The state House overwhelmingly approved a bill to separate public education funding from the state operating budget -- a move which means many teachers statewide could avoid pink slips for the upcoming school year.

Districts must have their budgets submitted to municipalities by May 1.

However, in recent years the Legislature has dragged budget talks well beyond that date. Last year, the operating budget didn’t pass until late June.

This year, lawmakers are approaching the 94th legislative day. Budget delays, such as those in recent years, force school districts to issue pink slips to teachers, hoping they will be able to re-hire them once budgets get approved.

House Finance Committee co-chair Paul Seaton (R-Homer) authored HB 287. He says a separate $1.3 billion appropriation removes guess work for local school districts.

“It’s a really important thing that we aren’t sending pink slips out and asking teachers to take jobs in other places,” Seaton said. “We want to recruit and retain teachers, so it’s an important first step.”

Last summer, Seaton said school officials implored him and fellow Kenai Peninsula lawmakers House Minority Whip Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) and Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) to address the late funding problems.

Sen. Gary Stevens proposed a bill to make early funding a regular practice for public education budgets starting next year. That bill remains in the Senate Finance Committee.

The Senate, however, did put funding for the next fiscal year in Seaton’s bill. But that funding is linked to the Legislature agreeing on a fiscal plan bill, SB 26.

Versions of that passed the House and Senate last year but a specially appointed committee have yet to work out their differences.

“We appreciate the Senate’s offer to looking at funding in 2020,” Seaton said. “That is contingent upon a controversial piece of legislation and we’ll have to see how that goes forward.

“At least that shows the conversation of early funding of education and forward funding of education is being considered seriously within the Legislature.”

Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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