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.

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Friday, April 29, 2011

No News/Nothing New

Okay, I have pretty much stopped posting since the end of the regular session.  Sorry.  Lost my momentum.  I really can't tell you if special session is going to wrap up by sometime next week (best case scenario), or will go thirty days with no resolution (worst case scenario). However, I find it almost unimaginable that they wouldn't reach consensus within the special session. I just can't imagine that occuring. That would be some sort of a major breakdown of government. 

According to the House Minority, one thing there may not be resolution on during the special session is long-term funding for merit scholarships, since there are so many differing positions on HB 104, the bill establishing a funding mechansim for the scholarship program (

It is always interesting to watch the process. Sen. Paskvan brought up an interesting point on the floor Thursday, and that was that Alaska is a young state, and there is not yet a lot of legal precedent. At some point earlier in the special session, someone referred to the governor as having a big stick. So I imagine the governor with his big stick, 20 senators with 20 smaller sticks, and 40 house members with yet 40 smaller sticks, and that the total mass of each group's sticks was equal to the mass of the next group's sticks, even though they weren't equal in number. And the supreme court has a ruler, a saw, and bits of wood and glue, and when asked, can measure the different sticks, and add to or take away from them.

Okay, my imagination is getting the best of me. I liked Steve Haycox's recent editorial in the Anchorage Daily News explaining the process better than my visualization:  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SB 42 - AEA Susitna Hydro Project is now being heard in the House Finance Committee

Hanging out waiting for House Finance to start....
Holmes & Watson (Holmes is the pretty one)

In the time it took to upload this picture, taken today during a lunch break, the House Finance Committee began hearing SB 42: 

Monday, April 18, 2011

SB 84 Passes the Legislature on Monday, April 18, 2011

SB 84 – Vocational Education/Basic Funding/Tax Credits

The senate concurred with the changes made by the house by a vote of 19 yeas, 1 absent. SB 84 is awaiting transmittal to the governor.

SB 84 includes:
• $500,000 per year for three years for a theme-based pilot program development for the Iditarod School District
• A doubling of the residential boarding home stipends for FY 12 and FY 13 for the Nenana, Galena, and Lower Kuskokwim School Districts
• A vocational education factor of 1.01 (estimated to be $11,731,500 for FY 12) in the foundation formula to assist districts in providing vocational and technical instruction for students enrolled in 9th – 12th grade
• A sunset extension for certain corporate tax credits for educational contributions

SB 84 does not include a BSA increase.

Sen. French said he is a reluctant “yes” vote. He thinks the senate did a great job on the version of SB 84 that they passed. The bill came back from the house with just the vocational education component. That’s disappointing, given the strong financial situation of the state. He hopes next year they are a little more bold in funding education.

Sen. Huggins said it pleases him that they have come to a compromise on the bill. He hopes they can continue that.

Special Session Agenda

Governor Parnell called for a special session starting Monday, April 18, with ten bills on the agenda:

1. HB 108 – Operating Budget  

2. HB 109 – Mental Health Budget  

3. SB 46 – Capital Budget  

4. SB 76 – Supplemental Budget  

5. HB 104 – Performance Scholarships  

6. SB 42 – Power Project; Alaska Energy Authority  

7. HB 106 – Coastal Management Program  

8. SB 84 – Vocational Education & Basic Funding/Tax Credits  

9. HB 24 – Extend Regulatory Commission of Alaska Sunset  

10. HB 126 – Board Extensions: Nurse/Dentist/Barber  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Recent Legislative Action (and Inaction) on SB 1, SB 46, SB 84, and SB 97

There wasn't much education action on Saturday. Senate Finance is hearing a lot of bills, but they are not moving very many bills out of committee this morning. There are a lot of bills on today's Senate Calendar.

Education Action Saturday:
The senate concurred with the house changes to SB 1 (DEED report to the legislature; task force on theme-based education), and it goes next to the governor (

The house passed SB 84 (vocational education funding factor; the BSA increase was removed from the bill) by a vote of 40 yeas. SB 84 was returned to the senate. The senate has not yet concurred with the changes made by the house (

That was the only education-related action that occured on Saturday.

Education Action for today, Sunday:
There is no education-related legislation on the House or Senate Calendar today, however, it is the time of session when they may have supplemental calendars later in the day.

There is no education-related legislation scheduled for committee hearings. House Finance has SB 46 - Capital Budget, on their schedule, pending referral ( However, it will have to move from Senate Finance and pass the senate before they hear it. Budget negotiations between the house, the senate, and the governor remain ongoing.

Most members of the house majority seem opposed to any increase to the BSA this year, but there may yet be some sort of an increase outside the BSA, perhaps through SB 97 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

House is going in to session at 1:00 p.m.

The House Finance Committee just recessed, and the House is now scheduled to go in to session at 1:00 p.m.  SB 84 - Vocational Education Funding/Educational Tax Credits is the second item on the calendar. 

Legislative Action, Friday, April 15

The house passed two bills:
HB 104 – Alaska Performance Scholarships - Passed by a vote of 40 yeas

SB 1 – Board of Education & Early Development Annual Report - Passed by a vote of 39 yeas, 1 nay

The Senate Passed:
HB 15 – Student Athlete Concussions - Passed by a vote of 20 yeas

The House Education Committee heard a presentation from the Bristol Bay Borough School District and heard and held:
HB 143 – Adjust Base Student Allocation: Inflation

There is still a bottleneck right now with the senate and the house negotiating on a few issues. It appears they've got Coastal Zone Managment taken care of just now. The house was in session until late Friday night with their first supplemental calendar, passing a coastal zone management bill: HB 106 . I know that's an important issue to a lot of people.

I have been told by several legislators that there is still hope for some sort of funding increase for education. Carl Rose said in the House Education Committee Friday morning that since 1978, the money spent on education has lost 65 percent of it's value due to inflation. That's an astonishing amount of value, and it's no wonder schools are struggling. When I think back to my kindergarten days in the early 70's in Juneau, there were perhaps 14 children in my class, with both a teacher and a teacher's aide. I know kindergarten classes are up in the low 20's in many areas now.

It is up in the air when SB 46 - the capital budget and SB 97 - aid for municipalities and school districts might be heard. SB 97 has been noticed in House Finance, so they could, if they choose, bring it up at any time. SB 46 has been noticed in both the Senate and House Finance Committees, so it could be brought up at any time as well.

I have no idea whether the legislature will adjourn by Sunday evening or not. They would have to reach agreement very quickly, and suspend a Uniform Rule, so it looks unlikely.

Friday, April 15, 2011

SB 84 – Vocational Education & Basic Funding/Tax Credits

The House Finance Committee heard and moved SB 84 Thursday evening. They adopted a committee substitute that substantially changed the bill.

The House Finance Committee substitute:
• Removes the BSA increase
• Removes the Seward Sea Life Center as an institution allowed to receive certain corporate tax credit donations
• Adds annual intercollegiate sports tournaments as an allowable organization to receive certain corporate tax credit donations
• Adds Alaska Native cultural or heritage programs and educational support as programs allowed to receive certain corporate tax credit donations
• Incorporates HB 199, which increases the room and board reimbursement for Galena, Nenana, and Lower Kuskokwim School Districts
• Creates a pilot project for theme-based learning in the Iditarod Area School District

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A quick update of what occured today (fyi, I will never post anything on the blog before my subscribers receive it):

Speaker Chenault left the dias to give a speech from the floor (link to text and video: ).  He is very unhappy that the senate is still holding on to the capital budget, and feels that the proper legislative process isn't being followed.  Several legislators have said just today that they don't think the legislature will adjourn by Sunday evening.

I would be willing to guess that the senate is holding on to the capital budget not because it is dilly dallying around, but because it hasn't gotten things it wants from the house yet.  Once the house has possession of the capital budget, the senate loses some of its influence over the outcome, and they need to ensure that their priorities will be met before they release the capital budget to the house.

In addition, many senators feel very strongly that there needs to be some sort of additional funding for education.  SB 84 and SB 97 were both passed and sent to the house, and senators hope the house will act on either one or the other.  Just today there has been movement on SB 84, with the bill passing out of the House Finance Committee earlier this evening.

SB 97 is in House Finance, and scheduled for a hearing Friday.  However, Chairman Stoltze said the House Finance Committee may or may not meet, depending on negotiations.

The Conference Committee on the operating budget met late this afternoon.  Many items in the DEED operating budget are still not agreed upon, including the statewide mentoring program, the Pilot Pre-K Program and early learning in the intervention districts, Best Beginnings, the unallocated reduction of $2 million in federal receipts to Teaching & Learning Support, Alaska State Council on the Arts funding, the College Access Challenge Grant, and funding for the Alaska Performance Scholarship Program and the AlaskAdvantage Education Grant program.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Quick Recap of Monday's Action

There was a lot of action Monday on education issues, in addition to release of the Capital Budget by the Senate Finance Committee.  It is the intent of the Senate Finance Committee that Section 13 of the capital budget (SB 46, be considered as a single investment in grants for school construction around the state.  The governor originally requested $20 million for major school maintenance.  The Senate Finance Committee substitute funds an additional $250 million for school construction and maintenance, and clears every single project off DEED's major maintenance list.  Also included is funding for three schools to help settle the Kasayulie Case.  Total education funding in SB 46 is $397.5 million.  Send me an email, and I'll forward you my report on all the education items in the Senate Finance Committee Substitute. 

HB 6 - Removing a Regent: passed the house by a vote of 39 yeas, 1 absent. HB 6 was transmitted to the senate.

HB 15 - Student Athlete Traumatic Brain Injury: heard in and moved from House Judiciary Committee with a committee substitute. The Judiciary Committee substitute says that the person who clears an athlete to return to play must be certified in the evaluation and management of concussions, and must certify in writing or electronically that they are qualified. Reps. Lynn, Gruenberg, Thompson, Holmes, Pruitt, and Gatto recommend do pass. Rep. Keller made no recommendation. HB 15 is on the House Calendar for today. 

HJR 16 - Constitutional Amendment: Education Funding: was heard in and moved from the House Judiciary Committee to the House Finance Committee. No changes were made to the resolution. Reps. Lynn, Keller, Pruitt, Thompson, and Gatto recommended do pass. Reps. Gruenberg and Holmes recommended do not pass.

SB 1 - Board of Education & Early Development Annual Report: heard in and moved from the House Finance Committee. No changes were made to the bill. Reps. Fairclough, Tammie Wilson, Gara, Joule, Neuman, Costello, Edgmon, Stoltze, and Thomas recommended do pass.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Senate Passes SB 84 to increase the BSA by $110 for FY 12

The big news today is the senate passed SB 84 - Vocational Education & Basic Funding/Tax Credits ( The Finance Committee substitute includes a one-year increase to the BSA of $110 for FY 12 and a vocational funding factor of 1 percent. The Finance Committee removed BSA increases for FY 13 and FY 14. The bill also extends the sunset period for the educational tax credits that were passed last year.

Also, Sen. French introduced a Parents as Teachers bill in the senate. That's a good indication that he is trying to give HB 49, the house version (, a better chance of passing this session. If senate committees hear the senate version of the bill, the house bill's senate committee referrals may be waived when it gets to the senate.

Alaska, with a population of 710,231, is too small a population to be able to train 800 new teachers per year?

On Monday, April 4 the Senate Education Committee heard a presentation on University of Alaska teacher training programs from Deborah Lo, dean, School of Education at UAS, Mary Snyder, dean, School of Education at UAA, and Eric Madsen, dean, School of Education at UAF.  

During that presentation, Dean Snyder made a comment that I thought odd.  She said she doesn't believe they will ever be able to meet the demand for teachers in state, because of the population base.  She thought at most they might someday be able to meet 50 percent of the teacher need. 

Alaska needs about 800 new teachers trained every year, but only about 200 new teachers graduate from the University of Alaska every year.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Alaska is 710,231.  Was Dean Snyder actually saying that Alaska does not have a big enough population base in which to find and train 800 new teachers every year?  I feel I must have misunderstood her statement, as it doesn't make any sense to me.

Friday, April 1, 2011

SB 100 - PERS Termination Costs

On Tuesday, March 29 the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee heard SB 100 - PERS Termination Costs (  Michael Lamb of the Fairbanks North Star Borough testified that if a PERS employer reduces their employee count by altering or suspending a program or service, then PERS can send that employer three bills:
  1. The cost of a termination study,
  2. A bill for the amount the termination study determines that the employer owes the system due to the position change(s), and
  3. A bill for the past service costs on each of the position’s salaries until the unfunded liability is paid off.
Mr. Lamb wondered if past service liability would ever be extinguished, making the termination payments perpetual.  The bills to an employer could run from several hundred thousand dollars to millions of dollars for each termination study.  The law should be fairly and equally applied to all PERS employers, but the Div. of Retirement & Benefits says the state is exempt from termination studies and their financial impacts.  The state is the biggest PERS employer, but is not subject to termination studies.  Mr. Lamb said this disturbs other PERS employers.

Kathy Lea, acting director, Div. of Retirement & Benefits, said the State of Alaska does not have to do termination studies because state participation in PERS is mandatory, while all other participation is voluntary.  All the participation statutes refer to “changes to a participation agreement.”  That refers to the voluntary participation of municipalities and school districts; the State of Alaska has no participation agreement.  Ms. Lea said when the State of Alaska makes changes or reduces employees, while it may not have a termination study and may not have to amend an agreement, it still has to pay the liability.  No liability shifts to other employers as a result of state personnel actions.

Mr. Lamb said current requirements for termination studies