JUNEAU -- Sen. Berta Gardner said Wednesday she is preparing a bill that will more than quadruple the raise that the Parnell administration is proposing for the state's per-pupil payment to local school districts.
In the Senate Democratic caucus' regular weekly press conference, Gardner, from Anchorage, said she was "really pleased" that Parnell has proposed raising the base student allocation by $85, the first hike in four years, "although his proposal is measly."
Instead, Gardner said she has drafted legislation that would raise the BSA by $404 for the next budget year, starting July 1. That's the amount she said the allocation has lost to inflation since the last raise, in the 2011 budget year. Her bill would automatically increase the allocation every year for inflation.
"We need to inflation-proof the new BSA and make sure that we let schools count on reliable resources to do the job that we are demanding that they do," she said.
Parnell's 1.5 percent raise -- increasing the BSA to $5,765 -- won't forestall teacher layoffs announced for Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and other districts, local officials say, but it will help.
While some members of the Republican majority caucuses in the House and Senate say they're still studying the governor's proposal and might consider a larger raise, no one has spoken about an increase as large as Gardner's.
Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Wasilla Republican who was once a school superintendent and who served on the Mat-Su school board, said the state has been spending increasing amounts of money on education outside the BSA, such as compensating energy costs and teacher pensions. Those offsets should allow districts to spend more in the classroom, he said.
Dunleavy said at a news conference Tuesday that he wants to see adequate public-education funding, but he also said the state should be looking for ways to save money while improving instruction. He is proposing a constitutional amendment that would allow the use of state funds for private and religious schools.
At Wednesday's news conference, Senate Minority Leader Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said school vouchers, possible only if the amendment passes, are no substitute for what he described as proven programs, like early childhood education.
"Pre-K is a no brainer; vouchers are highly divisive," French said. "You've got 40 years of rock-solid evidence that shows that pre-K moves the needle, changes the outcome in children's lives. Compare that with the voucher evidence and research, which is highly contested and open to interpretation by both sides."
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com or (907) 500-7388.
By RICHARD MAUER