Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/25/2004 03:04 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 338-ENTRY INTO SCHOOL Number 0745 CHAIR WILSON announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 338, "An Act relating to attendance at public school; and providing for an effective date." [While no motion was made, Chair Wilson announced that version S, 23-LS1258\S, Mischell, 3/4/04, was before the committee as the working document.] CHAIR WILSON told the members it is her intention to take testimony today, but not move the bill from committee. Number 0786 RYAN MAKINSTER, Staff to Representative Lesil McGuire, Alaska State Legislature, testified on behalf of Representative McGuire, sponsor of HB 338 and answered questions from the committee. He told the committee that this bill accomplishes two small but necessary things. First, it moves the date for entry into kindergarten from August 15 to September 1. This change would bring the entry date in line with most other states. Mr. Makinster shared that there are approximately 35 states that have September 1 or later as the entry date for kindergarten. It is important for Alaska because there are a lot of people moving into the state, particularly military families. MR. MAKINSTER said a second benefit of this bill is that it allows school boards to name an administrator to oversee this process and to the review the applications for early entry into kindergarten. Currently the statute provides that the school board must review every single early entry request. This would make the process much more efficient, he added. Number 0886 REPRESENTATIVE WOLF asked how many other states allow early entry into kindergarten. MR. MAKINSTER replied that there are currently 35 states which allow early entry into kindergarten. If this bill passes, Alaska would be the 36th state. He explained that there are two or three states which have August 15 or before as the cutoff for entry into kindergarten and the rest of the states are later than August 15. He commented that one state leaves the decision entirely up to the parents. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF questioned what dates other states use beyond August 15th. MR. MAKINSTER replied that there are 15 states that have entry dates after September 1. The latest is California which has a December 2 early entry date. The states before September 1 include Alaska which has August 15, Delaware which has August 31, Indiana which has July 1, and other states that do not delegate a specific date, he said. Five states have dates before Alaska, ten are optional, and the rest after September 1st, he summarized. Number 0983 REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL asked what time of the year most schools start in Alaska. MR. MAKINSTER responded that most schools start [classes] after September 1; however, the [actual] school year starts on July 1. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL commented that it has been his experience that most of the schools start the third week in August which would make the August 15 date more appropriate than the September 1 date. He said he would like to know how the districts determined the third week in August as an appropriate time to start school. MR. MAKINSTER replied that he has not looked at the start date. Changing the start date will not change the mix of students very much, he added. In a school district the size of Anchorage it is estimated that this change will mean less than one-half student per class. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL asked if there is a problem that would merit the change of the current date. MR. MAKINSTER said that he does not have a specific incident to site, but that there is research in the members' packet which reflects that starting students at an earlier age can be beneficial. He added that the benefits may not be evident in the first couple of years, but in the long run studies have shown that by starting students at an earlier age the student may progress at a faster rate of growth in the educational system and end up being more involved with school at the high school level. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL commented that he does not see how a two- week difference is worth arguing over. Number 1093 REPRESENTATIVE WOLF said he believes there are a lot of Head Start programs in Alaska which would address early education. MR. MAKINSTER replied that he has not looked into Head Start programs. He emphasized that this bill would just align Alaska's kindergarten starting date with that of the lower 48 states. Number 1123 REPRESENTATIVE WOLF commented that the Head Start program starts kids at the age of three and goes through five years of age. He said he does not believe children are being harmed by the current start date. MR. MAKINSTER agreed with Representative Wolf, but pointed out that not every school district has a Head Start program. Number 1155 REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER said she would like to comment on Representative Coghill's earlier question about why school districts start school in August. She explained that the Lower Kuskokwim School District opts to start earlier in August so they can get off earlier in May for spring hunting or get off earlier for Russian Orthodox Christmas. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL commented Representative Kapsner makes a good point. Number 1195 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked how many students have birthdays which fall between August 15 and September 1. He said he would also like to know the number of students who have applied for early entrance into kindergarten. MR. MAKINSTER replied that he checked with the Anchorage School District and still does not have an exact count, but it is estimated that there would be less than one-half student per class added to the system. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked if that is per kindergarten classroom. MR. MAKINSTER responded that is correct. Number 1245 CHAIR WILSON asked if the Department of Education and Early Development has any opposition to this bill. Number 1256 MR. MAKINSTER responded that the department actually has a letter of support from the Anchorage School District on this bill. CHAIR WILSON announced that the HB 338 will be held in committee.