JUNEAU — A legislative committee has approved extra aid for school districts next year, money that should erase budget shortfalls expected across the state.
The six-member House-Senate conference committee cleared $40 million to be split between school districts and community governments. The half for education will arrive beside normal formula-driven aid, which will not see an inflation-offsetting increase.
The money comes as part of a $9 billion statewide operating budget. The committee removed a clause from the bill Wednesday that would otherwise have locked the help within state coffers.
The school district in Fairbanks faced a $2.6 million budget shortfall without the increase.
Superintendent Pete Lewis said the committee’s action is a step in the right direction.
“It was a hurdle,” he said. “I am pleased that they are moving (the bill along).”
Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks and a member of the committee, said the onetime help falls short of offering the sort of stable promise to school districts — covering two or three years — that some senators had sought.
“But (it) moves us forward,” Thomas said. He said legislative education committees will need to study longer-term school funding options later this year.
The extra help approved Wednesday will, coupled with a previously approved boost in vocational education funding, actually move beyond what school officials statewide had sought for next year. But with energy costs holding high, state leaders say the extra help could be needed.
The state Senate this spring approved a handful of options for increasing school aid, but House leaders demanded greater accountability from education leaders for poor report cards and proved resistant to the Senate’s plans.
Contact staff writer Christopher Eshleman at 459-7582.