Senate Leadership defends education cut, amid threat of layoffs
In Juneau, the Senate Majority is defending itself against accusations that its budget cuts will severely harm education in Alaska. This after the Anchorage and Mat-Su School Districts announced publicly they’re standing in solidarity against the 5 percent cut.
The districts say more than $90 million in cuts to school districts and the university system will lead to hundreds of lost jobs and larger class sizes.
Their school boards are urging Alaskans to call their senators and demand full funding.
But getting comment from Senate leadership about the concerns Tuesday was no easy task; KTVA visited each Senate Republicans’ office to request an interview before Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) agreed to speak on-camera about the cut.
Micciche said educators should be pressuring the House, instead, to reach an agreement with the Senate on a plan that turns the permanent fund into an endowment, Senate Bill 26. If that happens, Micciche says, legislators won’t have to make as deep of cuts.
“We are putting pressure on all of the various groups to please lean on the House, lean on the legislature, including the governor, on a clean Senate Bill 26 passing the legislature this year,” Micciche said in an interview Tuesday.
In the meantime, the cut is part of negotiations– a bookend– Micciche says, for a budget deal with the House.
“Which I know the districts understand because of their negotiations with teachers every year,” Micciche added.
House Majority Leader Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage) said he didn’t understand the Senate’s budget strategy.
“Why play these games?” Tuck said. “I mean, it’s silly to play these types of games on people’s education and people’s lives.”
The House and Senate must agree on a level of funding before the state’s operating budget is finalized. Tuck says a 5 percent cut to education is not going to happen.
“That is simply off the table for us; we’ve always been strong supporters of public education,” Tuck said.
Either way, school districts say they need to know where the state budget stands soon. With each day of uncertainty, they’re one step closer to making layoffs.
According to the Anchorage School Board, tenured teachers must be notified of any layoffs by May 15. The Senate is holding out on moving a budget forward until the legislature reaches an agreement on SB 26. House Leadership says negotiations on the bill are ongoing.
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