Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/04/2004 02:38 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 239-LENGTH OF SCHOOL TERM Number 0063 CHAIR WILSON announced that the first order of business would be SENATE BILL NO. 239, "An Act relating to the required number of days in a school year." Number 0109 SENATOR FRED DYSON, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor of SB 239, presented the bill to the committee and answered questions from the members. He explained that he filed SB 239 at the request of the [Anchorage] School District. This bill will allow some flexibility in the number of days a school is in session. Senator Dyson said that there has been a very successful charter school which held classes four days per week. The students were doing very well, the teachers and parents loved it, and the school district had approved this plan. After the plan's approval it was found that under state law school attendance is required for 180 days so the district was not permitted to allow it to go forward, he explained. The original bill was amended on the floor from 150 days of attendance to equivalent hours, Senator Dyson told the committee. Number 0230 CHAIR WILSON announced that the committee is looking at CSSB 239(HES)am, 23-LS1269\D.A. SENATOR DYSON clarified that this version of the bill provides that students can attend school less than 180 days. However, students in kindergarten through third grade must have at least 740 hours of instruction and study periods, and students attending grades fourth through twelfth grades must have 900 hours of instruction and study periods. He added that any school that wishes to use this option must first obtain approval from its superintendent, school board, and then present it to the commissioner of education. Senator Dyson shared that several of the boarding schools are very interested in this option since it would allow the students to go home more often. He pointed out that there is a retroactive portion of the bill [page 2, lines 17 and 18] which addresses the problem the school that was approved by the Anchorage School District is experiencing because it was found that the plan was not currently legal under Alaska statute. He told the committee the students are now attending classes six days per week to make up for the lost time. If this bill passes with the retroactive effective day, then the school can cut back to a normal class schedule, he said. He added that the Legislative Legal and Research Services has confirmed that this retroactive clause is fine. Number 0375 CHAIR WILSON shared that she has to cousins who are teachers in Colorado where this type of schedule has been implemented as a cost savings effort. There is a savings in utility costs, she said. Chair Wilson added that the teachers love the schedule. Some parents may not like it because it may require parents to hire a babysitter while they work. SENATOR DYSON agreed that there are savings. The districts that his office has communicated with who have implemented similar plans have saved money on transportation costs, janitorial and cooking costs. He stated that as long as the students are learning what is necessary, he believes the state should allow the schools some flexibility. Number 0445 CHAIR WILSON announced for the record that Representative Cissna has joined the meeting. Number 0456 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON commented that the way he calculates a seven-hour day, the school year could be down to 130 days of schools for secondary schools, and 105 or 106 for primary schools. He asked if it is Senator Dyson intention to see that kind of reduction in attendance days. SENATOR DYSON replied that no schools that he knows of have the intention of having classes for seven hours. Once the time for recesses, lunchtime, and movement between classes is removed from the class day, the number of class hours would be far less hours than [seven hours], he added. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON pointed out that the school could go to a longer day and still only have classes 106 days per year. CHAIR WILSON reminded the members that any change in the class schedule must be approved by the superintendent, the school board, [and the commissioner of education]. She pointed out that kids can only tolerate a limited number of hours in the classroom. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked what is the current number of hours students attend classes. CHAIR WILSON replied six hours. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked for clarification on the current school year. Number 0567 REPRESENTATIVE GATTO responded that currently there are 180 days, and 170 of those days are contact days. The other 10 days are for teacher in-services, he added. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON acknowledge that there are 170 contact days per school year currently under law. This legislation would allowed for longer hours. He surmised that by increasing the classroom time by one hour per day students would attend school 106 days for elementary school and 130 days for secondary school. He asked if this is what the sponsor wished to accomplish with this bill, since he notes that the original bill only wanted the school term to be reduced to 150 days. Number 0622 SENATOR DYSON pointed to page 2, line 8, and emphasized that everything that takes place at school that is not instruction or study periods would not be included in the hour count. Number 0644 REPRESENTATIVE GATTO referred to page 2, line 8, where it says "at least" 740 hours instruction, and on page 2, line 9, says "at least" 900 hours of instruction. He said that on page 2, line 13 [and 14], there is further clarification where it says "students will receive the approximate education equivalent of a 180-day term." Representative Gatto commented that he does not see where the bill diminishes any contact time, but simply allows the flexibility to rearrange the contact time. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked Senator Dyson if students currently receive 740 hours in 170 contact days. SENATOR DYSON replied that he would not say that, but suggested that is probably a good equivalent. He agreed with Representative Gatto's comments. These hours are minimums and were inserted into the bill to ensure members of the other body were comfortable with the reduction in required school days. Chair Wilson is correct in her statement that the superintendent, school board, [and commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development] would have to approve the change in school year, he added. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked if representatives from the Department of Education and Early Development would speak to his question on the current assumption that 740 hours of contact time is provided in a 170-day school term. Number 0773 REPRESENTATIVE WOLF referred to page 2, line 8, where it refers to 740 hours of instruction. He commented that at six hours per day, that is 123 days. Number 0817 KEVIN SWEENEY, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner, Department of Education and Early Development, testified on SB 239 and answered questions from the members. He explained that in statute a day in session is described as at least four hours of instruction for primary grades, and at least five hours for grades four through twelve. This time excludes intermission. What was done is that 180 days was [multiplied] by four hours for the 740 hours for the primary grades and multiplied by five hours for the 900 hours required for grades four through twelve, he explained. MR. SWEENEY told the members that he just spoke to the commissioner on this bill, and explained that the department had worked with Senator Dyson to insert the 140-day requirement. However, the bill was then changed on the floor of the senate from days to hours. Mr. Sweeney emphasized that the commissioner is comfortable with this change. The commissioner will have a litmus test to ensure that the quality of the time provides the equivalent of 180 days of education, he said. It is assumed that the school board will be doing the same thing, he added. Mr. Sweeney reiterated that the commissioner supports the bill. Number 0907 CHAIR WILSON said she is also comfortable with the bill. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO pointed out that there is another important benefit for some boarding schools. For example, Nenana School District could possibly offer an education to additional children by condensing the number of days the existing student enrollment attends school. There are fixed expenses for running the school, but if the school had more children enrolled the school would receive more income as a result of the boarding school. Representative Gatto said there is a real advantage in having the opportunity to offer an education to more students at an existing site, rather than having a limited enrollment that cannot be changed. Number 0988 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked Representative Gatto if he means that by reducing the number of days in a term the school could run two sets of students through the same site. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO said that's correct. For example, one group of student could go to school from September to February and a second set could go from February to August. It would make it possible to have two entire classes go through the same site per year. CHAIR WILSON acknowledge that some states do just that. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO moved to report CSSB 239(HES)am, 23- LS1269\D.A, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSSB 239(HES)am was reported out of the House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee.