House Finance pursues school transportation bill

Austin Baird

JUNEAU -- House Finance Co-Chair Bill Thomas said that an increase to education funding will likely focus on a plan that would give districts extra money targeted at transportation costs.

"We're still working out the details," Thomas, a Haines Republican, said Friday after a hearing.

The bill currently being used to craft the House plan for an increase of education funding is SB182, which unanimously passed the Senate earlier this month. The bill remains in flux while changes are considered, but as currently written, the measure would guarantee increases of transportation funding that matches the inflation rate in Anchorage. The increase would be around $10.5 million next year and an estimated $22.8 million by 2018.

Gov. Sean Parnell has said he is wary of multiyear increases because he wants the state to retain flexibility given economic uncertainties. However, he has been receptive to increases targeted at areas like transportation where schools are being hit with rising expenses. Education leaders support the increase in transportation funding but have called for a multi-year increase of funding that goes directly into the classroom.

SB171 would increase the amount of money given to districts per student enrolled, but that bill has been sitting in House Finance since February.

"We're holding out hope that something will happen, that something will come together in the last 48 hours," said Rep. Pete Petersen, an Anchorage Democrat.

The Finance Committee recessed but could return Friday at the call of co-Chair Bill Stoltze.


By AUSTIN BAIRD
Associated Press