The following offers highlights of the recent legislative session. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2007 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Gov. Sarah Palin and state lawmakers have gone ahead with an overhaul of Alaska’s school funding system that supporters predict will provide much-needed financial help to rural schools and those serving students with disabilities.
The plan, enacted in the recently concluded session of the legislature, is based on recommendations issued by a legislative task force last year. It will phase in a greater flow of money to districts outside of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, over the next five years.
Advocates for rural and remote schools have lobbied for years for more funding, in particular noting the higher fuel, transportation, and other costs associated with providing education in communities scattered across the vast state.
A second part of the measure raises spending for students with special needs to $73,840 in fiscal 2011, from the current $26,900 per student in fiscal 2008, according to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
Unlike many other states, Alaska has relatively flush budget coffers, thanks to a rise in oil and gas revenues. Funding for schools will remain fairly level next year, however. Overall per-pupil funding across the state will rise by $100, to $5,480, in fiscal 2009. Total K-12 funding will rise to $1.2 billion from $1.1 billion, when transportation, energy, and other state funds are included, according to estimates from the governor’s Office of Management and Budget.
The state also agreed to add another $216 million to fill in shortfalls in its teacher-retirement system, the budget office said.
Carl Rose, the executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, praised the changes in funding for rural schools and students with special needs as a “historic event,” and said the finance overhaul would bring more stability to district budgets.
Bill Bjork, the president of the Alaska state affiliate of the National Education Association, said that he was pleased with those changes, but that the plan, and the increase in per-pupil spending, “doesn’t do enough, soon enough,” particularly given the state’s strong oil revenues.
A version of this article appeared in the April 30, 2008 edition of Education Week