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Sen. Kelly: Senate working on multi-year education funding package

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Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 12:00 am

JUNEAU — With educators pleading for more school funding, Sen. Pete Kelly said the Senate has a multi-year education funding package in the works.

The Fairbanks Republican, who returned to Juneau after a 10-year absence to co-chair the Senate Finance Committee and oversee the state’s operating budget, said the package hasn’t been finalized but it’s aimed at bridging the funding gap until a long-term solution can be found.

“It’ll probably be multi-year but with an end-date so we’re not putting it into the base, so that’s going to buy us the time about the structural changes that need to happen in the mean time,” he said.

While the exact dollar figures attached to the spending boost hasn’t been decided, Kelly said it will be supplemental funding and separate from a long-term increase to the per-student funding allocation.

Kelly said the funding increase will allow the Senate’s Finance Subcommittee on education, which is chaired by Mat-Su Sen. Mike Dunleavy, to look at more innovative approaches to fixing the state’s problems with education.

“Whatever we do, we’ve got to make some long-term changes that make education better and more affordable,” Kelly said. “We’ll see if we can make it more affordable, too, but that’s going to take big changes and that’s going to take buy-in from the public.”

The emergence of a supplemental education funding package isn’t new, the House rolled out one last session. The last-minute funding makes for plenty of nail-biting for educators, who are in the middle of the writing their own budgets.

That struggle was brought to Juneau on Monday, with both Alaska Association of School Boards and Legislative Democrats holding their own meetings on the state of education funding in Alaska.

Fairbanks school district board member Sue Hull, who is the president of AASB and on the state Board of Education, outlined Alaska schools’ concerns with funding.

“The schools of Alaska are facing unprecedented challenges and we need the legislature’s help in making sure Alaska’s kids are prepared for the future,” she said in a Monday morning press conference.

She said the Legislature must act to avoid deep cuts that would set back the education system.

“We don’t really care how it comes to us at this point, however if the legislature can get us additional funds, we would appreciate it,” she said. “We are still looking at cuts, but we are just hoping that it doesn’t have to be as deep as the sort of things we’re talking about right now.”

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 and follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.

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