In a recent education omnibus bill in the state budget for fiscal 2015, state legislators hammered out four points that should benefit area schools, the Kodiak Island Borough School District reports.
Approximately 80 students can now receive diplomas because of the repeal of the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exam, begun in 2004. Also, students will be able test out of core subjects, and schools will receive state government Internet bandwidth allowances. Perhaps most importantly, reduced construction funding will not affect Kodiak’s current high school build.
Meeting via teleconference with 54 school districts in the state, Commissioner of Education & Early Development Michael Hanley discussed the implications of the recently passed fiscal 2015 school budget on Alaskan schools, Kodiak’s Superintendent of Schools Stewart McDonald reported.
“In these new legislative actions some very noteworthy things will impact our district,” McDonald told the Mirror.
Because of the repeal of HSGQE, schools are waiting for Governor Sean Parnell’s signature on the budget in June.
“As soon as this governor signs it, then as of July 1 every student in our district and in the whole state that received a certificate of completion will in fact get a full diploma that will be retroactive to the date that they received their certificate of completion. That’s big. That dates back to 2004,” McDonald said. “We’ll be running diplomas for approximately 80 students who previously received a certificate of achievement. For a district of our size, that’s quite a few students.”
On the school construction side, the state is planning on decreasing the portion of bond reimbursements it is willing to pay back to a municipality for school construction projects. Alaska has been paying 60 percent, with local contribution requirements set at 40 percent. That has now been changed to 50/50, according to McDonald. For Kodiak, however, funding for the roughly $80 million new high school construction project will stay at the initially planned 70/30 level. “We were able to get a special waiver to build that facility at 70 percent reimbursement. and that is preserved. Funding like that for a project like may never be seen again in Alaska,” said McDonald.
He added he expects Alaska’s $43 million appropriation for education statewide to remain the same, while the base student allotment will increase to $150 per student. “If the Borough should increase their contribution by a requested amount of over $500,000, we will not be experiencing any further staff reductions or cuts for this year,” he said.
Alaska is also implementing a rule that secondary students can test out of core subjects “rather than go through an entire semester or year of that course,” McDonald said. “All districts will be required to come up with a way for a student to challenge a course and test out of it.” He does not expect this to unroll quickly because of testing requirements.
McDonald added that the state has also set aside $5 million to get every school’s bandwidth up to 10 MB for download, although implementation details on that side are still fuzzy. Several other components of the bill include funds for digital education and increased appropriations for correspondence students.