- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The House Finance Committee on Tuesday tweaked Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill, freeing up about $13.5 million for school districts by changing how students are counted.

The new version of House Bill 278 also extends the length of time required to obtain teacher tenure from three years to five years. It allows a district to revoke a teacher’s tenure.

The new regulations would count each student in an urban school as nearly one student for funding purposes. But as schools get smaller, the funding formula increases. For example, student attending rural schools with attendance of 20 or fewer pupils would be counted as four students for the same funding purpose.

State funding for local districts is based on how students are counted.

Most of the $13.5 million shifted to school districts is earmarked for the larger ones.

“The reasoning behind this was the discussions we have had on the amount our larger schools need,” said co-Chairman Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak.

Austerman said it was time for the Legislature to closely examine the current funding formula used by the state in distributing money to local districts. Established in 1997, the formula covers everything from per-pupil allocation to transportation, construction and capital funding.

It is intentionally weighed in favor of rural and remote school districts over urban school districts.

On the teacher-tenure issue, the Senate on Monday considered another measure, House Bill HB162, that would keep the tenure track for rural educators at three years but would increase that requirement to five years for a teacher in an urban school. That bill remains in committee.

HB278 considered by the House on Tuesday also calls for teacher tenure to be reviewed every five years. It allows a local school district to revoke tenure based on such a review.

“So this bill basically ends tenure,” said Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks.

Education Commissioner Mike Hanley expressed concern over lengthening the time requirement. “Typically a teacher is there longer than the principal,” Hanley said.

He suggested the section be reviewed on legality questions and may be ripe for lawsuits.

Regarding charter schools, co-chairman Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said the committee set time limits in the charter school appeal process. The committee did not touch on the issue of the state board of education running charter schools turned down by local districts.

The bill calls on local districts not to exceed operational costs when leasing space to charter schools.

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