ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - There are two words that come up over and over again when some Alaskan teachers describe the state's funding of education: "Disappointment and uncertainty."
That was the case in 2017 when the jobs of thousands of educators were in the hands of Juneau lawmakers, who slid past legal deadlines.
The state's budget gridlock forced the Anchorage School District to issue layoff notices to more than 223 teachers before the end of the school year. While most of those notices were recalled, the aftermath left an air of uncertainty.
“The most important professionals in the state are getting demoralized,” said Anchorage Rep. Les Gara at a Tuesday House Finance Committee meeting. “They are leaving the University, they are leaving public education, they are leaving many jobs in the state that are important to the public because they don’t know whether their job is going to be there.”
Rep. Gara along with other House members are pushing for a bill that hopes to fund public education and student transportation ahead of the operating budget.
HB 287 would be a stand-alone budget bill focusing on K-12 education and would appropriate $1.2 billion from the budget reserve fund.
“Our school district in Anchorage needs to report their budget to the Municipality by March 1st. If we had something in terms of a budget number, that might go a long way” said Rep. Jason Grenn, an unaffiliated lawmaker representing Anchorage.
Some lawmakers expressed concerns about pulling education from the operating budget. Big Lake Rep. Mark Neuman asked how far the Legislature would go. Why should teachers get singled out over state troopers?
Rep. Lance Pruitt says the bill is premature and its sponsors are assuming lawmakers will fail at passing an operating budget on time.
“You’re trying to put together pieces of a puzzle without knowing what the puzzle looks like. It all has to go in tandem and at once not bifurcated in pieces because It makes it very difficult when you don’t know exactly what your revenue picture is going to be or what your spending picture is all at the same time.”
Pruitt added that the House measure may not go over well in the Senate, which would have to also approve the education budget bill.
The house finance committee benched HB-287 so it could hear more public testimony on Thursday.