% of our buildings and it includes approximately 130 staff reductions. These staff reductions include classroom teachers, teacher aides, counselors, e-learning staff, among other instructional staff, and of course, these cuts come after significant reductions in administrative positions,” DeGraw said. “We’ve taken many, many hard steps and made many hard decisions and we’re really just getting to the point where, without a lifeline, we’re going to have to make decisions that will continue a significant negative impact to a student’s education in the classroom.”

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