Legislature fails to pass major education policy changes
May 18, 2023
Major education policy changes for Alaska got close to the finish line but fell short in the final hours of this legislative session.
A bill to increase broadband access in rural schools and a major school funding bill were combined in the final days of the session, likely leaving neither in a position to pass.
The Senate handily passed SB 140, a bill that would increase internet speeds in schools, and it went to the House Finance Committee for consideration before it could move it to the House floor.
The bill would use state money and a federal match to increase the minimum internet speed in state schools from 25 to 100 megabits per second. Education advocates say the bill is really about education equity for rural schools, where the internet is expensive and slow.
“Twenty-five megabits is 1970s speeds,” quipped Lisa Parady, who said she wrote the idea for the first internet in schools bill on the back of a napkin in a North Slope bar years ago. Parady is the executive director of the Alaska Council of School Administrators, an umbrella organization for associations of school leaders.
On Monday evening, the committee loaded the internet in schools bill with two other pieces of education policy—the pupil transportation component and the contentious base student allocation, the amount the state pays schools per student.
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, championed the internet bill, and said he supported each addition on its own merits, but he expressed dismay that they were all lumped together.
“I’m gonna support it,” he said, “but my concern is the amendments will weigh down the underlying bill.”
The chief concern of skeptics on the finance committee was the cost of the proposed legislation without more analysis.
“The passing of this bill is basically a blank check,” said Rep. Frank Tomaszewski, R-Fairbanks, referring to its volatile fiscal note. “I know these are good programs. But we cannot pass legislation because we know it’s good. We need to pass legislation because here in the finance committee we are looking at the numbers and we need to know the numbers add up.”
But most committee members supported the bill.
“It is where Alaska expects us to go,” said Rep. Alyse Galvin, I-Anchorage, referring to the addition of the base student allocation.
She noted that the actual dollar amount of the education funding increase included in the bill had already been discussed and included in the House’s version of the budget.
“It is the top ask of Alaska that we have adequate, predictable funding,” she said.
The House Finance Committee moved the heavy bill through to the floor for a House vote, but that’s where it’s stuck.
The House Rules Committee decides which bills to schedule on the floor, and Chair Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said this one is unlikely to get there.
“My guess is no, based on time,” he said on Tuesday afternoon, noting that it had become a “complicated” piece of legislation.
Senate Bill 48, the governor’s carbon offset bill, left the House Finance Committee at the same time and was scheduled, heard, and passed by the full House that afternoon.
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