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Charter schools debated, as latest House education bill removes teacher bonuses

JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) – As the House Education Committee started debating a new comprehensive education package this week, to replace the bill Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed earlier this month, the governor’s teacher bonus priority has been removed while debate over charter schools continued.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, said the teacher incentive bonus, ranging anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000, had become too controversial.

A big reason Dunleavy said he vetoed the now dead bipartisan $246 million education package — what he termed a “spending bill” — was his belief that it didn’t address improving educational outcomes.

The new bill, HB 392, is in many ways similar to one the governor vetoed and does not address all the governor’s requests.

The bill dedicates a $175 million increase in school funding, which would be a $680 increase per student, known as the base student allocation or BSA.

There is also funding for student transportation, homeschooling and reading proficiency in grades K-3

However, comprehensive charter schools language is added to the bill.

Dunleavy has touted the strength of the state’s charter school system and argues he wants to improve the process of creating new charters, citing the long waitlists that face families who want to enroll their children.

The bill includes language relating to giving the state authority to approve new charter schools, the creation of a state charter school coordinator, and the charter school termination appeal process, which legislative opponents have previously worried would remove too much local control.

In public testimony this week, many people have voiced their support of a BSA increase, but preferred the creation of charter schools be left up to local school boards.

“I would like to raise concern with the new language about a state board authorizing charter schools. I think that having that remain with our local school boards who are accountable to voters should be the priority. That’s working well and I don’t see why we would change it at this point,” Anchorage resident Rachael Posey said.

During the meeting, House Education Co-Chair Rep. Jamie Allard, R-Eagle River, asked Department of Education & Early Development Commissioner Deena Bishop how opening additional charter schools could impact student waitlists.

“I do believe that if we had additional charter schools to offer additional parent choice that our waitlists in districts would go down,” Bishop said.

The bill remains in the House Education Committee and it remains to be seen if any more changes will be made to the bill before it heads to the House floor.

The House Education Committee’s standalone charter school bill, which contains much of the same language as HB 392, has not yet been heard in committee.

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