Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)

02/15/2010 08:00 AM Senate EDUCATION

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08:02:20 AM Start
08:02:54 AM SB224
08:57:31 AM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled
               SB 224-POSTSECONDARY SCHOLARSHIPS                                                                            
8:02:54 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR THOMAS announced consideration of SB 224.                                                                              
8:04:27 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR MEYER moved  to adopt the committee  substitute (CS) for                                                               
SB 224, labeled 26-GS2771\E as  the working document. There being                                                               
no objection,  the motion  carried and version  E was  before the                                                               
MURRAY  RICHMOND, aide  to  Senator Thomas,  said  when he  began                                                               
working on  this bill the  committee was already talking  about a                                                               
needs-based  component.   He  discovered  that  SB   33,  another                                                               
scholarship   bill  that   specifically  targets   students  with                                                               
financial need,  was already moving  through the system  and used                                                               
that  to develop  a  needs-based  component for  the  CS that  is                                                               
before the committee.                                                                                                           
He  provided  a  sectional  analysis of  the  proposed  committee                                                               
substitute (CS),  which he said  is substantially  different from                                                               
the original bill.                                                                                                              
   - Section 1, page 1, provides that the districts will                                                                        
     determine eligibility for the program.                                                                                     
   - Section 2 adds language concerning administrative duties to                                                                
     the existing statutes.                                                                                                     
   - Section 3, page 4, updates language in the existing                                                                        
   - Section 4, page 5, allows the Department of Education and                                                                  
     Early Development (DEED) to administer the program under                                                                   
   - Section 5, page 7, includes the more substantial changes.                                                                  
     In  the governor's  bill as  submitted,  the scholarship  is                                                               
     defined  as  having  two   levels:  a  merit-based  academic                                                               
     scholarship   and  a   merit-based   career  and   technical                                                               
     scholarship. The proposed CS has  three tiers: a performance                                                               
     scholarship,  an  opportunity   scholarship,  and  a  career                                                               
   - Section 5, page 8, allows the department to design the                                                                     
     programmatic elements.  It defines  the goals,  which remain                                                               
     the same as those in the  original bill. It also defines the                                                               
     qualifications  of applicants,  which  differ slightly  from                                                               
     the governor's bill;  the CS requires a  student to maintain                                                               
     at least a 2.5 grade  point average (GPA) to remain eligible                                                               
     for the  scholarship, while the original  bill requires only                                                               
     that a student be attending college.                                                                                       
MR. RICHMOND said one of the best  things about SB 224 is that it                                                               
mandates a  more rigorous  curriculum at  the high  school level.                                                               
Studies show  that the  more children learn  in high  school, the                                                               
better they do in college.                                                                                                      
He commented  that he met  recently with representatives  of many                                                               
school  districts to  discuss  their  curriculums and  discovered                                                               
that some  of them offer only  two years of math.  They discussed                                                               
internet  possibilities   to  enhance  the  offerings   in  rural                                                               
districts, but  some of  them don't have  reliable access  to the                                                               
internet, so  it will be  challenging to  get all of  the state's                                                               
schools up to the standards the governor proposed.                                                                              
MR. RICHMOND  returned to  his analysis of  the major  changes in                                                               
Section 5.                                                                                                                      
   - Section 5, page 10, of the CS sets forth the core-                                                                         
     curriculum  that  a  student must  have  completed  in  high                                                               
     school. In the governor's plan,  that includes four years of                                                               
     math, four  years of language  arts, four years  of science,                                                               
     and  three years  of social  studies. It  is tiered  at that                                                               
     point; if a  student completes these basic  elements and has                                                               
     an A average,  he gets full tuition pegged  at University of                                                               
     Alaska rates for 2010 to 2011.                                                                                             
8:10:05 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR THOMAS  interjected that the committee  members' packets                                                               
contain  a side-by-side comparison of the governor's bill and the                                                               
proposed CS, which follows Mr. Richmond's analysis.                                                                             
MR.  RICHMOND continued  his  discussion of  Section  5, page  10                                                               
regarding the curriculum requirements.                                                                                          
   - Of the 24 schools that offer Taylor plans, seven of them                                                                   
     require  only three  units of  math and  only three  require                                                               
     four  units of  math. Six  of them  require two  units of  a                                                               
     foreign language,  and four  require one  unit of  fine art,                                                               
     neither of which is included  in the governor's plan, so the                                                               
     standard this  plan sets for  students is not  universal and                                                               
     is   simply  not   attainable  at   some  schools.   Another                                                               
     consideration, he  added, is that some  very bright students                                                               
     are not  interested in  careers that require  a lot  of math                                                               
     and  may  not  be  especially  good at  it;  to  weight  the                                                               
     standard too  heavily in favor  of higher math  skills might                                                               
     keep some  of those students  back. He said that  while they                                                               
     want  to maintain  the  high standards,  they  also want  to                                                               
     provide  a  little  more  flexibility.  What  the  committee                                                               
     substitute  proposes  is to  allow  students  to choose  the                                                               
     rigorous curriculum  prescribed in the original  bill, or to                                                               
     take  three units  of  math, four  years  of language  arts,                                                               
     three years  of science, three  years of social  studies and                                                               
     then  two  years of  a  foreign  language or  Alaska  Native                                                               
     language. He  pointed out that  a fine arts option  could be                                                               
8:12:33 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR DAVIS  said she appreciated  Mr. Richmond's  analysis and                                                               
the side-by-side  comparison, but  wanted to  know who  had input                                                               
and who decided on these changes.                                                                                               
MR. RICHMOND  answered that staff  have been working on  this and                                                               
have  had discussions  with University  of Alaska  President Mark                                                               
Hamilton  and  others to  help  them  prepare something  for  the                                                               
committee to use  as a starting point. This CS  is intended to be                                                               
a vehicle to get the members'  thoughts, so they can craft a bill                                                               
that reflects the will of the committee.                                                                                        
8:14:25 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR MEYER said this is a good starting point.                                                                              
8:15:06 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGGINS  said it  is important  that they  understand the                                                               
challenges districts will face in  meeting the standard. He asked                                                               
for  details  on the  systemic  challenges  to bringing  Alaska's                                                               
schools in line with the requirements.                                                                                          
MR. RICHMOND said he would get that information for him.                                                                        
CO-CHAIR THOMAS confirmed that the  language of the original bill                                                               
is fairly  standard with regard  to basics such  as determination                                                               
of scholarship eligibility,  he said, and they will  come back to                                                               
that, but he hopes to first  get some feedback on the changes and                                                               
whether they are moving in the right direction.                                                                                 
8:17:04 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR STEVENS asked what joint committee he referred to.                                                                      
CO-CHAIR  THOMAS corrected  himself; he  meant to  say the  joint                                                               
meetings  of the  House and  Senate  Education committees,  which                                                               
were held in the summer and earlier this session.                                                                               
8:17:43 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR DAVIS  repeated that  she appreciates  the work  that has                                                               
been done,  but the  joint meeting she  attended offered  only an                                                               
overview, and  the additional information  she asked for  at that                                                               
time  has not  been provided.  Someone was  supposed to  tell the                                                               
committee whether the  school districts will be able  to meet the                                                               
CO-CHAIR THOMAS said he will follow up on that information.                                                                     
8:19:17 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. RICHMOND stressed  that his intent is to  get the committee's                                                               
questions and find the answers.                                                                                                 
8:19:54 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR STEVENS said  he thinks some of  the mathematics, science                                                               
and even foreign  language courses could be taken  in college and                                                               
would not  be considered  remedial. He asked  Mr. Richmond  to do                                                               
some research on that.                                                                                                          
8:21:00 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. RICHMOND  said there are  even some Alaska Scholars  who have                                                               
completed  a  year  at University  of  Alaska  Fairbanks  without                                                               
receiving a single college credit, so it is an issue.                                                                           
8:21:20 AM                                                                                                                    
He  went   on  to   say  that   he  has   researched  opportunity                                                               
scholarships in  some depth  and would like  to propose  that the                                                               
committee discuss  the option of an  opportunity scholarship that                                                               
has  the   same  rigorous  standards   in  high  school   as  the                                                               
performance scholarship,  and requires students to  have either a                                                               
3.5  or 3.75  GPA for  the  performance scholarship  and have  at                                                               
least a  2.5 or 3.0  GPA with a  demonstrated unmet need  for the                                                               
opportunity  scholarship. According  to President  Hamilton, some                                                               
kids will  to go to college  no matter what, and  others wouldn't                                                               
fill out the  application to go even if they  were offered a free                                                               
Ford F-150  truck; that  leaves the students  in the  middle, and                                                               
the biggest barrier for them  is financial need. This opportunity                                                               
would give  them an incentive  to push themselves in  high school                                                               
to get  money for college. He  pointed out that one  of the goals                                                               
of  this  plan  is  to increase  college  graduation  rates,  and                                                               
studies show  that the best  way to do  that is through  a needs-                                                               
based solution.                                                                                                                 
8:24:40 AM                                                                                                                    
MR.   RICHMOND  returned   to  his   analysis  of   the  academic                                                               
requirements in Section 5.                                                                                                      
   - Section 5, page 11, sets forth the requirements for the                                                                    
     career  scholarship.  In  the governor's  bill,  the  career                                                               
     scholarship  maintains the  same standards  as the  academic                                                               
     scholarship;  it has  a minimum  GPA,  and minimum  entrance                                                               
     test scores that  are defined by the  department. The reason                                                               
     the minimum test scores are not  defined in the bill is that                                                               
     any  change  in  the  test would  then  require  legislative                                                               
     action. Discussions  with people in the  field of vocational                                                               
     and  technical  education  brought  up the  fact  that  some                                                               
     students who  are pursuing career  training do not  have the                                                               
     need or  the aptitude for that  same high level of  math and                                                               
     science  preparation,  so  the CS  proposes  standards  more                                                               
     appropriate to the needs of  those students, including three                                                               
     years of  math, three years  of language arts, two  years of                                                               
     science, and two  years of social studies, with a  GPA of at                                                               
     least  2.0 and  demonstrated  financial need.  The limit  on                                                               
     awards for career training is set  at $3000 per year in both                                                               
     the governor's bill and the CS.                                                                                            
8:26:35 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR MEYER asked if the CS  increases the minimum GPA for the                                                               
performance scholarship to 3.5.                                                                                                 
MR. RICHMOND said  the original bill has tiers based  on GPA with                                                               
the top  tier set at 4.0;  the committee substitute would  have a                                                               
single  tier and  require  students to  have a  B+  or better  to                                                               
qualify as merit scholars. Students who  do C work in high school                                                               
could qualify as opportunity scholars.                                                                                          
CO-CHAIR MEYER  pointed out that  the governor's bill  required a                                                               
C+ average  for opportunity scholars.  He also  expressed concern                                                               
that most of the  students who have at least a  3.5 GPA will also                                                               
qualify for the Alaska Scholars' award.                                                                                         
MR.  RICHMOND said  that depends  on what  school district  those                                                               
student are in; it would not be true in the larger districts.                                                                   
CO-CHAIR MEYER questioned  where that puts students  like his own                                                               
daughter, who has a 3.5 GPA but  does not qualify on the basis of                                                               
8:28:57 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. RICHMOND responded  that both of his children  fall into that                                                               
category as  well. Unfortunately, he  said, funds are  limited at                                                               
this point; the  governor proposed $20 million per  year from the                                                               
endowment for  the whole program,  which comes to about  $133 per                                                               
unit. At current rates, that amount will not even cover tuition.                                                                
CO-CHAIR MEYER commented that he  prefers the governor's proposal                                                               
in  this  area,   because  3.0  students  would   still  have  an                                                               
opportunity to attend with some sort of scholarship.                                                                            
8:30:51 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR STEVENS said statistics show  that 85 percent of kids who                                                               
come from  a family in  the upper quartile  of income and  have a                                                               
parent with  some college experience will  graduate from college.                                                               
He  opined that  they  should  zero in  on  kids  from the  lower                                                               
quartile, because 55 percent of them  do not graduate due to lack                                                               
of funding.                                                                                                                     
MR.  RICHMOND said  there was  a  study done  of Gates  Scholars,                                                               
which found  that these kids  graduated from college at  a higher                                                               
level, in  part because  they did  not have  to work  outside the                                                               
university  system in  order  to maintain  their  finances. As  a                                                               
result,  they were  better  able to  integrate  into the  college                                                               
community and developed a greater stake in staying involved.                                                                    
8:33:24 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR THOMAS commented that the  $20 million sounds like a lot                                                               
of money until they start spreading  it among the large number of                                                               
students and credit hours.                                                                                                      
MR. RICHMOND  agreed. He  said they  anticipate there  will about                                                               
2300 students  participating in  the first  year of  the program,                                                               
4034 in  the second  year, 5187  in the third  year, and  5763 by                                                               
year four of the program.                                                                                                       
CO-CHAIR MEYER asked  if the needs-based award is  based upon the                                                               
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).                                                                               
MR. RICHMOND said the application  for the governor's scholarship                                                               
program is the  FAFSA form. He explained  that students determine                                                               
which school(s) they  want to go to when they  fill out the form,                                                               
and the school itself distributes the funds.                                                                                    
8:36:05 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR MEYER said he thought  the governor's bill had no needs-                                                               
based component.                                                                                                                
MR. RICHMOND  responded that the  application is still  the FAFSA                                                               
8:36:26 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGGINS   referred  to   language  in  the   section  on                                                               
opportunity scholarships  that says they are  based on attendance                                                               
at University  of Alaska, and asked  if they are using  UA as the                                                               
benchmark amount for awards.                                                                                                    
MR.  RICHMOND  confirmed that  they  are,  because at  least  one                                                               
private school in  the state could qualify for  this program, and                                                               
the amount of  need would be significantly higher  based on those                                                               
8:37:15 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGGINS said  he  believes  they are  going  to have  to                                                               
reevaluate the merit  scholarship, which is based on  the top ten                                                               
percent  of high  school graduates,  because  the new  curriculum                                                               
requirements in  this bill  will affect that  too. He  added that                                                               
they  need  to know  who  is  taking  remedial courses  and  what                                                               
schools they are from in order to do that.                                                                                      
MR.  RICHMOND said  he  has  been in  touch  with  people at  the                                                               
University of  Alaska and  those numbers are  a little  harder to                                                               
come  by  than  they  used  to  be  because  the  University  has                                                               
instituted a  mandatory remedial program  in the last  few years,                                                               
which caused  an increase in  the number of students  in remedial                                                               
8:39:16 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  STEVENS  pointed  out  that the  meaning  of  that  last                                                               
sentence under opportunity scholarships is really not clear.                                                                    
MR. RICHMOND returned to career  scholarships; he said they would                                                               
essentially  lower  some  of the  curriculum  standards  for  the                                                               
career   scholarship,  while   maintaining   the  high   academic                                                               
standards. He stressed that this  scholarship, in both bills, can                                                               
only  be  used  at  a  two-year  certificate  or  degree-awarding                                                               
8:40:21 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGGINS mentioned  that  students'  performance in  high                                                               
school  isn't  necessarily reflective  of  how  they will  do  in                                                               
college, and he  thinks they should be careful not  to narrow the                                                               
opportunity for those needs-based scholars.                                                                                     
8:40:47 AM                                                                                                                    
MR.  RICHMOND continued  his analysis  and noted  that there  are                                                               
very few differences between the  CS and the governor's bill from                                                               
this point forward.                                                                                                             
   - Section 5, page 12, allows for students to attend part-time                                                                
     and receive a pro-rata  distribution, but "part-time" is not                                                               
     defined; it actually says "half-time".                                                                                     
   - The program terminates six years after graduation. Students                                                                
     are eligible for eight semesters  at an academic institution                                                               
     under the  governor's program; under  the proposed  CS, that                                                               
     applies  to  performance  and  opportunity  scholarships  as                                                               
     well.  Students  who  are granted  career  scholarships  are                                                               
     eligible for two years.                                                                                                    
     It is  not clear  what would happen  if a  top-notch scholar                                                               
     wanted  to  go to  a  career  school,  or a  career  student                                                               
    changed course and wanted to enter an academic program.                                                                     
   - Awards cannot exceed the cost of attendance under either                                                                   
     version of the bill.                                                                                                       
8:43:51 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  STEVENS   referred  to   termination  six   years  after                                                               
graduation. He asked  why it matters if a student  decides to get                                                               
some life experience before going on to college.                                                                                
MR.  RICHMOND could  not  speak for  the  administration on  that                                                               
issue,  but speculated  that  the intent  might  be to  encourage                                                               
students to get started on their education promptly.                                                                            
8:44:39 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. RICHMOND returned to his analysis of Section 5.                                                                             
   - Section 5, Page 12,  also addresses alternative pathways for                                                               
     students who do not graduate  from a traditional high school                                                               
     or for some other reason  do not qualify for the scholarship                                                               
     due  to circumstances  beyond their  control.  It gives  the                                                               
     department the latitude to establish  a make-up procedure or                                                               
     alternative  pathway to  allow  these students  to meet  the                                                               
   - Section 5, page  13, defines the types  of institutions that                                                               
     are   eligible  to   receive  the   monies.  These   include                                                               
     regionally  accredited academic  institutions and/or  career                                                               
     and technical  schools certified by the  Department of Labor                                                               
     and Workforce Development (DOLWD).                                                                                         
   - Section 5,  page 14,  states that  the Alaska  Commission on                                                               
     Postsecondary  Education  (ACPE)  is  responsible  to  adopt                                                               
     procedures  for   payment  of  scholarship  awards   to  the                                                               
     institutions.  If  insufficient  funds   exist  to  pay  all                                                               
     eligible  scholarships, the  awards will  be pro-rated.  The                                                               
     amount available  is 5  percent of  a three-year  average of                                                               
     the governor's fund.                                                                                                       
   - Also  on  page 14,  the  bill  directs the  commission,  the                                                               
     University  of Alaska,  the Department  of Revenue,  and the                                                               
     Department of Labor and Workforce  Development to prepare an                                                               
     annual report on the number  of applicants, number and types                                                               
     of scholarships  awarded, the dollar amount  of scholarships                                                               
     awarded and projected, and data  trends regarding the goals,                                                               
     for presentation to the legislature.                                                                                       
   - Section 5, page 15, contains a list of definitions.                                                                        
   - Section  6,  page  15,   provides  that  students  attending                                                               
     religious  schools have  to comply  with  the standards  for                                                               
     reporting students' eligibility, just as districts do.                                                                     
   - Section  7,  pages  15  and 16,  allows  the  department  to                                                               
     administer the scholarship as set out in the statute.                                                                      
   - Section 8,  beginning on page  16, allows the  department to                                                               
     disburse funds for the scholarship.                                                                                        
   - Section  9, page  21, allows  the scholarship  fund to  earn                                                               
     income, authorizes the commissioner  of revenue to carry out                                                               
     investments in the fund, and defines the usage of the fund.                                                                
   - Section 10, page 22, empowers the department to set                                                                        
     regulations for the transition into the program and to deal                                                                
     with anomalies.                                                                                                            
8:49:21 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGGINS commented  that he  didn't hear  any mention  of                                                               
graduate school and asked if Mr. Richmond would address that.                                                                   
MR. RICHMOND said  students are qualified for  eight semesters of                                                               
academic work, so  it depends on how quickly they  graduate. If a                                                               
student were  able to graduate  in three  years, he or  she could                                                               
use the scholarship for a year of graduate work.                                                                                
8:50:10 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGGINS said  that if the state is going  to increase the                                                               
academic requirements for  high schools, it will  create a demand                                                               
for more teachers  and classrooms, and it will take  some time to                                                               
ramp up for that. He asked  how the state is going help districts                                                               
meet the standards.                                                                                                             
MR. RICHMOND  said the scholarship  bill sets the bar  and leaves                                                               
it to  the legislature and  the department  to figure out  how to                                                               
reach  it.  He  acknowledged  that   the  governor's  bill  is  a                                                               
challenge to the educational structure.                                                                                         
SENATOR  HUGGINS  pointed  out  that  increasing  the  number  of                                                               
teachers  and expanding  the delivery  systems is  going to  cost                                                               
money, so they  need to discuss that early on  and understand the                                                               
magnitude of  the task.  He went  on to  say that  the governor's                                                               
program was designed to get more  kids into college or some other                                                               
educational program  and to improve  student achievement  in high                                                               
school and  middle school,  and he wondered  if they  had watered                                                               
that down in the CS.                                                                                                            
MR. RICHMOND  conceded that the  CS does lower the  standards the                                                               
governor submitted, but said they  are in line with the standards                                                               
of other states that offer a similar type of program.                                                                           
8:52:56 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGGINS  opined  that,   based  on  the  dismal  dropout                                                               
statistics and the number of  students requiring remedial courses                                                               
in  college, the  legislature needs  to take  advantage of  every                                                               
opportunity  to   improve  performance   in  middle   school  and                                                               
secondary school.                                                                                                               
8:53:23 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR THOMAS reiterated that they  need to look at the impacts                                                               
on the  system in  terms of  cost and  how quickly  districts can                                                               
meet this standard.                                                                                                             
8:53:34 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR MEYER  said that  when the governor  came out  with this                                                               
bill  the  goal  was  pretty simple,  to  encourage  the  state's                                                               
brightest  students  to  attend  colleges  in  Alaska.  He  asked                                                               
whether students  who qualify for  both the University  of Alaska                                                               
Scholars  program  and  the   performance  scholarship  would  be                                                               
granted both awards.                                                                                                            
MR. RICHMOND answered that they cannot have both.                                                                               
CO-CHAIR MEYER  stressed that  he wants to  make sure  they don't                                                               
lower their standards in order  to provide a needs-based program.                                                               
He also  expressed concern  that they  might be  eliminating some                                                               
good middle-class  students by changing  the GPA  requirement for                                                               
the performance scholarship,  and suggested that they  keep it at                                                               
CO-CHAIR MEYER asked  if a student on  an opportunity scholarship                                                               
who maintains a 2.5 GPA gets full tuition or just 50 percent.                                                                   
MR. RICHMOND answered  that students who drop below a  2.5 GPA in                                                               
college lose their scholarship.                                                                                                 
CO-CHAIR MEYER  asked if the  CS retains the  tiers so that  an A                                                               
student still gets full tuition.                                                                                                
MR. RICHMOND indicated yes.                                                                                                     
8:56:08 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  THOMAS said  he will  try to  get information  from the                                                               
department  regarding  how  many  schools  will  have  difficulty                                                               
providing the curriculum required under the scholarship plan.                                                                   
8:56:36 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR DAVIS  asked if  they will  hear from  the administration                                                               
regarding the CS today.                                                                                                         
CO-CHAIR THOMAS  said they will  have the department speak  to it                                                               
at the next meeting. [SB 224 was held in committee                                                                              
8:57:31 AM                                                                                                                    
There being  no further  business to  come before  the committee,                                                               
Co-Chair Thomas adjourned the meeting at 8:57 a.m.                                                                              

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