Senate Had Opportunity to Tie BSA Increase to Outcomes

Education spending was a source of endless debate in the 33rd legislature this spring. The legislature ultimately authorized the largest ever one-time increase in school funding totaling $175 million. The budget included no provisions to hold schools accountable for Alaska’s last-in-the-nation outcomes or give families a greater ability to customize their education.  

Legislators had opportunities to debate and amend the Base Student Allocation (BSA) to tie accountability for outcomes to potential increases in spending. SB52 failed to pass, but the bill would have increased the BSA by $680, to $6,640 from $5,960. 

Amendments Offered 

The last action on SB52 was on May 12, 2023, when it was referred to House Finance after having passed the Senate by a vote of 16 Yeas and 3 Nays. Twelve amendments were proposed on the Senate floor and some, though not all, could have helped in tying funding to accountability for outcomes. Education outcomes in Alaska are habitually poor: on the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Alaska’s fourth graders were 49th nationally and outcomes have declined eight points since 2003 when the NAEP was first administered in Alaska.   

Amendment 1 

The first amendment offered to SB52 failed. However, the amendment would have added language requiring the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) to establish “district standards for improving student proficiency on standards-based assessments required by the department.” It would also have required that, if the BSA were increased, in each subsequent fiscal year at least 70% of the increase in state aid be spent on instruction provided by certificated teachers. DEED would have had to withhold 50% of the state aid that would have resulted from the increase in the BSA from districts that failed to meet improvement standards set by DEED and returned it to the district once they met them.  

The amendment would have required greater transparency in how districts spend the increase in state aid they receive through the formula, which is valuable for the residents and taxpayers to understand. Ensuring the additional funding reaches classrooms, in the form of instruction provided by certificated teachers, is an admirable goal as well. 

However, this requirement might have increased costs for districts, as sometimes paraprofessionals (or instructional aides or teacher’s aides without a certificate in teaching) can deliver the same type and quality of instruction as certified teachers at a lower cost, especially in small-group settings. The language in the amendment surrounding improvement plans for districts could also have left much up to DEED to decide, which may have taken the teeth out of the requirements. Finally, it is important not to punish districts by withdrawing funding for failing to improve. Instead, districts ought to be rewarded for improvement.  

Amendment 2 

Amendment 2 failed. The amendment would have established “the Rewarding Improvement in Student Excellence award,” which would have required each school district to provide an award to teachers and parents of a student who shows improvement in learning outcomes based on criteria set by DEED. In aggregate, the teachers of the student would have received $750, which would not be included in their base salary, and the parents of the student in aggregate would have received $750. 

Teacher incentives based on student performance have shown some promise in improving outcomes, but much depends on the program’s design. There is less research into parent and student incentives, but Florida has provided incentives to both teachers and students for passing scores on Advanced Placement (AP) classes for more than 20 years. In the first 10 years, Florida saw a 251% increase in students passing exams and a 356% increase in exam takers.  

However, the amendment leaves much up to DEED to establish the criteria for eligibility, and it was not clear whether there would be requirements for how parents spend the funds they receive under the incentive. 

Amendment 3 

Amendment 3 failed. The amendment would have established “teacher gratitude awards,” aimed to boost teacher retention. Full-time teachers who have taught in their district for the two years preceding the payment dates, would have been eligible to apply for a $10,000, $20,000, or $30,000 bonus depending on their district. The gratitude awards would have been subject to available funds appropriated, which creates another reoccurring cost outside of the funding formula. 

The amendment seemed to be motivated to improve teacher retention, especially given the tiered rewards for teachers in more rural districts. While teacher retention bonuses could help, much depends on the design of the program. Small bonuses that are widely distributed are less effective than those that are targeted carefully to more effective teachers, teachers in hard-to-staff subjects like special education and STEM, or teachers in high-turnover schools and districts. The program proposed in Amendment 3 includes compensation amounts higher than most programs and appears to apply broadly to all teachers in any district, so long as they had taught in that district for the previous two years. 

Further, some factors are often more important to teachers than bonuses. It should be obvious that salary matters, especially for early-career teachers; union rules establishing rigid pay schedules for teachers based on length of tenure often prevent rewarding highly effective early-career teachers. However, teacher retention is also affected by the disciplinary environment, administrative support, working conditions, and a sense of professionalism among teachers.  

Amendment 4 

Amendment 4 failed. The amendment would have established teacher spending accounts for each certificated teacher in a school district. The $1,500 accounts could only have been used for educational supplies and materials approved by DEED and the SBOE. 

This amendment could have done well to give teachers some funds that could be tailored to directly benefit students. Who could better determine what is most useful in their classroom than the teachers on the ground? Prioritizing individual teacher autonomy and expertise by giving each control over a small portion of K-12 funding would have been an innovative solution that could support all teachers. This amendment might have increased overall costs because the district could not have spent “an amount that…is less than the amount the school district spent on educational supplies and material in the previous fiscal year.” 

Amendment 5 

Amendment 5 failed. The amendment would have required that in subsequent fiscal years, districts spend at least 70% of the increase in state aid resulting from a BSA increase on instruction provided by certificated teachers. This amendment removed DEED improvement plans as well as language present in Amendment 1 that would have withdrawn 50% of the increase in state aid under the BSA increase for districts that fail to meet their improvement plans. 

Amendment 6 

Amendment 6 failed. This amendment would have adjusted the school count period — the enrollment average counted in the fall that determines the initial number of students for the school funding formula — from the current count period of 20 days in October to 61 days in September and October. 

Longer count periods for calculating average daily enrollment, as a plurality of states do, are better at calculating an average most representative of enrollment throughout the school year. This amendment would have been an improvement over the 20 days in October that Alaska currently uses to count students. However, this amendment could go further and emulate the many states that simply take a year-long enrollment average. Tweaking the count period also doesn’t change the fundamental incentives in the formula, which could be used to incentivize attendance through the use of an average daily attendance (ADA) count. Seven states, including California and Texas, use some variation of ADA and generally report lower rates of chronic absenteeism, around 12%, compared to Alaska’s 29% chronic absenteeism. 

Amendment 9 

Amendment 9 failed. Amendment 9 was identical to Amendment 5 and required that in subsequent fiscal years, districts spend at least 70% of the increase in state aid resulting from a BSA increase on instruction provided by certificated teachers. 

Amendment 10 

Amendment 10 failed. The amendment would have required that districts budget for and spend on intensive services an amount equal to the amount they receive under the school funding formula for intensive services. 

This amendment would have helped ensure that districts — which receive 13 times the BSA for each student identified as intensive needs — actually allocate those funds to serving the needs of the student. Because state aid received under the formula is fungible, there is no guarantee that intensive needs students will have the entirety of the 13 times BSA spent on services for them. (The actual cost of intensive services may vary substantially depending on the type and magnitude of the intensive need). 


The ink on the $175 million in one-time education funding passed in the 2023-2024 budget deal is not yet dried. Yet school funding is all but guaranteed to remain a topic of discussion in the 2024 legislative session because these funds are one-time only. Lawmakers had an opportunity to seek improvement in Alaska’s dismal outcomes by amending the BSA increase bill with accountability measures, but all of them failed.