Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/23/2003 01:36 PM House FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 165 "An Act relating to community schools; and providing for an effective date." Co-Chair Williams stated that public testimony on this bill had concluded at its previous hearing. He noted that the bill would repeal the Community Schools grant program, and observed that currently 80 percent of schools in the program received grants of roughly $5 thousand annually. He stated that the Administration viewed the grant program as having been intended only to provide support to initiate community schools programs, and that this goal had already been achieved. EDDY JEANS, MANAGER, SCHOOL FINANCE AND FACILITIES SECTION, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT provided clarification on the bill. He responded to questions raised in previous testimony about the spreadsheet prepared by the Department of Education and Early Development ("Community Schools Expenditures and Grants, Prepared 3/12/03", copy on file). Mr. Jeans noted that the spreadsheet had reflected expenditures for community services. He provided a departmental regulation definition of community services: activities provided by the school or district for the purpose of relating to the community as a whole, or some segment of the community, not directly related to providing education for students. He listed examples such as recreation, public libraries, civic activities, public radio programs, community welfare activities and childcare in residential day schools. He quoted the Community Schools statute, under purpose and intent: Community Schools promotes more efficient use of school facilities through the extension of buildings and equipment beyond the normal schools day. He explained that the Department aggregated expenditures for activities that occurred "outside the normal school day" in preparing the figures in the spreadsheet. He pointed out that there is a separate fund called "community schools", where districts deposit the grant and matching funds for the specific purpose of Community Schools programs. The spreadsheet had included expenditures for all community services and not just for community schools. Representative Croft asked if the total of $500 thousand reflected all community services or just community schools. Mr. Jeans confirmed that this amount represented the total grants provided to schools. He noted that the previous column (Community Schools FY02 Expenditures) reflected all community services, and not just functions of the grant program. Co-Chair Harris observed that the areas most affected by the legislation were rural areas. Mr. Jeans clarified that these areas reflected 100 percent funding of programs by the grant funds. He maintained that these schools were accounting for some of their operating costs elsewhere in their budgets. Co-Chair Harris noted that in rural communities, the schools were the center of community activity, whereas larger cities had other options for activities. He asked if any means existed to lessen the effect on rural communities of the resulting decrease in availability of facilities. Mr. Jeans speculated that the facilities would remain open. He submitted that a grant of $1,500 would not keep a school open for a significant period. He suggested that other resources were already being used to support activities. Co-Chair Harris asked that the fiscal note which reflects a savings of $500 thousand be zero since it was already zeroed out of the budget. Mr. Jeans stated that the Department had previously acknowledged that the program was zeroed out in the budget, but agreed to prepare a new fiscal note. Representative Hawker observed that the State recognizes and encourages the continuation of community schools programs. He pointed out, however, that by repealing sections of the statute it takes away the State's authority to fund the program in the future, even though the funding had already been taken out of the State's budget for FY 04. Mr. Jeans acknowledged concern that the bill would diminish districts' ability to continue their community schools programs. He maintained that districts would continue to offer community schools programs. He acknowledged that user fees might be slightly increased to accommodate grant cuts. Co-Chair Harris MOVED to report HB165 out of Committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. Representative Croft OBJECTED. Representative Hawker also OBJECTED. He acknowledged that the funding was already zeroed out, but stated that he would be more comfortable supporting communities who rely on this program by retaining the option to consider possible future funding. He would like to see the statute maintained. Representative Croft pointed out that there was no funding saved by passing the legislation, since the action of eliminating funding had already been taken in the operating budget. He took exception to the sponsor statement that the statute was intended merely to start the program and not to maintain it. He noted programs like the school lunch program, which would be damaged if funding diminished after the program had been established. He also gave examples of reading and tutorial programs in Anchorage and maintained that the small amount of [community schools] funding was doing a great deal of good. He noted that the statute reflected support of the program, and that it was appropriate for the legislature to provide a small amount of financial incentive for these valuable programs. TAPE HFC 03 - 61, Side B Representative Whitaker questioned the purpose of passing the legislation, since funding had already been cut. He maintained that the action would serve no purpose. Co-Chair Williams concurred with the Administration that to repeal the legislation was a housekeeping measure. He suggested that future legislatures could enact other legislation if the ability and need to fund the programs arose. Vice-Chair Meyer asked for further explanation of the Administration's support of the bill. Mr. Jeans relayed the funding history of the bill, and the statutory entitlement of the program. He noted full funding- of the program would entail $3.2 million. He stated that the program had been funded at under $800 thousand since 1988. He observed that the intent of the statute was to implement programs that would later become self-sufficient. He submitted that the Administration ceased to provide operational funding to the program in the mid 1980's. Funding levels had been prorated down to a level as low as $1,500. He suggested that unless the legislature was willing to fund the program, the Administration felt it was time to take the statute off the books. A roll call vote was taken on the motion. IN FAVOR: Meyer, Moses, Whitaker, Chenault, Foster, Williams, Harris OPPOSED: Stoltze, Croft, Hawker The MOTION PASSED 7-3. CSHB 165 (HES) was REPORTED out of Committee with "no recommendation" and a new zero fiscal note from the Department of Education and Early Development.