Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/02/1995 02:37 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HHES - 03/02/95 HB 172 - KINDERGARTEN AND MISCELLANEOUS EDUCATION 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 statewide. 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" anyway. 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 Davis. 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 disadvantage. 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.