Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/01/2003 03:02 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 171-REPEAL CHARTER SCHOOL GRANTS Number 2053 CHAIR WILSON announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 171, "An Act repealing the charter school grant program; and providing for an effective date." Number 2061 KEVIN SWEENEY, Special Assistant, Office of the Commissioner, Department of Education and Early Development, testified on HB 171 and responded to questions from the committee. Mr. Sweeney explained that this bill eliminates the state-funded grants for charter school startup. He explained that the Department of Education and Early Development has been working with the U.S. Department of Education to secure funds that will actually increase the level of startup grants provided by the federal government. He said the money that will be coming from the federal government exceeds the amount provided in the past by state and federal money combined. The new federal money that will be allocated to a new school, in the amount of $150,000 for the first three years and $45,000 for the fourth year, eliminates the need for the state's supplemental grant. Number 2105 CHAIR WILSON asked Mr. Sweeney if he is sure no funds will be lost to new charter schools if this bill is passed. MR. SWEENEY replied this is correct. He explained that what has happened in the past is that a new charter school was given a federal grant and then the state supplemented that grant for a total grant for startup purposes. For the charter schools that have come on board, the total amount of funding for a charter school has ranged anywhere from $164,000 to $478,000 for the state and federal combined funds. In comparison, charter schools coming on board in 2003 will get $450,000 for the first three years and $45,000 for the fourth year, for a total of $495,000, so, in fact, the funds would be increased to new charter schools. Number 2146 MR. SWEENEY asked the committee to note that this legislation does not take effect until next July. He said the delayed effective date in the bill is so the state can live up to its commitment to two charter schools that will be receiving funds from the department in their final year of funding. He also added the department believes that the delay will allow them the time to make certain the funding will come in and the state's application will be approved hopefully by June or July of this year. Mr. Sweeney said the state is saving money and the charter schools are getting more money than in the past. Number 2170 REPRESENTATIVE GATTO asked if any charter schools will be caught in the middle, for example, too late for state funding and too early for federal funding. MR. SWEENEY said no schools will be caught in the middle. Only two schools are currently owed one more year in funding under the old regulations whereby they will get their state and federal funding combined. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO asked the name of the two schools. MR. SWEENEY said the schools are Soldotna Montessori and Chinook Montessori. He commented that four new schools that are proposed to start are Frontier, Highland Technical, Horizon, and Tongass, and their grants will fall under the new level of funding. The department expects that there will be 17 new schools in the near future, based on what the department has heard from school districts. That is the number of schools the state has applied for under the new funding by the federal government and for which the department expects to hear approval by this July. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO commented that he had heard Horizon was trying to start up over a year ago. The school board told them they were a little premature; normally it takes a year, and now the year is over. He asked Mr. Sweeney if this means that Horizon will now have to wait another year. MR. SWEENEY responded that he is not certain, but thinks Horizon will be starting in 2003. He explained that the way the process works is that a charter school goes through the local school district, and then the application comes to the Department of Education and Early Development for approval. The local school district is where a lot of the investigation and review of the charter school's plan is done. By the time the application comes to the state, the local district has already approved it. He commented that Horizon may have had some challenges at the local district that he would be unaware of. Number 2228 REPRESENTATIVE GATTO responded that Mr. Sweeney had mentioned Horizon as one of the four schools that would be covered under the new federal money. MR. SWEENEY replied that is correct. He believes Horizon opens next fall; however, he is not sure when it opens, but he knows that Horizon is identified as one of the new schools. In fact, he believes Horizon was just approved at the last state board meeting, so it will get the new funding through the federal government. CHAIR WILSON asked in what school districts the charter schools are located. MR. SWEENEY responded that he does not know. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO asked Mr. Sweeney if the state can expect many more charter schools, to the point where charter schools would take a significant number of students from traditional public schools. MR. SWEENEY replied that in the past, federal grant funding for 15 charter schools was $2.5 million, and now the state is looking at getting $10.5 million for upcoming charter schools. It is something the U.S. Department of Education is pushing, and the state anticipates that there will be a lot of applications statewide. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO asked if he knows the failure rate of charter schools. MR. SWEENEY responded that he does not know. Number 2325 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON moved to report HB 171 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, HB 171 was reported from the House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee.