Senate calls for 5% education cut, balks at putting it in budget bill for public critique
Public testimony on the Alaska Senate’s version of the state budget is closed, but Alaskans still haven’t seen cuts made to one of the biggest pieces — education.
For weeks, the Republican majority has called for a 5-percent cut to the state’s four largest departments: Health and Social Services, Transportation, the University of Alaska, and Education. Reductions were made in the budget accordingly in three of the four areas. But details on education have yet to be seen.
Alaskans were asked to weigh in on the cut without seeing what it looked like.
“I did not want to put in a number that didn’t have support,” Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters Monday, adding that most people who testified on the budget referred to the 5-percent cut. “No one agreeing with that amount, level of cuts, and virtually everyone that mentioned it had concerns that it is too high.”
At a press conference Monday, Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said the Senate is still moving forward with the cut, but couldn’t specify when Alaskans will see the details.
“We talked about the cut before we had public testimony,” Micciche said. “I think the whole world knows there’s going to be a 5-percent cut in the Senate budget. We heard loud and clear from the public what their beliefs were on that cut, we’ve telegraphed it all year long.”
Hoffman said he does not plan to reopen public testimony on the issue, which has raised eyebrows about whether the Senate is being open and transparent.
“This doesn’t taste transparent to me,” said Norm Wooten, executive director of the Alaska Association of School Boards and a political observer of thirty years. “I’ve never seen it unfold like it is.”
Wooten says it’s hard to know what a 5-percent cut will mean for the classroom without seeing exactly where the cuts will land.
“We don’t know where the cuts are, so it doesn’t give school board members the opportunity to build their story and to really put the picture of a kid’s face on what the cuts will be,” Wooten said. “And that’s troublesome to educators, school board members across the state.”
Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, chair of the House Education Committee, said she was “shocked” the Senate wouldn’t take public testimony on specific education cuts.
“What the Senate is doing I really can’t fathom,” Drummond said. “If I was in the Senate, I’d be embarrassed.”
At a press conference Monday, Micciche said Alaskans will see, at some point, a cut to the base student allocation (BSA), an important part of the education funding formula. The majority leader said the Senate also wants to shift teacher health care into a state pool.
The Senate Finance Committee canceled budget hearings Monday and Tuesday, but starting Wednesday, it has scheduled four days of deliberations on the measure.
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