Senators Joe Paskvan, Dennis Egan, and Gary Stevens during the closeout hearing of the Senate Finance DEED Subcommittee, March 20, 2012
This blog contains highlights from the Alaska Education Update. The update is issued daily during session and contains detailed summaries of education issues under consideration by the Alaska State Legislature. If there is a hearing on a Monday, a report will, with few exceptions, be released by Tuesday morning. There is also a weekly edition of the update. During interim, reports are issued only when there has been action. Interim action may include hearings, bill signings, the release of the Governor's proposed budget for the next fiscal year, and other items that may be of interest to the education community.

To subscribe to full reports, contact Shana Crondahl at (907) 500-7069 or akedupdate@gci.net. To subscribe to blog posts, submit your email:

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Shameless Plug for my Fantastic Father!

Solo exhibition by Jay Crondahl, Franklin Street Gallery, Baranof Hotel, Juneau, Reception: Friday, April 1, 4:30-7:00 p.m.

Lifelong Alaskan Jay Crondahl will show recent work covering an array of eclectic styles, from free-form and geometric abstracts to stylized and realistic landscapes. Crondahl has exhibited in many group shows in Juneau but this will be only his second solo exhibition.
 
Pump house, Sandy Beach, Juneau

If you're in Juneau, be sure to stop by the Baranof Hotel and check out my dad's recent work, as well as visting other First Friday venues around town.  My dad is 76 years old and has been an artist his entire life.  He is a super nice, friendly, creative guy, and I am lucky to have him as my dad!

My brother and I, giving a critique, 1970

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chenault Supports Increased Funding for Education, and Legislators Continue to be Concerned with how the Current DEED Commissioner was Appointed

Two big items from Monday, March 28  are:
1. During the House Majority press conference Speaker Chenault expressed support for increased funding for education.

2. During the joint hearing of the House and Senate Education Committees to hear board confirmations, one legislator said that since the commissioner of DEED is not confirmed by the legislature, the only way the legislature has to express their displeasure with the DEED board just accepting the choice of the governor for commissioner is to vote against appointees to the Board of Education & Early Development.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Few Tidbits from the Past Week

The Senate Finance chairmen have emphasized several times lately that they anticipate a healthy capital budget this year. Among the items they suggested may be considerd for increased funding are deferred maintenance and DEED items and energy projects in both urban and rural Alaska to decrease the cost of energy and increase dependability.

I've also got a new bill I'm following that could affect school districts. SB 100 would require employers who terminate some or all positions in PERS to pay termination costs, and the bill is retroactive. I think the intent is to make sure the PERS unfunded liability does not increase due to the actions of any one employer.

I've been in communication with Michael Lamb of the Fairbanks North Star Borough about the bill, and he wrote, "The whole district doesn’t have to withdraw to be impacted, a single position could cause an impact. If a smaller district only had one nurse, as a real example, and they had to cut that position, they’d be subject to a termination study. If they accepted some grant funds that they then hired some classroom aides, that weren’t certified TRS teachers, but simply PERS employees, when those aides went away because the grant money was gone then those salaries not being paid any longer could be subject to termination study impacts. Districts are not only TRS employers, they are also clearly PERS employers and there is no exception in the law for them. I think they simply do not understand the potential peril they are in. If a district never makes an adjustment to their employee structure then perhaps they’ll never be impacted, but if they do, they are not exempted." The bill is up for a hearing in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee on Tuesday, March 29.

There was some discussion about education issues during the press conferences on Thursday, March 24, but it was just a recap of stuff that's happened in committee hearings. The big issue during the two press conferences, in my opinion, is the governor's proposal for cutting oil taxes. There seems to be mixed opinion on whether the governor's proposal will actually lead to any new development or not, with opinion leaning toward the side that there does not seem to be much guarantee of new development with the governor's plan. Considering the state would lose up to $2 billion in revenue annually, the governor's plan is causing concern for many people.

Also, in Senate Finance on Thursday, $380,000 in additional funding was added to Best Beginnings, so the total funding for that program is now at $980,000, which is what the program was funded at for FY11.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Senate Finance Hearing on the FY 11 Supplemental Budget

The Senate Finance Committee heard SB 76, the FY 11 Supplmental Budget on Friday, March 18.  Chairman Hoffman said the spring 2011 revenue forecast is due soon, and they anticipate more than sufficient funds as a result of higher oil prices, and so will be able to put more money into savings. The fiscal summary shows a surplus in excess of $2 billion, if oil continues at the current rate. Even if prices drop, there should still be a substantial surplus.

Sen. Stedman said for the last several years the Senate Finance Committee has been pretty aggressive about savings. It appears that the economic downturn is over, but they will continue with a robust capital budget to build out infrastructure. Before doing so, they will continue to put substantial savings aside. The transfer of $400 million to the power cost equalization fund is to set up an endowment that will allow the PCE program to run in perpetuity. The marine highway fund addition is to take federal money into Anchorage and Mat-Su. The statutory budget reserve fund is one of their primary savings accounts. After additional deposits, and with interest, the state will have $17 billion plus in savings outside the permanent fund.

Sen. Stedman said there are substantial energy needs in Fairbanks, and a gas shortage in Anchorage, so they are looking at building a large hydroelectric project, or a large gas line, or some other energy project. Then they have to figure out how to deal with the needs of western Alaska and get western Alaska off diesel, either through another hydro project, geothermal, or some other energy source. Those projects will be coming over the next several years. They are interested in moving the state off hydrocarbons and in the direction of renewable energy sources. Alaska is very fortunate because it has the ability to set aside $17 billion.

Link to SB 76: http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=SB%20%2076&session=27

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Senate Finance DEED Budget Closeout

Chairman Egan, and Sens. Stevens, Davis, and Paskvan were all present for the budget closeout on Tuesday, March 15. The subcommittee accepted the governor’s budget for the most part. This is good news for people concerned about reductions made in the house. If this budget passes the senate, then it sets the ceiling for the conference committee. The conference committee will settle on numbers somewhere between what the house passes and what the senate passes. They cannot exceed the highest amount passed. In addition to funding in the operating budget, any legislation passed with fiscal notes that have operating expenses will have those fiscal notes tacked onto the operating budget. So for instance, If HB 49, Rep. Tuck’s Parents as Teachers bill passes the legislature, the DEED fiscal note, which is currently $3.9 million, will be tacked onto the operating budget. And then it has to pass the red pen gauntlet, along with all the other line items in the budget.

Chairman Egan said the administration presented them with a responsible budget, but they made a few changes.

Jesse Kiehl, aide to Chairman Egan, reviewed those changes:

• Add $87,500 in general funds to the Alaska State Council on the Arts to fully fund the required National Endowment for the Arts match. Additional funding will be used to expand the Artists in the Schools Program to reach more Alaska children.

• Remove $8,000 in general funds from travel for the Compact for the Education of Military Children. When the legislature first passed the bill joining the compact, the fiscal note was zero, with instruction to DEED that costs were to be absorbed.

• Remove $18,300 in general funds from the adjusted base in the travel line for travel for the state board, the commissioner, and the deputy commissioner. Travel spending actuals have exceeded the budgeted amount. This level of funding is approximately $40,000-50,000 less than recent years' actuals. The department says they can operate at this funding level without shifting other funding.

Mr. Kiehl said one other important change is a net zero reallocation from the governor’s request. There is consistently unmet need in the AlaskAdvantage Grant Program. There has been significant discussion in the subcommittee about equal opportunity for students across the state, and for actual Alaska data, not data based on other states’ scholarship programs. The subcommittee report includes a memorandum prepared by Sen. Paskvan that discusses the issue. The subcommittee recommends funding the Alaska Performance Scholarship with $1.1 million to enable DEED to move forward on collecting Alaska data and with pro-rata reduced awards. The recommendation on those two counts is:

• Increase general funds of $7,121,900 to the AlaskAdvantage Grant Program

• Reduce general funds of $7,121,900 from the Alaska Performance Scholarship Program

Sen. Davis asked if there was grant funding for Best Beginnings. Mr. Kiehl said yes. In FY 11 the legislature provided $600,000 for early education grants to DEED. The department split that equally between Best Beginnings and Parents as Teachers, and will continue to do so. The teacher mentoring program is funded at the governor's request level. He said $380,000 in additional funding was added to that amount last year, but this year it is just funded at $600,000.

Sen. Davis said she would like to see that extra money put back in the budget. They need to do everything possible for Pre-K. She said she would propose an amendment if anyone would agree to it.

Chairman Egan asked the department to comment on the proposed amendment. Anna Kim, director, Div. of Administrative Services, DEED, said it's an interesting proposal, but they support the governor's original budget.

Sen. Stevens said he was concerned about Pre-K funding and the teacher mentoring program, and the subcommittee has addressed his main concerns.

The other subcommittee members did not agree to Sen. Davis’ amendment. Sen. Davis said she’s okay with what they've advocated, and that her concerns will be addressed further down the line.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Advisory Task Force on Higher Education & Career Readiness

The task force met to begin discussing what recommendations they would make in their April 1 report to the legislature. Task force staff put together a comprehensive list of preliminary recommendations for discussion (http://hecr.aksenate.org/archives/779/hecr_preliminary_recommendations_09march11). Chairman Stevens said the recommendations on the list are just suggestions, some of which he thinks are wonderful, and some he thinks are dreadful.

A number of task force members questioned the wide array of items listed as preliminary recommendations, and said they didn’t see how they fit in with the mission of the task force. Barb Angaiak, president of NEA-Alaska, said there are items in the recommendations that belong in a different venue. She was astonished at some of the things in the draft recommendations and wondered where they came from.

But several other task force members said they could see how many of the items fit in with the task force’s mission. Lolly Carpluk, coordinator, Alaska Teacher Preparation Project, UAF, said she sees all decisions as having a ripple effect.

Chairman Stevens said nothing on the list of preliminary recommendations was made up, and everything on it was suggested either at the meetings or in correspondence.

Mike Andrews, executive director, Alaska Works Partnership, said he's been looking forward to more opportunity for discussion, so when he saw the recommendations he thought it was a good opportunity to discuss them. While he didn't recognize all the recommendations, he knew there were comments made. He viewed today as the day the take the skin off the grape – to bring everything together on this critically important topic, with task force members who are highly invested. They are at a point where they can talk about the issues.

Tim Lamkin, staff to Chairman Stevens, said the suggested recommendations are the result of task force discussions, and additional discussions. Duties of the task force include identifying contributing causes and exploring new approaches that may be effective. One of the most consistent messages he heard, from many people who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, was that they're looking at it from the wrong end, and need to go deeper into the whole education system. If they can improve parental involvement, and different ways that they look at every one of the components, then that could result in less need for remediation, rather than just band aiding remediation in and of itself. He said that’s why the recommendations may be such a shock to people.

There were several suggested recommendations that were not supported by any task force member, and other suggestions where there was conflicting opinion. Chairman Stevens asked people to look through recommendations and suggest which should just be tossed, and which should be considered further.

The task force also heard a presentation from Cathy LeCompte, Tech Prep Consortium board member, on the Tech Prep Initiative (http://www.alaska.edu/techprep/).

A full report on task force deliberations from Thursday and Friday will appear in a special weekend edition of the Alaska Education Update.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Update on the Operating Budget and BSA Legislation

Rep. Bill Thomas, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, said the operating and mental health budgets, HB 108 and HB 109, will be on the House Calendar by Wednesday, March 9, and will probably be transmitted to the Senate by Friday. The committee will be considering committee amendments on Tuesday, March 8.

The Senate Education Committee will be considering two bills that increase the base student allocation on Monday, March 7 – SB 73 and SB 84. Sen. Davis may withdraw her bill (SB 73) in favor of SB 84, sponsored by the Senate Education Committee.

SB 84 was introduced on Friday, February 4, and increases the base student allocation and adds a separate vocational education component to the BSA. The BSA is increased to $5,790 for FY 12, to $5,905 for FY 13, and to $6,025 for FY 14. Under SB 84, vocational education remains part of the 20 percent block grant funding for special needs, but an additional 2.5 percent is added for high school vocation education instruction. The additional funding cannot be spent on administrative expenses or instruction in general literacy, mathematics, and job readiness skills.

SB 84 – Vocational Education Funding/Base Student Allocation http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=SB%20%2084&session=27

SB 73 – Education Funding: Basic/Special Needs/Transportation http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=SB%20%2073&session=27

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Yupiit School District, House Education Committee testimony, Alaska State Legislature

On Monday, February 28 Superintendent Howard Diamond of the Yupiit School District gave a presentation to the House Education Committee on his district. 

After his presentation, Rep. Bob Herron (not on the committee but invited by the chairman to participate) said the Yupiit School District is in his district. Last December they had a meeting with Attorney General Dan Sullivan, DEED Commissioner Larry LeDoux, himself, Sen. Hoffman, and a few others to talk about the state intervention.  Rep. Herron asked about the status of the intervention and said he and Sen. Hoffman are very concerned about the attitude from DEED.  Since Alaska now has a new attorney general and DEED commissioner has there been a loss of continuity in the dialogue with the state of Alaska, or any changes?

Superintendent Diamond said.....