Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/17/2004 11:03 AM EDU
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 338-ENTRY INTO SCHOOL Number 2175 CHAIR GATTO announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 338, "An Act relating to attendance at public school; and providing for an effective date." REPRESENTATIVE LESIL McGUIRE, Alaska State Legislature, testified as the sponsor of HB 338. She told the members that HB 338 is a simple bill which is being introduced to help address a problem a constituent brought to her attention and the Department of Education and Early Development with a minor technical change. The bill does two things, she said. Currently state law stipulates that a child under school age may be admitted only by a vote of the entire school board. This law makes the process of admitting an under age child cumbersome. She explained that this bill would not change anything in the statutes of standards by which admittance into school is permitted. The law would still require that a child can demonstrate "minimum standards prescribed by the board evidencing that the child has the mental, physical, and emotional capacity...", she added. This bill would provide that the chief school administrator can make that decision, thereby relieving the administrative burden. Number 2267 REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE explained that the next change the bill would implement is the date by which children may enter kindergarten. This bill provides that children who reach the age of five years old before September 1st may be enrolled in kindergarten. Currently the law provides an August 15 cutoff date. Representative McGuire commented that what this change does is provide for Alaska to keep pace with changes occurring in the rest of the United States. There are 19 other states that use September 1st as the cutoff date. Part of the reason for this change is that there are a lot of military families who have come into Alaska and the different cutoff date is confusing for them. Representative McGuire pointed out that the fiscal note is indeterminant because it is impossible for the Department of Education and Early Development to predict [the change in the number of] students. There may be a little bit of a fiscal note, she added. Number 2354 REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE asked the members to consider whether or not Alaska should join eight other states in having the compulsory age be five years old. She suggested it is something to think about, but does not want it to be an issue that would hold up the bill's [movement from committee]. She said she thought this would be particularly helpful to lower income families [who have day care issues]. REPRESENTATIVE MCGUIRE shared a personal experience where her brother, who is a traumatic brain injury survivor, has two children with someone with whom he is not married. These are two beautiful children, she stated. One of the children, Zoë, turned five years of age, and the mentality in some low-income families, is that it is not important to take your children to school until it is required by state law. They live in Russian Jack and her brother spent a lot time driving [his daughter] across town to get her to school when he could. However, the child's mother did not feel compelled [to get her to school]. Now she is six years old and in school every day. There are checks and balances once school attendance becomes compulsory, she said. A child growing up in a middle to upper class family [is in an environment where] the impetus is to be educated. There is a pressure that is built in. These are the people who want the start date to be pushed forward so that when their child turns five [years of age] on August 17, they can start school and get going, so there is no need to be concerned for those kids, she said. Representative McGuire pondered whether it might be helpful to create more of an impetus for other families that might not have that built in emphasis. Number 2477 REPRESENTATIVE GATTO responded that he has some concerns about [requiring] a five-year old [to attend school]. He said that his comments may be viewed as a sexist, but he does not believe boys should start school earlier than six [years old]. He told the members that there are good reasons for that opinion because the biological rate of maturity [for boys is different than girls]. It may be okay for girls, and there may be individual differences. Chair Gatto stated that he has a problem with the word "compulsory." To provide that it be an elective option would be tolerable, he said. He told the committee he would like to look at the states that have compulsory attendance at five years of age and see what the end result is. Number 2535 REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE asked the members to look at Patricia McRae's letter. She is the Executive Director of Elementary Education and supports the idea of changing the entry date of children starting kindergarten to September 1st. Representative McGuire summarized her comments by saying that there has not been any opposition to this bill. Number 2575 CHAIR GATTO asked if superintendents are considered a subsection under school administrators. REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE responded that it is her understanding that the language is interchangeable. CHAIR GATTO commented that there is a letter of support for HB 338 from Robert Doyle, the Chief School Administrator from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District. CHAIR GATTO asked for [definitive] clarification on the language [related to superintendents and school administrators]. Number 2617 HEATH HILYARD, Staff to Representative Lesil McGuire, Alaska State Legislature, answered questions from the members on HB 338. Mr. Hilyard responded that Legislative Legal and Research Services drafted the language and it is his understanding that this is the existing statutory language. He emphasized that the sponsor did not ask for any specific change in the language. Number 2629 REPRESENTATIVE OGG said for the record that it is important to note that there is a spectrum of [cutoff] dates. Alaska has an August 15th date, while some schools in other states have its [cutoff] at October 16th. Other than conformity to other states' cutoff dates, he asked if there is a specific reason for selecting September 1st. REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE replied that the main reason for selecting September 1st is to comply with the mid-range of states. A few states do have October 16th as the cutoff date, she commented, but not that many [states]. Representative McGuire told members that she believes the September 1st date as the least controversial and most predominant date [used by states]. However, she said, she would be amenable to an amendment to change the date. She emphasized that her primary purpose in introducing this bill is to get kids into school as soon as possible. REPRESENTATIVE OGG commented that he has no problem with the date. He agreed with Representative McGuire that the earlier that children get into school the better. Number 2697 REPRESENTATIVE WILSON shared that her daughter's birthday is September 30th and the state that she lived in [at the time of her entry into kindergarten] required children to be five years old by September 30th, so she just made it in. There was the consideration that if her daughter was in school there would not be the expense of day care. To this day, she said, she wishes that she had held her out another year because she was the very youngest person in her class. Representative Wilson said her daughter experienced problems along the way and she believes that if she had been held out another year [those problems might have been avoided]. Number 2759 REPRESENTATIVE WILSON summarized that while she understands Representative McGuire's purpose in sponsoring the bill, she has mixed feelings about it because of those experiences. She stated that she will not vote against the bill. CHAIR GATTO pointed out that the language does say, "may" [rather than shall]. REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE told the committee that she appreciates Representative Wilson's comments. She reiterated Chair Gatto's point that the language in the bill is clearly a "may" [option], not a "shall" [requirement]. Number 2806 REPRESENTATIVE WOLF agreed that the language which keeps the age of entrance into school as an option [not a requirement] is good. He shared that both of his children were kept out of school until the age of six because he and his wife felt it was most appropriate for their children. He said that while he will not vote against the bill, he will be giving no recommendation [on the bill]. REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE commented that there are some states that do not have a compulsory start date until the age of eight years old. There is an interesting balance between the two [requirements], she added. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF said that this choice should be a personal one. He shared that he has a special needs child that is now 23 years old, who started school at the age of three. Representative Wolf told the committee that he also has two small children who went through Head Start. One daughter is an "A" student who is reading at 4th grade level while in 2nd grade. He reiterated that both of the younger children did not start school until six years of age. Number 2897 REPRESENTATIVE GARA asked what is the compulsory start [age] for first grade. Number 2933 REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE replied that she believes [the compulsory start age] is six years of age. MR. HILYARD confirmed that the members are looking at version H of the bill. REPRESENTATIVE GARA responded that he is looking at version D. MR. HILYARD pointed to version H that makes a change for a compulsory date for [entrance] to first grade, which now says August 15th for the year the child turns six [years old], but will change to September 1st. [While no motion was made to adopt version H, it was treated as the working document.] TAPE 04-10, SIDE B Number 2955 REPRESENTATIVE GARA followed up on a comment made by Representative Ogg that the date chosen should be the "ideal date." He said that perhaps September 1st is the ideal date, or maybe it should be October 16th, which would allow for as many [children] as possible to enter school early. He asked what Representative McGuire's views are on putting the date back to October 16th. It would still be an option for people to wait an extra year if they chose to. REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE responded that she looked at materials from National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and something from Dr. Deborah Stipek from Stanford University. She said she does not have any problem changing the date to October 16th because there is still a "may" option in the bill. She said that Representative Wilson's comment about the high cost of child care being an issue, leads her to consider that moving the date back might benefit financially strapped families. REPRESENTATIVE GARA told the members that he would not offer an amendment, but asked Representative McGuire to think about this question as the bill goes through the process. Representative Gara said that the earlier admission date is attractive to him because the funds are not available to fully fund Head Start, and maybe this bill would help a months worth of kids get into school when it may not be otherwise possible. Number 2815 CHAIR GATTO pointed out that a great reference on this issue would be school nurses who have screened kids over and over again. Often times a parent will believe that their child is gifted and should be entered into school at the age of 4; however, once the nurse has screened the child, it will be found that the child really does not qualify for early entrance into school. Number 2777 REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE told the members, in follow-up to Representative Gara's comment, that she will contact a couple of kindergarten teachers in her district to get their views on the issue. Number 2757 REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER posed a hypothetical example where the cutoff date is October 16th, and a child's birthday is on [October] 14th. If that child is in a low-income family which qualifies for a federal subsidy for day care, if the family decides not to place the child in kindergarten would this change [in law] disqualify the family from getting the federal subsidy [for day care assistance], she asked. REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE responded that she does not know. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON told the member that at this time [the federal government] does not look at that issue [with respect to federally subsidized day care]. She commented that the idea of pushing the date back too far should be viewed with caution because the reality is that teachers have more students in their classrooms than in the past. The more immature the children in the classroom are, the more difficult for the other children to learn, and the teachers' to teach, she said. CHAIR GATTO commented that it would be especially difficult if a child who qualifies is not yet potty trained. Number 2627 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON noted that the letter [dated January 21, 2004, from Robert Doyle, Chief School Administrator, Matanuska- Susitna Borough School District] points out that the September 1st school cutoff date is more closely aligned with the beginning of the school year. REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE replied that's correct. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON told the members that he is concerned with two portions of the bill. On page 1, lines 4 and 5 A child who is six year of age on or before September 1 [AUGUST 15] following the beginning of the school year, ... On page 2, line 3 [A] child who is five year of age on or before September 1 [AUGUST 15] following the beginning of the school year... REPRESENTATIVE SEATON noted that [the language could be a problem because] some districts may start school before September 1st. Representative Seaton said he is not sure of the effect of these definitional [changes]. REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE commented that Representative Seaton points out a need for an amendment. She said that when drafting the bill, the language was just fitted into existing statute. She suggested striking the words "following the beginning of a school year" [on page 1, line 5 and again on page 2, lines 4 and 5.] She said that she believes the existing language in the bill could cause confusion. The Anchorage School District is moving toward starting school after Labor Day, but if rural parts of Alaska are starting sooner, that could serve as a source of confusion. Number 2518 CHAIR GATTO agreed with Representative McGuire's point. For example, a parent could enroll a child in Bethel prior to September 1st for the sole purpose of defeating the intent of the legislation. Then later move to Anchorage on September 2nd as a transfer and then say the child is already enrolled. MR. HILYARD pointed out that is precisely one of the situations that the bill would remedy. There are cases where people enroll their children in other states, for a week or less for the sole purpose of circumventing the law, he said. The new date is more of a national standard so individuals do not feel the need to do that, he added. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked if the department sees a problem with an amendment which would strike the phrases "following the beginning of the school year". Number 2469 KEVIN SWEENEY, Legislative Liaison, Office of the Commissioner, Department of Education and Early Development, answered questions from the members on HB 338. In response to Representative Seaton's question he replied that he would look into it and get back to the committee. Number 2460 REPRESENTATIVE WILSON commented that she is shocked that there are parents who have enough money to go to another state, enroll their child [in school], and then come back to Alaska, just so the child could go to school that year. Number 2440 REPRESENTATIVE McGUIRE responded that what is really being referred to is military families who are already living in the lower 48 states and are preparing to move to Alaska. She commented that it is possible that a family could be visiting grandparents somewhere and enroll the child out of state. MR. SWEENEY spoke to the discussed amendment [where the language "following the beginning of the school year" would be deleted]. He told the members that the language would not have any impact because the beginning of the school year officially, according to statute, begins July 1st. The change in language would not be a problem, he reiterated. CHAIR GATTO noted for the record that the fiscal note is in determinant at this time. Number 2384 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON moved to report CSHB 338, 23-LS1258\H, Mischel, 1/21/04, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHB 338(EDU) was reported out of the House Special Committee on Education.