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Education Task Force releases official recommendations, schism grows

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Posted: Friday, January 3, 2014 12:15 am | Updated: 1:49 pm, Tue Jan 7, 2014.

FAIRBANKS — Two days after its final meeting of 2013, Alaska House of Representatives' Sustainable Education Task Force released its official recommendations for the upcoming legislative session.

The document included recommendations, most of which were agreed to unanimously and one of which received only one dissenting vote, that the state legislature reduce spending across-the-board and cut spending in education.

"In order to provide for an overall sustainable future for Alaska, current state spending levels must be reduced with a portion of the current revenue stream set aside to provide for future generations," the document states.

The recommendations call for the legislature to create an official "Strategic Education Plan" that would develop collaboration between different departments and districts around the state and would look into the benefits of establishing a statewide curriculum for reading, writing and math.

One of the task force's two co-chairs, Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said that under the current system not enough students in the state are meeting proficiency standards, a fact she hopes could be helped with the implementation of the task force's recommendations.

In addition to lower funding, the task force recommended the state begin changing the way it thinks about education in general, recommending several new ways of thinking:

• "Establish regional residential education centers to enhance secondary education."

• "Standardize school facilities, with the goal of reducing overall construction and maintenance costs using 'recognized best practices.'"

• "Evaluate the current level of facility cost sharing between the state and localities. Consistent with local control, increased local contribution may not only be necessary but a better way to ensure that facilities are built and maintained efficiently."

• "Analyze the potential benefit of school district consolidation and shared services between school districts and other entities."

• "Review and eliminate unnecessary regulations."

Not long after the task force released its recommendations Thursday, the Alaska Democratic Party released its own statement condemning the task force's findings. During the its meeting Tuesday the task force also took heat from one of its own members, Andrew Halcro, president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and a former Republican state legislator.

"I believe Halcro was voicing what the Democratic Party has been voicing for some time," said Mike Wenstrup, chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party. "There are lots of ways to bring our budget back down without taking it away from students."

Rep. Wilson, however, said that when the discussion came up the rest of the committee was staunch in its belief that education funding cannot stay at current levels.

"The rest of the committee on that particular day agreed unanimously that we cannot," Wilson said. "With revenue falling we will have to be much smarter with the revenue that we have."

Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.

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