Legislature(1999 - 2000)

03/11/1999 09:08 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
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SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 11                                                                                                  
Urging the Congress of the United States to provide                                                                             
federal education funds as a block grant to the state.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
The Senate Finance Committee sponsored this resolution and                                                                      
earlier discussions were on record relating to the drafting                                                                     
of the language and its content.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
BRUCE JOHNSON, Director Teaching and Learning Support,                                                                          
Department of Education, testified that the department                                                                          
generally supported block grant funding, which gave the                                                                         
state and local districts the greatest flexibility in                                                                           
program development and delivery. However, he urged the                                                                         
Legislature to maintain vigilance as the federal block                                                                          
funding was finalized in the US Congress when assessing the                                                                     
long-term benefits to Alaskan students and school                                                                               
districts. The department encouraged the oversight for two                                                                      
reasons. First, Alaska was a small state in terms of                                                                            
overall state population and school enrollment. Since many                                                                      
allocations from the federal level were based on student                                                                        
population, it could be that future allocations could be                                                                        
diminished as a result of formula revisions based solely on                                                                     
student populations. Secondly, as federal dollars become                                                                        
tighter in future years, the tendency could be to reduce                                                                        
overall funding for block grants than money allocated on a                                                                      
categorical basis, which generally had a strong and vocal                                                                       
constituency.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair John Torgerson asked if he was in favor of the                                                                         
resolution and if he believed block grants should be                                                                            
requested.  Bruce said he supported both but encouraged                                                                         
oversight, as there were some potential shortcomings with                                                                       
block grant funding.  He felt that the Legislature should                                                                       
maintain vigilance and support for Alaska's fair share.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Senator Al Adams asked for the status of the pending                                                                            
federal bill.  Bruce Johnson said it had passed the House                                                                       
and was currently in the Senate.  Senator Al Adams wanted                                                                       
to know, if the law was in effect and the state was to                                                                          
receive a block grant, how would the selection process be                                                                       
made as to who got the money.  Bruce Johnson said that                                                                          
wasn't known precisely.  The general procedure with block                                                                       
grants was that local communities had the power to set its                                                                      
priorities in terms of expenditure. They would have                                                                             
flexibility if there were no state regulations governing a                                                                      
particular group of students.  If so, civil rights laws                                                                         
would need to be followed to make sure no population was                                                                        
short-changed.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair John Torgerson referred to the block grant system                                                                      
for welfare funding and said because of problems                                                                                
encountered in drafting that legislation, a certain                                                                             
"whereas" was inserted into this resolution.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Senator Al Adams asked if the Legislature was placing the                                                                       
cart before the horse by sending this before Congress had                                                                       
passed the bill. Bruce Johnson didn't have any direct                                                                           
knowledge of what was occurring with the federal bill                                                                           
except that there was negotiation ongoing.  The concerns                                                                        
seemed to be with some proposed amendments rather than with                                                                     
the block grant concept.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair John Torgerson noted a proposed CS that referenced                                                                     
the federal bills on line 11. The CS would apply the                                                                            
resolution to the current federal bills.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Senator Randy Phillips moved for adoption of the CS Version                                                                     
"I".  Senator Al Adams asked if the aforementioned change                                                                       
was the only difference from the original resolution.  Co-                                                                      
Chair John Torgerson affirmed and pointed out that this was                                                                     
a time sensitive item to send to Congress. The CS was                                                                           
adopted without objection.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Senator Sean Parnell offered a motion to move CS SJR
11(FIN) from committee.  Without objection, it was so                                                                           
ordered.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                

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