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Grassroots group pushes to increase education funding from Capitol

By Rhonda McBride 8:14 PM March 26, 2014

Great Alaska Schools has 1,000 members fighting for school funding

JUNEAU – A grassroots group called Great Alaska Schools now counts 1,000 parents as members. Many represent PTAs and other school groups.

The group formed only seven weeks ago to fight for more education funding.

This week, members are in Juneau. Their goal: To meet with each and every lawmaker.

“We feel like every voice matters,” said Alyse Galvin, who has four children attending school in the Anchorage School District.

Great Alaska Schools is asking the Legislature to increase the Base Student Allocation, the annual amount the state pays for each student, by $400 next year — with a $125 dollar increase for the following year and the year after.

They want lawmakers to tap state budget reserves, which hold about $17 billion.

“The budget reserve was put in place specifically for lean times to fund priorities,” said Alison Arians, who also has children in the ASD. “We really just think education should be a number one priority.”

House Speaker Mike Chenault believes lawmakers will likely increase the BSA.

“At the end of the day, there will be more money put into the education system,” Chenault said. “Now what that looks like yet, or how it comes together – we’re still working on that.”

Chenault said lawmakers have increased overall education spending every year, and it’s never enough.

“If somebody said that, ‘If you just give us this amount of money, we’ll never come back,’ they’ll be back the following year because prices have went up,” Chenault said.

Chenault also said there are many demands on the budget reserve besides education.

“As long as there’s money in an account somewhere, they’ll sure help you spend it,” Chenault said. “The problem is once those funds are gone, how do you continue to fund the programs they’ve asked for.”

The state has a $2 billion revenue shortfall, so House and Senate majority leaders are pushing for cuts this year to avoid using money from the state’s savings.

The House passed an operating budget just over $9 billion dollars but did not include education in the package. It’s now up to the House and Senate Finance Committees to address education spending.

Longtime political observers predict that education spending won’t be resolved until the final days of the session.

The Great Alaska Schools group believes it has momentum. It’s collecting signatures for a petition calling for the increases. On its website, supporters can also send public opinion messages to lawmakers.

“We have a little bit of work to do to help them appreciate that there is enough money. And this is the top priority for our families in Alaska,” Galvin said. “And really it’s our economic engines, our kids.”

Editor’s note: This story will be expanded.

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