Legislature(1999 - 2000)

04/26/1999 01:25 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
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HJR 6 - CONST. AM:  EDUCATION FUNDING                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN KOTT announced the next order of business is HJR 6,                                                                    
Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska                                                                 
relating to state aid for education.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Number 0828                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE VIC KOHRING, Alaska State Legislature, came before                                                               
the committee as sponsor of the resolution.  He stated,                                                                         
historically, HB 5 was before this committee which would have                                                                   
established the framework for an education voucher system.  The                                                                 
committee felt that the framework would not have met a                                                                          
constitutional muster, and HJR 6 is the result.  He noted that the                                                              
resolution does not establish a voucher system.  It simply asks the                                                             
question of whether or not the constitution should be changed.  He                                                              
mentioned that Article 7, Section 1, says no money shall be paid                                                                
from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or                                                                    
private educational institution.  But, the intent of the Founding                                                               
Fathers of the state constitution was not to preclude a direct                                                                  
benefit for individual children in terms of payment for public                                                                  
dollars.  The direct benefit that they were referring to was the                                                                
maintenance and operation of schools - the premise of his argument.                                                             
He reiterated that this resolution is not a voucher bill; it simply                                                             
addresses whether or not to change the constitution.  If the voters                                                             
agree with changing the constitution, he would follow with                                                                      
legislation that would put in the framework to provide monies to be                                                             
paid towards education choices, such as home schools, charter                                                                   
schools, private institutions, etc.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 1065                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
RANDY LORENZ, Researcher for Representative Vic Kohring, Alaska                                                                 
State Legislature, came before the committee to further explain HJR                                                             
6.  He stated the question before the committee today is whether or                                                             
not it wants to provide the opportunity for education choices in                                                                
the state.  It's clear that the Founding Fathers of the state                                                                   
constitution were inclined to support the individual child, and if                                                              
that meant an indirect gain for a private educational institution,                                                              
that was not a problem.  They just did not want to support the                                                                  
building or operation of that school.  He further noted that it was                                                             
a decision of the supreme court in 1979 that linked the words                                                                   
"direct" and "indirect" together to mean the same thing.  The                                                                   
resolution would go back to the original intent of the Founding                                                                 
Fathers.  It's important to keep in mind that there is a problem                                                                
right now with the Delta Cyber Charter School, which has had to                                                                 
move forward with an injunction to stay open because of this exact                                                              
issue.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Number 1182                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CARL ROSE, Executive Director, Association of Alaska School Boards,                                                             
came before the committee to testify in opposition to HJR 6.  He                                                                
noted that the association is opposed to vouchers.  The issue of                                                                
vouchers comes down to choice.  The public schools in Alaska offer                                                              
a tremendous amount of choice.  They are locally controlled and                                                                 
decisions are made to represent the communities.  As a result, the                                                              
number of opportunities given to a community come as a direct                                                                   
benefit from those who represent the school district.  This issue,                                                              
however, lacks a recognition of the greater purpose.  That being,                                                               
in a free, democratic society it is critical that there is a                                                                    
well-educated populous.  In that vein, the state has recently                                                                   
identified standards as an issue to get behind - not only standards                                                             
for the students - but performances for professionals and system                                                                
accountability.  He cited the exit exam as an example.  The exit                                                                
exam has caused the school districts to exam what they are doing to                                                             
ensure that the students pass the exam in the face of limited                                                                   
resources.  He referred to SB 36 and noted that it was suppose to                                                               
address equity, quality initiatives, and adequacy.  The issue of                                                                
adequacy is at the root of trying to expand the scope of education.                                                             
He cited that 90 percent of America's kids are educated in the                                                                  
public system.  The capacity of home or private schools is just not                                                             
in place to be able to satisfy the need of the electorate required                                                              
across the nation.  He said, "When I take a look at the issue of                                                                
adequacy and how we're to make this turn to satisfy these quality                                                               
examinations, curriculum, development, professional development to                                                              
meet these standards we do so with very limited resources.  To                                                                  
allow an initiative such as this that would allow monies to be                                                                  
passed through to privates to individuals.  I think, if we want to                                                              
do that as a state, we should make a policy decision to completely                                                              
fund that effort.  But, to take that from the public education                                                                  
system as we struggle to make the improvements that we need to                                                                  
make, I think, is a serious error."                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 1405                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said it appears that over the years the state                                                              
has gone astray in terms of morality in public education.  She                                                                  
asked Mr. Rose what he thinks is the responsibility of public                                                                   
education in terms of morality.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Number 1451                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. ROSE replied the issue of morality is something that is dealt                                                               
with at the dinner table.  The public schools are an extension of                                                               
a community, and if there is a morality problem in a school it is                                                               
a reflection of society.  It is something that everybody needs to                                                               
step up and take responsibility for - parents, community members,                                                               
church members, etc.  He said, "I don't know that we can look to                                                                
our public schools to provide morality for our kids, and I don't                                                                
think all of us want that."  He noted that the data shows the more                                                              
parents that help their children "navigate through the waters,"                                                                 
that child has a better chance of being successful.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 1526                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES stated that, according to her observation of                                                               
the public schools, the morality that was taught at home was undone                                                             
in the schools.  She asked Mr. Rose what sort of obligation does                                                                
the school have to at least let the morality that is taught at home                                                             
be the morality that guides the child.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Number 1558                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. ROSE replied the schools are governed under public policies                                                                 
which are guided by the state constitution, laws, regulations and                                                               
negotiated agreements.  If anything has been lost, it may have been                                                             
lost in the process.  Mr. Rose further stated that through the                                                                  
generations society has changed to the point that interests are put                                                             
before the interest of the state as a whole.  The problem is deeper                                                             
than just saying that morality has changed.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Number 1671                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI asked Mr. Rose whether the 90 percent                                                                  
figure for the U.S. holds true for Alaska.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. ROSE replied, he doesn't have a specific number for Alaska, but                                                             
it probably is close.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Number 1693                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN KOTT stated the resolution is a fore-leader to a voucher                                                               
system, and asked Mr. Rose how many states have implemented a                                                                   
voucher system at this time and what are the results.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. ROSE replied, in looking at Wisconsin, the results are skewed.                                                              
The country hasn't been involved in a voucher system long enough to                                                             
collect data.  In looking at public policy, the number of                                                                       
opportunities for vouchers, charters or alternatives for public                                                                 
schools are minuscule by comparison.  In looking at home schools,                                                               
those students are doing extremely well on standardized tests.  He                                                              
is not trying to discredit home schools, charter schools, private                                                               
schools or vouchers; he thinks they do very well, but the capacity                                                              
to handle the public's demand is limited.  The right thing to do is                                                             
to provide appropriate funding for public schools, and to provide                                                               
appropriate funding for other alternative schools independently.                                                                
But, to expect the public school system to simultaneously improve                                                               
while funding other alternatives is a difficult task and one that                                                               
limits success for both.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Number 1783                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked Mr. Rose whether, in his opinion, it's                                                               
more important to have overcrowded schools or a lower amount of                                                                 
funding.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MR. ROSE replied he would choose to build more schools.  He                                                                     
understands the question, but he can't make a choice in that                                                                    
regard.  It's far cheaper to build new schools than to decimate a                                                               
system when the outcome of a newly created private system is not                                                                
known.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Number 1859                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GREEN said he is concerned because the kindergarten                                                              
enrollment is down.  He wondered, therefore, whether in a few                                                                   
decades there would be schools that are under capacity.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR. ROSE responded the best thing to do is provide a quality system                                                             
for who is in Alaska now.  He further stated that the best way to                                                               
deal with an economic slump is through the public system, even if                                                               
it includes double-shifting.  He recalled that was an option in the                                                             
Mat-Su valley ten years ago.  It is not a good option, however, to                                                              
look at a private system or voucher system as a means to relieve                                                                
the current problem.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Number 1918                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said it is a public obligation to ensure that                                                              
every single child has the best education available.  She further                                                               
stated, in reference to goals and exit exams, those types of things                                                             
were present when she was in school, which were eventually pared                                                                
down.  Her main issue is that children shouldn't have to come home                                                              
from school and tell their parents that what they have been                                                                     
teaching them is not what is being said in school.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Number 1976                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. ROSE appreciated the comments of Representative James, and                                                                  
noted that the state has recognized that and has decided to return                                                              
to a set of standards.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN KOTT noted that many children don't see their parents                                                                  
during the course of a week and aren't getting taught anything.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Number 2019                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
DEBBIE OSSIANDER, Member, Anchorage School Board, came before the                                                               
committee to testify on HJR 6.  In response to the sponsor seeing                                                               
a need for more options and choices for parents, she cited the                                                                  
following choices and options that are available in the Anchorage                                                               
School District (ASD):                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
     - Spanish emersion program;                                                                                                
     - Japanese emersion program;                                                                                               
     - Open-option schools that are available in all parts of town;                                                             
     - Back-to-Basics schools;                                                                                                  
     - ABC schools;                                                                                                             
     - Montessori schools;                                                                                                      
     - School-of-the-Arts at West High School;                                                                                  
     - Four charter schools, including a family partnership school                                                              
      where parents design the curriculum and contract with                                                                     
       teachers;                                                                                                                
     - Individual classes of choice - university classes or classes                                                             
       outside the district for credit; and                                                                                     
     - Correspondence schools;                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MS. OSSIANDER stated the school district is open to moving towards                                                              
more alternative schools, if a school community as a whole chooses                                                              
to embrace that.  There are also plans for the construction of a                                                                
new Back-to-Basics ABC school in the Anchorage bowl area.  In                                                                   
addition, if the state chooses to move in the direction of a                                                                    
voucher system, there would be strict accountability standards for                                                              
those that receive funding.  In addition, in relation to the                                                                    
current revenue picture, enlarging the pool of recipients for                                                                   
public education dollars would bring an increased fiscal note.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Number 2161                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN KOTT stated he was not aware of the options available                                                                  
within the Anchorage School District.  He referred to a letter that                                                             
the committee received indicating that the school district was not                                                              
able to meet her son's special education needs.  He asked Ms.                                                                   
Ossiander to respond to the letter.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MS. OSSIANDER replied, in general, special education services are                                                               
offered so that the parent component is required and necessary to                                                               
move ahead with a plan of service.  The parent is a full, equal                                                                 
partner.  The Anchorage School District offers a broad range of                                                                 
special education services.  In fact, many members of the armed                                                                 
forces request assignments in Anchorage because of the special                                                                  
education services that are offered.  She was not familiar with the                                                             
particular case that Chairman Kott mentioned, but she offered to                                                                
work with the individual in question.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Number 2226                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said, of course, if the state is to provide                                                                
education services for every child there would be a fiscal note.                                                                
She asked Ms. Ossiander whether she believes that every child is                                                                
entitled to that amount of money regardless of where a child goes                                                               
to school.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MS. OSSIANDER replied she is coming from a position that strongly                                                               
values the public education system.  It has been a great leveler in                                                             
the country, and has been a great means of upward mobility for some                                                             
who might not otherwise of had a chance.  Certainly, the door to a                                                              
public education should be open to everyone, but if a person                                                                    
chooses to not take advantage of that door, it doesn't mean that                                                                
the public should fund everyone's individual choice to move in                                                                  
his/her own direction.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Number 2275                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said she believes every child should have                                                                  
his/her education paid for in some way.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Number 2281                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI said, as a parent of two children enrolled                                                             
in an optional school in Anchorage, she knows how far out the ASD                                                               
has gone in terms of providing choice within a public school                                                                    
system.  She asked Ms. Ossiander what the other school districts                                                                
across the state are doing in terms of providing a choice.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MS. OSSIANDER deferred the question to others present, who can                                                                  
answer it better.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI further stated that she hopes the ASD will                                                             
continue with these optional programs.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MS. OSSIANDER stated that the school board is committed to                                                                      
providing choice and options in Anchorage.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 2332                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Ms. Ossiander what the regulations are                                                               
for private or religious schools now.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS. OSSIANDER deferred the question to other present.  Her job with                                                             
the school board is to deal with policy issues.  In working with                                                                
the implementation of charter schools, they have expressed                                                                      
frustration - and understandably so - with the bureaucracy                                                                      
required.  The steps involved are not broadly recognized.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Number 2379                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
BETTYE DAVIS  came before the committee to testify in opposition to                                                             
HJR 6 as a representative of the Association of Alaska School                                                                   
Boards and the Alaska State Board of Education.  In response to                                                                 
choices, a recent study shows that many school districts throughout                                                             
the state provide choices, even the smaller districts.  In response                                                             
to regulations put on private schools, a teacher does not have to                                                               
be certified to teach in a private school.  All teachers in a                                                                   
public school have to be certified.  They are paid more because                                                                 
their salaries are agreed upon by the districts and the unions.  In                                                             
a private school, there can be two people working for one salary,                                                               
but that is their choice.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
TAPE 99-41, SIDE B                                                                                                              
Number 0001                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS continued.  She stated most of the people in the room                                                                 
probably went to a public school.  She noted that she would not                                                                 
have had the education that she has if it were not for the                                                                      
opportunity to go to a public school.  She said:  "I can't say that                                                             
there would not have been something in place that might of--would                                                               
have met some of the needs of people, but all the people's needs                                                                
would not have been met and we would not have as many people with                                                               
a high school education as we do today had it not been for public                                                               
education."  Although this resolution does not address vouchers                                                                 
directly, she reminded the committee members that they let HB 5 go                                                              
because they found it unconstitutional.  "I say before they bring                                                               
to you an amendment then they ought to be addressing why they want                                                              
the amendment in the first place and convincing you - the                                                                       
legislators - that it should be before you take it to the public                                                                
and have them voted on something that sounds good."  It might not                                                               
be in the public's best interest.  In addition, why change the                                                                  
constitution when the framework has not been developed to show that                                                             
the state is ready for the voucher world?  She noted that no state                                                              
has adopted a voucher system statewide.  The sponsor indicated,                                                                 
when discussing HB 5, that he wants a voucher system regardless of                                                              
the cost because that is what his constituents want.  The sponsor                                                               
further indicated a voucher system would be a panacea for charter                                                               
schools, but Ms. Davis stated that charter schools are public                                                                   
schools not private schools.  They wouldn't get any more money and                                                              
the sponsor should not be saying that.  She agrees with charter                                                                 
schools and believes that they are quite valuable to the larger                                                                 
school districts.  In conclusion, she stated that the time is not                                                               
right for a voucher system to be considered given the state's                                                                   
fiscal gap.  Where will the dollars come from to help remediate the                                                             
students who do not pass the qualifying exam?  "The final thing                                                                 
that I will say, if we're going to bring vouchers into our state                                                                
then some of the regulations that are not there for the private                                                                 
sector need to be put there.  And, if they have to do the same                                                                  
thing that we did, then they're no longer private except that it's                                                              
just a private source because they would have to change the way                                                                 
they do business also.  That mean they'd have to pay their teachers                                                             
more; that'd mean that they would have to also meet the needs of                                                                
special education children.  You know that now in private schools                                                               
they do not have to meet the needs of a special ed children.  We                                                                
are required by law to do that, and even though they might be in                                                                
the private sector they can come to us for those services.  Did you                                                             
not also realize that with some of the new bills that just passed                                                               
that anybody in any school system - private or wherever - can come                                                              
into the public school system and be enrolled in any class and not                                                              
have to wait until we fill the needs for the kids that are in                                                                   
school for first-come, first-serve.  So, there's a lot of issues                                                                
that need to be addressed before we go out and put a constitutional                                                             
amendment to the public saying that this is going to improve public                                                             
education and also give a better chance for those kids that want to                                                             
go to private that will not happen."                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Number 0217                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN KOTT asked Ms. Davis whether she thinks there would be any                                                             
"cherry picking" if a voucher system was implemented.  In other                                                                 
words, would the cream-of-the-crop move over into the private                                                                   
schools thereby affecting the socialization process.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Number 0240                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS replied she doesn't see that there would be any "cherry                                                               
picking."  The sponsor has indicated that the voucher would be                                                                  
given to those in a lower-income bracket.  That's not to say that                                                               
there aren't any smart children in a lower-income bracket.  She                                                                 
knows that the public schools are meeting the needs of the children                                                             
going on to college.  She does not see them leaving the public                                                                  
schools in mass numbers to get their needs met elsewhere.  The                                                                  
problem is for the regular students who might need more help before                                                             
moving on to the next grade.  They need after-school programs and                                                               
before-school programs, otherwise the state is going to be sued                                                                 
when the students do not pass the exit exams.  Who will give the                                                                
school districts the money to meet those needs? she asked.  The                                                                 
parents are not going to sit by idly.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Number 0310                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN KOTT stated the parents have the opportunity now to put                                                                
their kids into a private setting.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Number 0317                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said her personal belief is that the state                                                                 
should base its funding on every child in a district, not just on                                                               
those who are registered at a public school.  In addition, the                                                                  
amount of money allocated for each child should be divided between                                                              
fixed expenses and teaching expenses.  In a voucher system, the                                                                 
fixed expenses should not be taken away but only the teaching                                                                   
expenses.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Number 0366                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS said, she agrees, that every child in the state has a                                                                 
right to a public education.  "However, I do not go to the point                                                                
where I would want those children to be counted in the count that                                                               
we have to give for the money that you give to us for public                                                                    
education, if they're not going to have to be accountable for what                                                              
they're doing.  Why should we give money for public education--for                                                              
education and not hold everybody accountable?  You're pushing for                                                               
more accountability from us.  It would have to be the same for                                                                  
them."  In addition she mentioned that the public schools do not                                                                
have the money or staff to monitor home schools.  The kids who are                                                              
in home schools can utilize the public schools as well for subjects                                                             
such as art and physical education.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 0433                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked Ms. Davis whether the school system has                                                              
failed in mainstreaming children thereby holding back some and not                                                              
challenging others.  Would the state be better off teaching to a                                                                
strata, especially given the new exit exams?                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Number 0532                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS replied, she believes, that the state should meet the                                                                 
needs of all children for a quality education to be successful in                                                               
the world.  She does not believe that the public school system - in                                                             
Alaska  as a whole - is watering down its curriculum.  The greatest                                                             
student in a class can benefit a slower student.  Kids learn from                                                               
each other.  It is not fair to say that the public school system is                                                             
not doing its job if a student does not pass an exit exam;                                                                      
therefore that student should have been in a private school.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Number 0633                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said she is not convinced that parents send                                                                
their children to private schools because of standards.  She thinks                                                             
it's for other reasons, and the state needs to recognize its                                                                    
obligation to pay for an education for every child who is of school                                                             
age.                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS said at some point the state needs to recognize that all                                                              
children need to be educated.  She recognizes that parents                                                                      
withdrawal their children out of the public school system because                                                               
of the fear of violence, not necessarily the curriculum.  However,                                                              
in the private world, a school can refuse a child, whereas a public                                                             
school has to take every child that comes to it.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 0736                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA asked Ms. Davis how important she thinks                                                                
class size is in terms of a student's ability to learn.  She is                                                                 
concerned about the overcrowded classrooms and the sharing of                                                                   
textbooks in Juneau.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS replied class size is very important.  Research shows                                                                 
that a child is likely to learn more in a classroom with fewer than                                                             
20 students.  But that takes more money.  On the other hand,                                                                    
sometimes adding an additional person to help the teacher works.                                                                
There are a lot of ways to overcome overcrowding.  It requires                                                                  
innovation, such as double-shifting, in order to meet the needs of                                                              
students.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Number 0824                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
JOHN CYR, Representative, NEA-Alaska, testified via teleconference                                                              
from Anchorage in opposition to HJR 6.  NEA-Alaska is opposed to                                                                
the resolution because of public policy and legal issues.  In terms                                                             
of public policy, there is no achievable difference between the                                                                 
voucher students in Milwaukee and the public school students.  In                                                               
fact, according to a study the public school students outperformed                                                              
the voucher students in reading and math.  In Cleveland, a study                                                                
found no significant difference between the voucher students and                                                                
the public school students.  He cited in 1998 and 1999 about 6,000                                                              
Milwaukee students received a voucher worth $5,000 a piece; and                                                                 
about 3,700 Cleveland students received a voucher worth $2,500 a                                                                
piece, but there is no accountability of that money.  In Cleveland,                                                             
$1.9 million was misspent.  He cited $1.4 million was paid to taxi                                                              
companies to transport the students.  Since 1997, program officials                                                             
have uncovered about a half million dollars in taxi fares that were                                                             
billed for students who were absent.  In 1998, that program was 41                                                              
percent over budgeted forcing the state to take $2 million from                                                                 
public schools to fund that overwrite.  The intent of a voucher                                                                 
system, according to the sponsor, is to fund low-income families,                                                               
but according to a special state audit in Cleveland 30, students                                                                
who received vouchers came from households with incomes of over                                                                 
$80,000.  He stated that the Permanent Fund Dividend program has                                                                
taught, that if money is given to the public it has to go to                                                                    
everybody, which bring the question of who would really use                                                                     
vouchers?  He cited less than one-third of the public school                                                                    
children in both Cleveland and Milwaukee actually come from public                                                              
schools.  There is no evidence that suggests a voucher systems is                                                               
cost-effective.  The Milwaukee voucher program cost $29 million for                                                             
1989 to 1999 for 6,000 students.  The Cleveland voucher program                                                                 
cost more than $9 million  for less than 4,000 students.  In using                                                              
the sponsor's number of $4,000 per student when there are                                                                       
approximately 12,000 children in private schools in Alaska today,                                                               
the math is not that hard to do.  The state cannot afford this type                                                             
of scheme.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. CYR further stated, in regards to the legal issues, no state                                                                
has voted to put a voucher system in place to date.  In September,                                                              
the Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the                                                                       
constitutionality of its voucher program and ruled that it violates                                                             
provisions in both state and federal constitutions.  In Maine, both                                                             
state and federal courts rejected efforts by parents to require the                                                             
state to provide vouchers for religious schools.  In Vermont, a                                                                 
state court rejected efforts to expand the tuition program to                                                                   
include religious schools.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. CYR further stated, in response to the issue of small class                                                                 
sizes, data shows that there wouldn't be smaller class sizes with                                                               
a voucher system.  It would really pay for those who are already in                                                             
a private school.  In response to the teaching of morality, things                                                              
have changed in the public schools.  They are a reflection of the                                                               
wishes of the communities.  If a community is interested in                                                                     
teaching a more "moral point of view" the school board would ensure                                                             
that it happens.  But there is no control over private schools and                                                              
whether or not they would teach morality.  In response to the issue                                                             
of accountability, right now the only thing that private schools                                                                
are accountable for is the health and welfare of their students.                                                                
The state has no control over the curriculum or standards, and it                                                               
shouldn't; they are private schools.  But, if public funds are                                                                  
moved into private schools, then they are no longer private schools                                                             
and the public has the right to make decisions rather than the                                                                  
parents.  He urged the committee members not to pass the resolution                                                             
out of the committee.  He asked that it be held, so that NEA-Alaska                                                             
can send written testimony from its legal folks.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 1383                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
KARLA FEELEY testified via teleconference from Fairbanks.  She                                                                  
works with the members of the Education Support Staff Association                                                               
and the Fairbanks Education Association.  She is the product of                                                                 
parochial schools through her graduate degree, however HJR 6 is                                                                 
absolutely the wrong way to go.  She urged the committee members to                                                             
defeat it.  In the U.S., there is a system of free, universal and                                                               
public education, which is unique in the world.  It's offered free                                                              
of charge to any child.  It is universal in that it is accessible                                                               
to everyone.  Public school students cannot and do not turn away a                                                              
student, which is a wonderful advantage and foundation for a                                                                    
democracy.  In addition, the schools in Alaska are extremely                                                                    
responsive to the public.  They are the most available public                                                                   
institution.  She cited people vote and play basketball in them as                                                              
examples.  The school board members are responsive and available.                                                               
The schools are what the public has asked of them.  If the public                                                               
wants something different, then it should ask.  Lastly, the schools                                                             
are working very hard at providing the very best possible                                                                       
education, which involves raising standards for students and                                                                    
teachers.  The schools need the support of the legislature and                                                                  
additional funding, not undermining their method of operating,                                                                  
which could be potentially millions and millions of dollars.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Number 1574                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
JOSEPH L. STORY, Representative, Seventh Day Adventist Church,                                                                  
testified via teleconference from Sitka.  The church has seven                                                                  
parochial schools in the state and, currently, is in the process of                                                             
establishing several more schools.  The increased funds and                                                                     
enrollment are very enticing, but there is nothing preventing state                                                             
involvement in the curriculum.  The testimony has called for a                                                                  
strong accountability to ensure the same standards for those                                                                    
schools benefiting from state funding, but he's not sure how that                                                               
would affect the moral and religious aspects of education.  He is                                                               
also concerned about how the standards of dress and conduct would                                                               
be affected.  In addition, it doesn't appear to him that the                                                                    
private schools receiving the benefit would have any control over                                                               
whether or not to accept the funds.  There is also nothing that                                                                 
would guarantee the funds to students in private or sectarian                                                                   
schools in a time of budgetary constraint.  He cited a scenario in                                                              
Canada where funds were cutoff leaving the schools in great fiscal                                                              
difficulty.  In addition, enabling legislation could eventually                                                                 
take on other forms that could be problematic.  He recognized,                                                                  
however, that these types of things are hard to pin down.  The                                                                  
position of the church is to neither support nor oppose the                                                                     
resolution, because it sees the advantages while at the same times                                                              
has concerns.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Number 1778                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Mr. Story whether there is any                                                                       
regulation of the church's curriculum now by officials.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR. STORY replied he's not aware of any.  The main                                                                              
regulation/involvement is in the health and safety issues.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 1802                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Mr. Story whether part of his concern is                                                             
reducing the selection process and putting minimum limits on the                                                                
curriculum.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. STORY replied exactly.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 1862                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MELINDA BROOKS testified via teleconference from Mat-Su.  She feels                                                             
it is inappropriate to consider an amendment to the constitution to                                                             
allow for vouchers or tax breaks for kindergarten to twelfth grade                                                              
educational purposes at the current time.  The state is in a fiscal                                                             
crisis.  How can you justify this action while you are debating                                                                 
changes to municipal aid, senior exemptions, veteran exemptions,                                                                
PCE [power cost equalization] and virtually every other aspect of                                                               
state funding?  The state does not have enough money to be                                                                      
considering a new big government entitlement program.  At the local                                                             
level, most people feel that their taxes are going to be high                                                                   
enough.  She mentioned that during the welfare debate many people                                                               
said that they should not expect a handout from the state just                                                                  
because they have children, and that they should be responsible for                                                             
their own choices.  She said, "Providing state funds for private                                                                
schools is like taking your kid to McDonald's because he refuses to                                                             
eat his dinner.  It leaves you vulnerable to even more outrageous                                                               
demands."  She agrees that the state has an interest in providing                                                               
the public an education, but it cannot afford to provide for the                                                                
luxury of  private schools.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Number 1951                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
KERMIT REPPOND testified via teleconference from Kodiak.  He is                                                                 
testifying as a parent and as a board member of the Kodiak                                                                      
Christian School.  He is in support of anything that leads to some                                                              
type of voucher program.  He noted the following assumptions:                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     - The current system is rooted in the belief that a state                                                                  
     monopoly on education is best;                                                                                             
     - That parents are too ignorant of their children's needs                                                                  
     to make good decisions; and                                                                                                
     - That public schools are so rotten that they would be                                                                     
     emptied like a fire drill, if the parents were given the                                                                   
     chance.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR. REPPOND further stated those assumptions are patently false.                                                                
It breaks his heart to turn away a student because his/her parents                                                              
do not have the money to attend a private school.  In response to                                                               
the accountability discussion, when a parent hands money over                                                                   
directly to a school, that school becomes accountable.  Right now,                                                              
the parents really never see the money.  A voucher system would                                                                 
increase the level of accountability of the schools to the parents.                                                             
In response to the leveling discussion, shouldn't the schools be                                                                
elevating students rather than leveling/homogenizing them?  A                                                                   
voucher system would elevate all the students.  In every other                                                                  
endeavor in an American system, a monopoly is thought to deliver                                                                
inferior goods at a higher price, while competition is thought to                                                               
deliver cheaper prices and better goods.  In education, however, it                                                             
seems that a monopoly is the best way to go.  In response to the                                                                
issue of the attempt to remove Cyber school computers from private                                                              
schools, he commented that the criminal activity in the state must                                                              
be low in order for law enforcement to plan raids on private                                                                    
schools.  As a parent of a child who is enrolled in the Delta Cyber                                                             
School and a private school, he has seen firsthand how his child's                                                              
education has benefited.  The students are studying spreadsheets,                                                               
word processing, keyboarding, astronomy and Spanish.  He noted that                                                             
none of the subjects contain any religious (indisc.) that a                                                                     
reasonable person might consider as an aid to religion.  The sites                                                              
visited on the Web are unincumbered from any religious                                                                          
entanglement.  If these computers are withdrawn, it will hurt the                                                               
students not the school.  It may even require additional                                                                        
expenditures from the local school district in order to provide                                                                 
supplemental education to the students who do not have access to                                                                
the technology.  It is inconsistent with common sense and statute                                                               
to grant a child who is studying at home the use of a laptop                                                                    
computer who can access a Cyber school, and to prohibit the use of                                                              
the same computer and same Web site if that computer is carried                                                                 
into a private school.  Attorney General Bruce Botelho's attack on                                                              
Delta Cyber School in unwarranted and a waste of tax payers' money.                                                             
He said, "To think the passage of HJR 6 is some other measure to                                                                
restore public sense of the justice department then that's what you                                                             
should do."                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Number 2395                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Mr. Reppond whether he would have any                                                                
objection to saying a student can go to a private school of his/her                                                             
choice.  In other words, a student cannot be refused admission                                                                  
because of race, disability, or some other criteria.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Number 2452                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. REPPOND replied, "You need to be careful that we don't get the                                                              
idea that we achieve excellence in education by regulation."  At                                                                
the Kodiak Christian School...                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
TAPE 99-42                                                                                                                      
Number 0001                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. REPPOND continued.  Since it is a Christian-based school, the                                                               
parents are asked to sign a document indicating that they agree                                                                 
with the faith which the education is based on.  That is what they                                                              
are paying for with their own money.  If a kid comes in asking to                                                               
be instructed in a Buddhist education, that kid is informed                                                                     
initially that is not taught there.  The secret here is choice.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Number 0086                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Mr. Reppond whether it would be a                                                                    
problem for his school for the state to say it can't discriminate                                                               
based on race because it's getting state money.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. REPPOND replied no it wouldn't be a problem because it already                                                              
has those same standards.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Number 0106                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Mr. Reppond whether there would be any                                                               
difficulty in requiring a minimum level of curriculum because it's                                                              
getting state money.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MR. REPPOND replied the problem is a little rule gets bigger and                                                                
bigger.  The parents are satisfied with the current curriculum.                                                                 
The current system works.  There is no reason to try to duplicate                                                               
all of the regulations from the public schools to the private                                                                   
schools.  Right now, the reason there are charter schools is to be                                                              
free of the regulations.  He noted that what comes out of the                                                                   
schools should be graded not what goes into them.  Regulations go                                                               
in and students come out.  The Kodiak Christian School would be                                                                 
very leery of any kind of state control associated with its                                                                     
curriculum because that is its sacred ground.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Number 0303                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SHERRI JACKSON testified via teleconference from Anchorage in                                                                   
support of HJR 6.  She is in favor of the resolution because it                                                                 
would allow for a choice.  She has four children and has home                                                                   
schooled them all.  She doesn't think the argument is about the                                                                 
teachers, but a fear of losing money.  In light of that, she agrees                                                             
that a commonsense approach is needed to consider what is best for                                                              
the children.  Those who want to teach their children from a                                                                    
religious based don't have a choice.  "We're just saying, 'Hey,                                                                 
we're tax payers.  We care.  Can we now take that tax paying dollar                                                             
and put it to where we can teach our child Jesus Christ?'  We can                                                               
stand on the rock and look forward."  Two of her children are                                                                   
presently enrolled in Galena (indisc.) program.  She is allowed                                                                 
$1,400 a year per child and she gets to choose where to spend the                                                               
money.  She reiterated those in favor of the resolution are so                                                                  
because of choice.  She doesn't believe that there would be a mass                                                              
exitus out of the public schools.  She reiterated that everybody                                                                
seems to be concerned about money when she is concerned about                                                                   
morales and the lives of her children.  In response to the issue of                                                             
"dummying-down," her friends have indicated to her that some                                                                    
schools in places like Barrow "dummy-down" because it's easier for                                                              
a child to get a job for $18 per hour than to stay in the public                                                                
school system for an education.  She reiterated an amendment to the                                                             
constitution would allow for a choice when she is responsible for                                                               
her children's education.  She sees the public school system as a                                                               
huge God when some people want to serve their own God.  She agrees                                                              
with taking that $1,400 and applying it to any school that she                                                                  
wants to creating competition and making the administration more                                                                
accountable and responsible.  In conclusion she stated, "In the                                                                 
arena for my child going through a Christian school so he can learn                                                             
Jesus Christ and he can learn godly principles and he can stand                                                                 
upon the rock and he's not fearful of humanism hanging over his                                                                 
head dictating to him what to do, I believe that is tremendously                                                                
good for society.  And, I don't think anybody can argue that."                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Number 0753                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
THERESE SYREN, Teacher, Lumen Christian High School, testified via                                                              
teleconference from Anchorage.  Her school also has the Cyber                                                                   
program.  The only reason anybody could be against the direct,                                                                  
educational benefit of the Cyber program for students is because of                                                             
the fear between the separation of church and state.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Number 0841                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN KOTT called for an at-ease at 3:10 p.m. due to technical                                                               
difficulties with the teleconference network and called the meeting                                                             
back to order at 3:20 p.m.  The technical problem was corrected.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 0902                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. SYREN continued.  The only way anybody could be against the                                                                 
direct, educational benefit for students is the fear of violating                                                               
the separation between church and state.  She reminded the                                                                      
committee members that the phrase - separation between church and                                                               
state - does not appear in the U.S. Constitution.  It was intended                                                              
to keep the church and state distinct, which means the state is                                                                 
meant to be friendly towards religion, but is not meant to adopt                                                                
any particular one.  Thus, to deny the use of Cyber school computer                                                             
programs is taking a big step towards establishing secularism of a                                                              
church religion.  She noted that under a voucher system the money                                                               
would go to the hands of the parents; therefore, it boils down to                                                               
an issue of trusting parents or the state to raise the children.                                                                
It is clear that the parents are the ones who are suppose to do                                                                 
that.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Number 1107                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
NICK BEGICH testified via teleconference from Anchorage in support                                                              
of HJR 6.  He is the past president of the Alaska Federation of                                                                 
Teachers and the Anchorage Council of Education.  He was also an                                                                
organizer in the ASD in the mid-1980's that put together the first                                                              
coalition of waivers.  The idea of choice really gets to the root                                                               
of the issue, not money.  Those who are vested in the status quo                                                                
would like to see it remain the same.  NEA-Alaska has several                                                                   
millions of dollars in dues coming from school districts.  He has                                                               
not heard a good argument from them why public schools should have                                                              
the monopoly or sole franchise for compulsory education in the                                                                  
state.  In Alaska, children are compelled to go to school, but on                                                               
the same token they are not given an equal opportunity in terms of                                                              
the educational outcome.  The idea that money cannot be put to                                                                  
private schools, under the current constitution, is probably                                                                    
correct.  However, in looking at the state subsidized student                                                                   
loans, those funds do not necessarily go to public institutions.                                                                
In fact, they go to many private schools without any strings                                                                    
attached because the money flows directly to the students.  The                                                                 
argument that this might cost more is a small price to pay for                                                                  
those who do not currently receive any public benefit, which they                                                               
are entitled to under the constitution as well.  In response to the                                                             
argument of accountability, he noted that he suggested to the ASD                                                               
to adopt a policy that said all public employees' first obligation                                                              
is to the public.  But, Ms. Ossiander and others indicated that was                                                             
too controversial and refused to consider it as a change.  They                                                                 
felt that it would create a conflict between supervisors and                                                                    
subordinates.  In response to measuring up to the upcoming testing                                                              
standards, the ultimate accountability is with the parents.  If                                                                 
parents don't feel that they are getting their monies worth things                                                              
start to break down.  He believes the ultimate accountability                                                                   
exists in the private schools because it rests with the parents.                                                                
He further mentioned that his son was a beneficiary of a Cyber                                                                  
school program, and the idea that he can be denied access is                                                                    
logical given the fact that the legislature passed a law that                                                                   
allows private school students to avail themselves to the                                                                       
opportunities available to public school students, even though the                                                              
ASD opposed that legislation saying it would be an undue burden.                                                                
He reiterated this is an issue of protecting the status quo,                                                                    
educational unions, and establishment, which run counter to the                                                                 
good of the public.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 1424                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN KOTT closed the meeting to public testimony.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN KOTT announced that the bill would be held over for                                                                    
further consideration.                                                                                                          

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