Legislature(2009 - 2010)

04/16/2009 05:11 PM FIN

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 57(FIN)                                                                                                
     "An Act relating to charter and alternative school                                                                         
6:36:20 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR JOE THOMAS, SPONSOR, read  from the Sponsor Statement                                                                   
(Copy on File).  He explained that the legislation  was about                                                                   
supporting school choice by extinguishing  the charter school                                                                   
penalty. He shared  that charter schools are  public schools,                                                                   
open to  all children  free of  charge. Charter Schools  must                                                                   
comply with state  laws and employ state  certified teachers,                                                                   
who  are  employees  of  their  local  school  district.  The                                                                   
schools are managed by a parent-  teacher board of directors,                                                                   
which  determine  school  curriculum  and  teaching  methods,                                                                   
within the guidelines  of state statute. Current  law results                                                                   
in carter schools  with fewer than 150 students  receiving 30                                                                   
to 45  percent less state  funding than neighborhood  schools                                                                   
of  comparable  size. He  referred  to the  chart,  "Adjusted                                                                   
Student Count  for Charter Schools vs.  Neighborhood Schools"                                                                   
(copy on file). He stated that  the legislation would provide                                                                   
charter  schools, with  fewer  than 150  students, a  student                                                                   
count adjustment  equal to that of neighborhood  schools with                                                                   
400  students.  The  bill  would  also  address  the  problem                                                                   
created  for school  districts when  charter and  alternative                                                                   
schools unexpectedly  enroll fewer students than  is required                                                                   
by the  state to  fund them as  separate schools.  Presently,                                                                   
the number  of students a  charter school must  have enrolled                                                                   
in order  to be  funded as  a school  is 150, an  alternative                                                                   
school must  have 200.  When these  schools fall one  student                                                                   
below the  threshold, the state  cuts funding by  $500,000 to                                                                   
$700,000. This is  detrimental not only to the  school but to                                                                   
the district as well. CS for SB  57 contains a one year "hold                                                                   
harmless" provision for schools  that unexpectedly fall below                                                                   
the  threshold in  their  first year  of  operation, or  were                                                                   
above the  threshold the previous  year and then  fell below.                                                                   
For one year the schools would  receive 95 percent of the per                                                                   
student rate that they would have  received at the threshold.                                                                   
During the "hold harmless" year  the school would be required                                                                   
to submit  a budget  to their local  school board  laying out                                                                   
the plan for the following year  if their enrollment does not                                                                   
rise. Finally,  the CS lowers the separate  schools threshold                                                                   
for alternative schools  from 200 to 175 students.  He shared                                                                   
that Alaska  has a  serious problem  with school  achievement                                                                   
and high school graduation, and  that what works well for one                                                                   
student may not  work best for all students.  Charter schools                                                                   
and  alternative  schools  offer parents  choice  within  the                                                                   
public school  system. The legislation has been  shown strong                                                                   
support  by   school  districts  throughout  the   state.  He                                                                   
expressed concern that the school  funding system has limited                                                                   
communities   in  their   ability  to   create  and   sustain                                                                   
innovative  programs  and  urged committee  support  for  the                                                                   
6:40:35 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative Gara wondered if  the legislation would affect                                                                   
the funding  of traditional schools. Senator  Thomas answered                                                                   
EDDY  JEANS,   DIRECTOR,  SCHOOL  FINANCES   AND  FACILITIES,                                                                   
DEPARTMENT  OF EDUCATION  AND  EARLY DEVELOPMENT,  introduced                                                                   
Representative   Gara  reiterated   his  concerns   that  the                                                                   
legislation could  negatively impact funding  for traditional                                                                   
K-12 schools.  Mr. Jeans  replied that,  provided the  fiscal                                                                   
note was  passed along  with the bill,  the funding  of other                                                                   
schools in the state would not be affected.                                                                                     
SENATOR CHARLIE HUGGINS, WASILLA,  shared that he assisted in                                                                   
opening  the   first  two  charter  schools   in  Mat-Su.  He                                                                   
discussed  the  commonalities  between  charter  schools  and                                                                   
alternative schools,  which at one time had  the same minimum                                                                   
student count. He explained that  when a charter school drops                                                                   
from 150  to 149; alternative  school 200 to 199,  the school                                                                   
incurs a  loss of $500,000 to  $700,000. Both are  schools of                                                                   
choice.  The difference  between the two  programs is  stark.                                                                   
Charter schools  traditionally have a strong  support system,                                                                   
alternative  schools do  not. For  many, alternative  schools                                                                   
are usually the  last stop before dropping out  of school. He                                                                   
stated   that  charter   and   alternative  school   programs                                                                   
throughout the state face multiple challenges.                                                                                  
6:45:23 PM                                                                                                                    
Senator  Huggins  described  agreement   worked  out  between                                                                   
proponents of  alternative schools and proponents  of charter                                                                   
schools. He stated  that he thought the measure  was rational                                                                   
and urged the committee to support the legislation.                                                                             
Vice-Chair Thomas asked how many  charter schools were in the                                                                   
Haines district. Mr. Jeans replied that there were none.                                                                        
Vice-Chair  Thomas  wondered  if passing  the  measure  would                                                                   
encourage  all  schools  to  expect  more  money.  Mr.  Jeans                                                                   
replied that  he could  not make  the assurance that  schools                                                                   
would  not  ask  for increased  funding  in  the  future.  He                                                                   
believed  that  the  legislation  addresses  the  problem  by                                                                   
allowing schools that  are on the verge of  losing funding to                                                                   
transition  to a new  funding level  should their  enrollment                                                                   
decrease, instead of being forced to shut down.                                                                                 
6:49:28 PM                                                                                                                    
Senator Huggins  noted that the  number of students  required                                                                   
for adequate funding in neighborhood  schools is dramatically                                                                   
different than charter or alternative   schools.                                                                                
Vice-Chair   Thomas  reiterated   concerns  about   increased                                                                   
expectations for funding from traditional schools.                                                                              
Senator  Thomas  referred  to the  chart,  "Adjusted  Student                                                                   
Count for Charter  Schools vs. Neighborhood  Schools"(copy on                                                                   
file).  He shared  that  the  traditional schools  have  less                                                                   
participation in enrollment.                                                                                                    
Representative  Gara  wondered  what the  student  count  for                                                                   
traditional school funding was  based on. Mr. Jeans explained                                                                   
the Rule of 10. He said that traditional  schools do not lose                                                                   
funding  at 10  students, but  the  funding is  substantially                                                                   
reduced. He pointed out that that  policy was put in place by                                                                   
the legislature  in 1998, to  encourage small schools  in the                                                                   
state to close. Representative  Gara stated that he supported                                                                   
the legislation.                                                                                                                
6:51:57 PM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair Hawker opened public testimony.                                                                                        
6:52:09 PM                                                                                                                    
TODD  HINDMAN, TEACHER,  ANVIL  CITY SCIENCE  ACADEMY,  NOME,                                                                   
testified  via  teleconference,  related that  small  charter                                                                   
schools are  vital in order  to provide specific  educational                                                                   
needs in both  rural and urban communities in  the state. The                                                                   
small  size of  charter  schools  allows for  flexibility  to                                                                   
provide  unique   educational  opportunities   for  students.                                                                   
Teachers are able  to develop and implement  lessons in which                                                                   
students  can  use the  community  and their  environment  as                                                                   
educational  resources. He  furthered that  the small  school                                                                   
size  creates  a  culture  around   family  values,  ensuring                                                                   
student  success  through  daily engagement  of  parents.  He                                                                   
concluded that  charter schools  are identifying  and meeting                                                                   
specific needs within Alaskan communities.                                                                                      
6:53:56 PM                                                                                                                    
RAY DEPRIEST, DIRECTOR OF CARREER  TECHNICAL EDUCATION, MATSU                                                                   
SCHOOL DISTRICT, testified via  teleconference, in support of                                                                   
the bill. He  stated that there are four charter  schools and                                                                   
three alternative  schools within the district,  which enroll                                                                   
1500 students.  He believed that  the bill would  correct the                                                                   
funding  problem  in  an impartial  and  fiscally  dependable                                                                   
manner.  He relayed  that in  2008, the  district suffered  a                                                                   
loss  of  $780,000,  when  the   enrollment  numbers  of  one                                                                   
alternative school in the district  unexpectedly dropped from                                                                   
200  to  194.  He  spoke  in  strong  support  of  the  "hold                                                                   
harmless" provision contained in the legislation.                                                                               
KIKI   ABRAHAMSON,    PRESIDENT,   ALASKA    CHARTER   SCHOOL                                                                   
ASSOCIATION testified via teleconference,  She spoke in favor                                                                   
of  the  legislation.   She  pointed  out   that  innovation;                                                                   
alternatives   and   accountability   were   necessities   in                                                                   
education,  to  meet the  changing  needs of  the  workforce,                                                                   
financial  situations, and  communities.  She strongly  urged                                                                   
committee support for the bill.                                                                                                 
6:58:05 PM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair Hawker closed public testimony.                                                                                        
6:58:15 PM                                                                                                                    
Mr. Jeans detailed  the fiscal notes. The second  page of the                                                                   
fiscal  notes highlights  the impact of  the funding  changes                                                                   
for  carter school  with less  than 150  students. The  third                                                                   
page illustrates the impact of  the "hold harmless" provision                                                                   
on the Mid-Valley Alternative High School in Mat-Su.                                                                            
6:58:43 PM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair  Stoltze clarified  for the  committee that  charter                                                                   
schools are public schools.                                                                                                     
6:59:20 PM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair  Stoltze  MOVED  to  report  CSSB 57  (FIN)  out  of                                                                   
Committee   with    individual   recommendations    and   the                                                                   
accompanying fiscal  note.  There being NO  OBJECTION, it was                                                                   
so ordered.                                                                                                                     
CSSB 57 (FIN) was REPORTED out  of Committee with a "do pass"                                                                   
recommendation and  with fiscal note #2 by  the Department of                                                                   
Education and Early Development.                                                                                                
7:01:00 PM                                                                                                                    

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