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February 23, 2024

The House prioritizes education legislation while the Senate hears public testimony on the FY 25 budget

A recurring theme in the Capitol this session is that the political climate feels like March. The context behind this comment is that March is usually when the contentious budget conversations are in full swing and lawmakers are hunkering down for long days of debating the state budget on the House and Senate floors. This year, while the budget is still in its infancy, legislation relating to education funding has taken on a similar life of its own. 

This week the House largely cleared its committee calendar to make room for substantial debate on Senate Bill 140, the omnibus education bill, containing funding provisions for the Base Student Allocation, teacher incentive pay, and charter schools, among many other measures. When lawmakers initially failed to pass a procedural vote to adopt the most recent committee substitute to the bill, the House was thrown into flux while members worked to negotiate solutions. However, late Thursday night, the body reached a compromise and eventually passed the bill. 

Meanwhile, the Senate moved forward with its budget preparation, taking public comment from across the state on the operating, mental health, and capital budgets.

Notably, even amongst the turmoil in the House, both the House and Senate Finance Committees had time for presentations from President Pitney about the university system’s FY 25 budget request.

Dan Sullivan gives annual legislative address highlighting the University of Alaska

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan gave his annual legislative address to a joint session of House and Senate bodies on Wednesday morning. Senator Sullivan heralded both the Legislature’s and Alaska’s congressional delegations' efforts on the Willow Project reapproval. He touted an estimated $25 billion in additional private and federal investments in Alaska over the next 4-5 years - specifically in tourism cargo, aviation, and national security measures. He noted the workforce needs that come with these big investments, and highlighted the impact of the university system. 

“The University of Alaska system is doing a great job across the state providing an excellent, affordable education. Eighty percent of Alaskans who graduate from the university system stay in Alaska.” Senator Sullivan continued to praise the system with efforts as an arctic research hub.

“A few years ago, I laid out a vision to all of you about making Alaska a future intellectual research hub for so many critical areas that make us unique. Think about it: our vast minerals and natural resources, including boundless renewable energy; our unique role as America’s Arctic; our abundant oceans that we need to keep clean; and our strategic location that enhances America’s national security and provides us with huge economic opportunities.

This vision is becoming a reality and it’s really exciting. Of course, the University of Alaska is doing its part, pulling in over $225 million of research [funds] in the past year—the most they have ever done. But we’re just getting started. Let me give you some examples.

The Department of Defense’s Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies, which Senator Murkowski and I got into law a few years ago, already has 40 of the best minds in the world working on these issues at their headquarters at JBER.

Not to be outdone by DOD, just a few months ago, after a full court press by your congressional delegation, the Department of Homeland Security announced a $46 million grant to UAA to focus on critical Arctic security issues.

And it’s not just Arctic security research where we have made very big progress. The NOAA research vessel, the Fairweather, is finally homeported back in Ketchikan, bringing money and research scientists and the crew of this ship back to Alaska, where it belongs.

We all worked together on this important endeavor for years. I want to thank all of you, especially Bert Stedman and his staff. I will say: The ribbon-cutting event that many of us attended in Ketchikan this past August—on a perfectly clear sky day—was one of the most satisfying celebrations I’ve ever attended!

Finally, you all have heard me talk about my passion for oceans. My Save Our Seas 2.0 Act—the most comprehensive ocean clean-up legislation ever passed by Congress—is now being implemented.

Save Our Seas 2.0 established a congressionally-chartered Marine Debris Foundation, which has enormous potential to bring innovative private sector funds and ideas to ocean clean-up.

For the past two years, I have been relentlessly pursuing this idea: This Foundation needs to be headquartered in Alaska.

Today, I am very pleased to announce that it will be… actually right down the road at an ideal place: the Juneau campus of UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and the UAS campus, which already do great ocean-oriented research. The Marine Debris Foundation based alongside these programs has enormous potential.

Budget

After a quiet President’s Day, the Senate Finance Committee kicked Tuesday off with a presentation from UA President Pat Pitney about the UA FY 25 budget request. President Pitney provided an overview of the system’s operating and capital requests, and highlighted several of our recent achievements. Senators were particularly interested in our teacher preparation efforts. Watch the hearing here.

The House Finance Committee requested a second hearing about the budget. In this follow-up to last week’s budget overview, members were able to break down our operating requests in more detail.   

UA in the Capitol

In addition to focusing on the UA budget request, lawmakers are expressing interest in UAF’s efforts to become an R1 research institution. R1 is a designation under the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education for research institutions with the highest levels of research activity. Only the top 3.7% of degree-granting institutions are considered R1. To meet the criteria for R1 designation, an institution must bring in more than $50 million in research expenditures, and it must award an average of 70 or more research doctorates each year. 

One of UAF’s strategic goals is to achieve R1 research status by 2027. UAF has consistently been a high-ranking R2 institution. UAF already exceeds Carnegie’s R1 research expenditures by nearly $150 million. However, we need to increase our annual PhD graduates to meet the threshold of 70 graduates. To do so, we’re requesting one-time $20 million funding from the state to help increase the number of incoming Ph.D. candidates and boost the number of annual graduates. The funds will be used to provide graduate student stipends and faculty incentives and to strengthen student support services. 

On Tuesday afternoon, UAF Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Anupma Prakash presented the value of gaining R1 designation to the Senate State Affairs committee. She highlighted the following points:

  1. By reaching the R1 designation, UAF will become even more of an impactful economic driver for the state of Alaska. R1 research activities have the potential for significant expanded economic activity in the state. 
  2. This is an ambitious yet achievable target. UAF is already within arm’s reach of the R1 designation and the one-time $20 million will facilitate meeting this goal. 
  3. Time is of the essence: UAF has planned and gained momentum and will be assessed on its FY24-26 performance.
  4. 45 states already have an R1 institution: Alaska needs to have one to serve as an economic driver for the state. Some states like Texas, California, and New York have multiple R1 institutions.
  5. During the last Carnegie Classification in 2021, 15 institutions made the jump from R2 to R1, bringing positive changes in their enrollments, research, and contributions to their states.

UA Alumni

Simultaneously, UA alumni from all of UA universities were in the building this week. Several individuals flew to Juneau this week to share their experiences as alumni with lawmakers. At an Alumni Lunch and Learn on Wednesday several folks shared the positive impacts the University of Alaska has had on their lives Our UA Alumni are so important to the conversation with the legislature. Their voices, along with our students/faculty/staff make a difference!  

Legislation 

A disagreement over scheduling occurred within the House Education Committee late last week As a result, a hearing that had been anticipated for House Bill 236 - the University of Alaska Deferred Maintenance and Modernization Fund - was not calendared. It is anticipated that the bill will be rescheduled in the near future.

House Bill 148, which improves the Alaska Performance Scholarship (by providing more notice and adjusting scholarship amounts for inflation), is scheduled to be on the House Floor today. Rep. Justin Ruffridge (R- Kenai) has spearheaded this House Education Committee bill, and we’re grateful for his focus on the important issue. President Pitney has stated that HB 148, along with its Senate companion, Senate Bill 56 (SB56), from Sen. Forrest Dunbar (D-Anchorage), are “game changers” for University enrollment.  

Separately, the Government Relations team was pleased to submit a letter of support for House Bill 120 by Rep. Frank Tomaszewski (R-Fairbanks). HB 120 creates a new non-resident student hunting, fishing, and trapping license. A non-resident student enrolled in classes full or half-time would be able to purchase a license at resident cost. This legislation is intended to entice non-resident students to take up new hobbies, fall in love with Alaska, and eventually stick around after graduation. While 80 percent of UA graduates already stay in-state upon completion of their programs, we support additional efforts to attract and retain out-of-state students.

What We’re Watching

Monday, February 26

  • 11:00 a.m. - Joint Session - Address by Mary Sattler Peltola, U.S. Representative
  • 1:30 p.m. - House Finance: House Bill 268: “Appropriations: Operating Budget; Capital; Supplemental; Amended”
  • 3:30 p.m. - House University of Alaska Finance Subcommittee: “Q&A: FY25 Operating Budget, Presentation: University of Alaska Fairbanks R1 Research Status”

Tuesday, February 27

  • 1:30 p.m. - House Finance: House Bill 268: “Appropriations: Operating Budget; Capital; Supplemental; Amended”

Wednesday, February 28

  • 1:30 p.m. - House Finance: House Bill 268: “Appropriations: Operating Budget; Capital; Supplemental; Amended”
  • 3:30 p.m. - House University of Alaska Finance Subcommittee: “Q&A: FY25 Operating Budget Closeout”

Thursday, February 29

  • 1:30 p.m. - House Finance: House Bill 268: “Appropriations: Operating Budget; Capital; Supplemental; Amended”

Friday, March 1

1:30 p.m. - House Finance: House Bill 268: “Appropriations: Operating Budget; Capital; Supplemental; Amended”

 


For more information, contact Director of State Relations for the University of Alaska System Chad Hutchison, cell 907-378-3946, email clhutchison@alaska.edu. You can also follow the University of Alaska Government Relations on our Twitter page.

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