Legislature(1995 - 1996)

03/02/1995 02:37 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 HHES - 03/02/95                                                               
 Number 1596                                                                   
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE said he was the sponsor of this bill.  He said that,           
 in a nutshell, the bill mandates kindergarten.  In previous                   
 legislation, the required schooling began at first grade.  The bill           
 was requested by a number of school districts.  The bill also                 
 expands a concept of middle school.  There are currently school               
 districts that operate under a middle school concept.  HB 172                 
 legitimizes some current practices, and allows others to look into            
 these options.                                                                
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE said that Duane Guiley, from the Department of                 
 Education (DOE) is present to answer questions about the bill.  He            
 said he did not intend to move the bill out of committee today,               
 because he was going to have to leave the HESS Committee in a few             
 minutes.  However, he would like to begin discussion of the bill.             
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said that Co-Chair Bunde said the bill                
 mandates kindergarten.  She was under the impression the bill made            
 kindergarten an option, and parents have the right to determine if            
 their child will attend kindergarten or not.                                  
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE said that the parents have the right to determine              
 attendance, but the district must offer kindergarten.                         
 Number 1668                                                                   
 LARRY WIGET, Legislative coordinator, Anchorage School District, is           
 in support of HB 172.  Research indicates that kindergarten is an             
 important part of public school education.  In fact, it appears               
 that earlier childhood education is most beneficial to future                 
 success.  In addition, 35 states have already mandated that                   
 kindergarten be offered.  All school districts in Alaska are                  
 already providing kindergarten education.  HB 172 recognizes the              
 importance of kindergarten as part of the instructional program,              
 and Mr. Wiget is certain that all school districts will continue to           
 offer kindergarten in the future.                                             
 MR. WIGET said that under current law, secondary schools are                  
 comprised of grades 7 through 12, or any appropriate combination of           
 grades in this range.  Junior high school might be comprised of any           
 combination of appropriate grades between seven and ten.  Enacting            
 this piece of legislation would add "middle school" to the                    
 definition of secondary school, and allow the sixth grade to be               
 considered part of junior high school or middle school.                       
 MR. WIGET continued that research has also indicated that those               
 schools are a positive experience, and the Anchorage School                   
 District is working toward the middle school level.  This will                
 allow the schools to work with districts to make middle schools               
 accommodating to grades beyond the normal high school definition.             
 Also, it will allow them to add middle schools.                               
 Number 1732                                                                   
 MR. WIGET said according to the 1990 state education indicators, 27           
 states currently mandate the minimum age of schooling as age six or           
 less.  In 43 states, including Alaska, children generally enter               
 school at age five.  The Anchorage School District supports                   
 changing the compulsory school age in Alaska from seven to six.               
 MR. WIGET said the last part of the bill he would like to address             
 is that the Anchorage School District does currently require that             
 a person who enrolls their child in a public school provide a copy            
 to the district of the child's birth certificate or other proof of            
 the child's identity if the child has not previously been enrolled            
 in a public school.                                                           
 MR. WIGET said the Anchorage School District supports this practice           
 Number 1761                                                                   
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE asked Mr. Wiget if he thought sixth graders were too           
 young to be included with seventh and eighth graders in a middle              
 school setting.                                                               
 MR. WIGET said there would probably be some argument on this topic.           
 He did an internship at an elementary school, and taught junior               
 high school and high school.  Through personal experience, he sees            
 sixth grade as almost an transition age.  He does not see that as             
 a problem.                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked why we need this statute.                          
 Number 1801                                                                   
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE explained that kindergarten is not mandatory at this           
 point.  Budgets are going down, districts are concerned that,                 
 rather than cutting out administration, or fat, or the basketball             
 team, that schools will cut out kindergarten to save money because            
 it is not mandatory.                                                          
 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked if the districts were not the "bosses"             
 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE said the school boards are in charge.                    
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE said that school boards are the "boss" and districts           
 are afraid there would be pressure to cut out the nonmandatory                
 program, rather than adjust the other mandatory programs.                     
 REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY asked if the decision would have to be made by           
 a school board that is duly elected.                                          
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE said if kindergarten is mandatory, the decision is             
 not the school board's to make.  However, Co-Chair Bunde is                   
 speaking about cuts to school programs would be made by elected               
 school board officials.  All districts currently have kindergarten,           
 but it is not mandated.                                                       
 DUANE GUILEY, Director of School Finance, DOE, said he would be               
 pleased to answer any questions.                                              
 Number 1871                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked if any of the past education boards             
 have looked at this issue and if mandating kindergarten is a                  
 recommendation from them.                                                     
 MR. GUILEY said the Governor has a made a very strong statement in            
 support of early childhood education.  The new commissioner of the            
 DOE, Dr. Shirley Holloway, is very supportive of early childhood              
 education.  However, neither has taken a specific position on this            
 piece of legislature.  The first school board meeting was yesterday           
 with the new board members.  They have not had an opportunity to              
 take a position on any legislation.  However, this is an issue they           
 will be looking at.                                                           
 MR. GUILEY said this bill does not make kindergarten mandatory, it            
 only makes it mandatory that a district offer kindergarten.  It               
 still appears to make kindergarten optional by lowering the                   
 compulsory school age to age six.  This would indicate it is not              
 mandatory that a parent enroll their child in kindergarten, but by            
 the time the child turns six, it is mandatory that a child be                 
 enrolled in a schooling program.                                              
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE acknowledged the presence of Representative Bettye             
 Number 1933                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BETTYE DAVIS said she wished that she could have               
 heard some previous comments.                                                 
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE said there was a comment from a school administrator           
 in Anchorage who did not feel that sixth graders in a middle school           
 would be a problem.                                                           
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS said she was glad the committee introduced            
 the bill to make kindergarten mandatory.  She believes that                   
 children at that age can learn.  That has been demonstrated.  There           
 are many schools in the Anchorage School District, and other parts            
 of the state that have full-day kindergarten.  Alaska is only                 
 fortunate enough to have a few schools that offer this.  This goes            
 over very well and there is a long waiting list.  This is not for             
 babysitting purposes, it is for learning.                                     
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS believes that people want to make it a                
 statute that children enter school at age five, because as we begin           
 to downsize the state dollars, if programs are not mandated they              
 will not be paid for.  For that reason, she is supportive of this             
 mandate also.  She has always been supportive of the fact that she            
 believes it should be mandatory.                                              
 Number 1970                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS said she sees many children enter school at           
 age six and experience disadvantages because they did not have an             
 opportunity to go to kindergarten.  Those children who have an                
 opportunity to go, even for just two and one-half hours every day,            
 learn many things that need to be learned.  First grade teachers do           
 not have time to teach children how to tie their shoes, where to              
 put their coats and how to stand in a line.  Many of these children           
 don't know how to write their names.  Some children are as old as             
 seven before they enter a school.  Those children are really at a             
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS supports the middle school or junior high             
 concept.  However, she does not support grades six, seven and eight           
 being in a junior high setting together.  She does not believe it             
 is appropriate for sixth graders to be in a school setting with               
 seventh and eighth graders.  Sixth graders are a unique group,                
 through psychological, physiological and sociological factors.                
 They need to be separate.                                                     
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS said there are those who believe kids age             
 seven and eight need to have an opportunity to explore and find               
 themselves, and not do much academically.  She does not ascribe to            
 this.  She does believe that sixth graders function better in a               
 kindergarten through sixth (K-6) grade setting.                               
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS does not believe this must be in statute.             
 She was looking for information concerning how many states                    
 currently mandate this.  The way she understands HB 172, it would             
 make grades six through twelve secondary.  In Anchorage, grades               
 nine through twelve are high school.  Grades seven and eight are              
 junior high, which is also secondary.  If sixth graders are                   
 included, they would no longer be under the K-6 concept.                      
 Number 2052                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS said there has already been a bad                     
 experience from putting grades seven through twelve in one complex.           
 This did not work, the schools were too large, and the seventh and            
 eighth graders did not get all the attention they needed.  From               
 this, they moved to junior high schools which contained only                  
 seventh and eighth graders.                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS hopes this bill is passed.  She has also              
 introduced a piece of legislation for mandatory kindergarten.  She            
 wanted to hear what other people, including HESS Committee members,           
 had to say about sixth graders going into high school.                        
 Number 2075                                                                   
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE said the way he reads page 2, section 4 of HB 172,             
 grades six through ten could be organized as a junior high or a               
 middle school.  He does not believe middle schools are classified             
 as secondary.                                                                 
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS said she would like someone to speak to               
 that, because the way she reads the bill, you may have any                    
 combination of sixth through tenth grades.  This means you can put            
 sixth graders in any of those combinations.  She does not see why             
 this cannot be done now.  She does not know if a statute is                   
 necessary to accomplish this.  She knows that most schools do not             
 put sixth graders in this setting.                                            
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS said she checked with the DOE that day, and           
 the DOE said they are already placing sixth graders in a middle               
 school setting in Alaska.  No statute is necessary.  If the statute           
 is there, more school districts will take it into consideration,              
 and begin to implement the statute.  She asked if the mandate was             
 to downsize the classes to provide more class space, or to enable             
 children to learn better.  She said that learning must be the                 
 focus, and not necessarily finding space.                                     
 Number 2126                                                                   
 MR. WIGET said he appreciates the testimony of Representative                 
 Bettye Davis, as she is a former school board member from                     
 Anchorage.  She has a broad base of experience in a variety of                
 issues dealing with the organization of schools and education.                
 MR. WIGET said the Anchorage School District's sense of the bill is           
 that currently, the district does not have junior high schools with           
 sixth grade included.  The intent of the bill is to allow the                 
 inclusion if it was the will of the board to make a sixth-through-            
 eighth grade middle school.                                                   
 TAPE 95-14, SIDE A                                                            
 Number 000                                                                    
 MR. WIGET said that Representative B. Davis stressed, as a member             
 of the Anchorage School Board, that this inclusion would not happen           
 in a district when she was a board member.  Mr. Wiget said that               
 decision would be up to the individual boards.                                
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS asked Mr. Wiget how many states have such             
 a concept as this.                                                            
 MR. WIGET does not have that information.                                     
 Number 042                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE asked what has been heard from other school              
 districts around the state, outside of Anchorage.                             
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE said he has only been in communication with                    
 Anchorage.  It is his understanding that there are other areas,               
 particularly the Mat-Su Valley, that have middle schools currently            
 in operation without statutes.                                                
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS asked to go on record saying that she                 
 supports the middle school concept, and she definitely supports               
 junior high, seventh and eighth grades.  She is certain that the              
 middle school concept is in place in several Anchorage school                 
 districts.  She likes the way the children are divided, and the               
 teachers like it too.  There is nothing to keep the school                    
 districts from including sixth grade in a middle school setting.              
 REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS is not saying she disapproves of the middle           
 school concept.  She would like to see it in statute, because she             
 thinks that more districts would implement the statute.  But she              
 does not think that sixth grade students should be placed in a high           
 school setting.  This is what the bill allows for.                            
 Number 149                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE G. DAVIS said he would have to leave the meeting               
 soon, so he wanted to comment.  Kindergartens are already in                  
 existence, and he does not see a reason to mandate them.  He is in            
 favor of early childhood education.  He did not go to kindergarten            
 and feels he missed out.  However, good quality education is                  
 provided even before kindergarten, in preschools.  As far as middle           
 schools, he thinks that a secondary certificate is necessary for              
 middle schools, seventh and eighth grades.                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE G. DAVIS said he does not see a problem with                   
 including sixth grade with junior high.                                       
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE reminded the HESS Committee members that the bill              
 was not going to be moved today.  He is going to discuss the issues           
 with other school districts, and see what their concerns are.  The            
 bill will be heard before the committee at a future date.                     
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE passed the gavel to Co-Chair Toohey.  She chaired              
 the remainder of the meeting.                                                 

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