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Passage of Alaska education bill may have rendered House task force obsolete

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Last year, the Alaska Legislature found itself deadlocked on education funding and passed an interim compromise education budget that education advocates said was too small and critics said was unsustainable.

But it also authorized interim work by committees like the House Task Force on Sustainable Education, which the Legislature asked to spend two years developing a long-term funding solution.

If that sounds familiar, it's because the same thing happened this year, with education advocates and spending critics both still not satisfied with funding for education. This year, the studies into sustainable education funding will be conducted by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee and others.

That's got the co-chairs of the House sustainable education task force, which had a two-year mandate, questioning whether they still have a role now that the joint LB&A committee has its new mission.

"We could very well be done, assuming that they are taking on all of the things that we could have come up with," said Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, co-chair of the task force.

She said the group will meet at least once more, when they'll review this year's omnibus education bill, House Bill 278. While the bill's school funding and charter school provisions got most of the attention, it also included studies by the LB&A committee and state education officials on things like school salary schedules, funding, and school design and construction.

Gattis said she, fellow co-chair Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, and the task force have been supportive of those studies and will not duplicate anything being done elsewhere.

"We are not going to double dip, or double scoop if you will, on anything that they are going to be doing," Gattis said.

Wilson praised the education bill's ability to get legislators information crucial to making future funding decisions.

"It does a lot of what we knew needed to be done, and we're pretty excited that it will be taking closer looks at these things that we knew were important," Wilson said.

Just before the beginning of this year's legislative session, the task force issued an interim report that recommended no new funding for schools.

The task force itself included some sharp divisions, with its two citizen business representatives clashing on school funding.

Oil industry attorney Brad Keithley said that if Alaska didn't cut school funding oil companies wouldn't invest in the state, while Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Halcro said that if Alaska didn't adequately educate its children, no one else would invest in Alaska either.

When the task force next meets, likely this summer, Wilson and Gattis said it will review if anything else needs to be done in addition to the studies in House Bill 278.

It may also see if there are other roles it can play, Wilson said.

"We may look at where there are regulations that can be done away with or something like that," she said. "Are there things on the books that maybe at one time made a difference but now doesn't, and is just causing more paperwork?"

Reach Pat Forgey at pat@alaskadispatch.com.


By PAT FORGEY
pat@alaskadispatch.com