The state House faces a vote this week to separate an education budget from the rest of the state’s operating budget, a move which could stabilize school funding and teachers' lives from year to year.

House Finance Committee Co-Chair Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) says a separate $1.3 billion appropriation removes guesswork for local school districts.

His bill, HB 287, is one of two efforts – one each in the House and Senate – trying to treat education funding separately,

Under state law, school districts must submit funding requests to municipal governments by May 1 – but state budgets that contribute to the districts often get signed by the governor as late as June 30, the final day of the fiscal year.

Without knowing how much funding comes from the state, the school districts and municipal governments have difficulty preparing a financial plan, Seaton said. This means districts often have to lay off teachers until they know how many they can afford to employ, then try to re-hire them.

Seaton wants to avoid that for the coming fiscal year.

“We know that the current year, this could solve a big problem and lower the morale-busting portion of having these termination layoffs go out to tenure and non-tenure teachers,” Seaton said.

The Senate is considering a similar bill to have an education budget in place by April 1 every year. 

A bill by Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, is awaiting a hearing with the Senate Finance Committee. It requires the Legislature to pass an education budget by April 1, but even if it's passed the bill would not go into effect until next year.

Senate Finance Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) said he agrees that the Legislature should avoid putting school districts through pink slips then re-hiring.

But he believes that can be accomplished by getting all budget work complete in the statutorily mandated 90 days. 

“Am I wiling to put a priority on education? Absolutely,” he said. “But my first priority is getting through this session in 90 days or very close to 90 days.”

The bill is scheduled to be heard on the House floor Wednesday.

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