Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/23/1995 01:10 PM CRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HCRA - 03/23/95 HB 160 - NATIVE LANGUAGE EDUCATION CO-CHAIR IVAN invited Representative Nicholia to introduce HB 160 to the committee. Number 017 REPRESENTATIVE IRENE NICHOLIA said the potential for a great tragedy exists in our state. She said she is referring to the loss of at least 15 of the 20 Native languages by the year 2055. Dr. Michael Crowes, a professor of linguistics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, predicts short of a miracle or radical social change that is precisely what will occur. HB 160 mandates that the school district and the majority of Native students consider the potential for establishing a Native language curriculum. This can be accomplished by a local Native curriculum advisory committee specially delegated the authority to review the need for such curriculum. In those districts where it was determined that a Native language curriculum might be useful, the committee would make the appropriate recommendations to the district. The district would then have the opportunity of accepting or rejecting the recommendations of the committee. Under the authority of HB 160, Native language curriculum would be taught by certified or trained instructors. It also allows for the delivery of the language instruction by existing satellite equipment or other technology including computer programs and audio distance delivery. The effective date for this bill is July 1, 1996. REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLAI said unfortunately, the current step to Native language stems from anti Native policies that have taken place in our past. American missionaries and educators in an attempt to assimilate Alaska Natives into the Western Anglo religion, language and culture have brought Native language to the point of extinction. Currently, there is a movement in this country to begin recognizing and appreciating the cultural diversity that exists among Americans. HB 160 would certainly be a positive step towards suction and appreciation. The urgency of this situation is evident. Without proper action, on the part of the legislature, the state may continue to lose it's cultural held heritage and diversity. It is incumbent upon the state to adopt measures that would insure the preservation of our Native languages. Representative Nicholia strongly urged the committee to support this effort and pass HB 160. Number 072 CO-CHAIR IVAN thanked Representative Nicholia for her sponsor statement and asked if the committee had any questions or comments. Number 075 CO-CHAIR ALAN AUSTERMAN appreciated the effort shown by Representative Nicholia for bringing HB 160 forward. He stated that the lack and loss of culture has been a concern of his for a long time. He mentioned efforts on the part of the Natives in the Kodiak district to get behind some of the Native summer programs but their effort and intent diminished. He was concerned about the cost of this bill's impact on the state of Alaska based on the fiscal note he'd seen on March 15. He wanted to know how far Representative Nicholia had gone with figuring out the cost of implementing HB 160. Number 100 CO-CHAIR IVAN stated that Sheila Peterson was present from the Department of Education and could possibly answer Co-Chair Austerman's question. He also noted the attendance of Representatives Jerry Mackie and Pete Kott. Number 108 REPRESENTATIVE JERRY MACKIE said that HB 160 was not a mandated program but an optional one. This program asks for a local Native language advisory council, of which Representative Mackie assumes is made up of elders and others familiar with the Native languages and cultures. This council would advise the school districts but the final decision would be left up to the school districts to decide whether or not they will implement the Native program as part of their curriculum. His understanding of the zero fiscal note is the program would also be left up to the school districts to fund. Representative Mackie referred to bills, introduced a few years back, regarding mandated Native language programs and the opposition toward those bills. Number 137 CO-CHAIR IVAN asked what currently prevented this bill from becoming law, and what restrictions there were in the statutes. Number 154 REPRESENTATIVE PETE KOTT recommended that the Department of Education testify to answer the committee's questions. Number 156 CO-CHAIR IVAN invited Sheila Peterson from the Department of Education to come forward. Number 161 SHEILA PETERSON, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, Department of Education, stated that HB 160 establishes a mechanism to encourage the teaching of the Native language. The Department of Education highly values the current efforts in the local school districts. MS. PETERSON answered Co-Chair Ivan's question by stating that about 20 school districts are currently teaching Native language in some form meaning there were no restrictions against teaching the language. The intent of HB 160 would be to make school districts aware of the need to preserve the Native languages while involving an advisory committee, the people of the community, and school districts and encouraging them to form a partnership. She stated that the Department of Education currently works closely with school districts under bilingual multi-cultural aspects. The department will continue to assist school districts with the passage of HB 160 and the department will also encourage more school districts to approach the Native language as teaching of a language. Number 193 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked about the correlation between being proficient in the indigenous language and obtaining a higher degree proficiency in English, referring to subsection (5), page 2 of the bill. He asked if there was any data regarding this correlation deeming it true. Number 207 MS. PETERSON replied that she wasn't involved in the drafting of HB 160 but she thought the wording referred to a situation in which a child is introduced to a second language, they would then have a better understanding of their own language and be able to translate that understanding into English. Number 219 CO-CHAIR IVAN provided some insight into his own personal background. Having come from a Native community, he couldn't use his Native language in school, whereby he initiated sign language to communicate with the teachers. Explanations of the English topics were conveyed in the Native language and the instruction and objections were understood by the students. Co-Chair Ivan said he was able to connect better when the daily lessons and objectives were explained to him. He began speaking English when he was about six or seven but it was only broken English. The subject material presented to him at that time were Dick and Jane living on a farm, but Co-Chair Ivan said he was totally ignorant as to what a tractor was. Number 255 REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE said this was an opportunity to put into statute the state's approval of school districts implementing this Native language program. He represents a district whereby some communities have a majority of Native students and would be affected by this. This bill is an effort to recognize the indigenous cultures and languages that are unique to Alaska. He said to look at the rest of the 49 states at the indigenous groups whose cultures have not been preserved. He referred to page 2, and the predictions submitted by the Department of Education as to what would happen in several years if the language wasn't preserved. HB 160 would direct the school district to appoint an advisory council but it doesn't direct them to implement it into an actual curriculum. Without this term, it would be easy to pass this bill over and not go through with the passage due to complaints from. This bill doesn't mandate additional expenses on school districts but it states, in statute, that this is something the government approves of and that Alaska citizens should try to protect the Native languages of indigenous peoples. Representative Mackie felt that this was about as strong as a bill could get without actually mandating it. REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE was of the opinion that HB 160 should pass out of committee and move on to the Health and Social Services committee. Number 297 CO-CHAIR IVAN stated he wanted to go back and readdress the question posed by Representative Kott. He was willing to give the Department of Education time to research this and report back to the committee. He stated this concern needed to be addressed if the bill will progress through other committees. Number 308 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT stated that a simple amendment would clarify the wording. Rather than page 2, lines 3 through 5 reading, "when Native children are proficient in their primary indigenous language, they are more likely to do better in school; they also develop a higher degree of proficiency in English;" it would be amended to read, "when Native children are proficient in their primary indigenous language, they are also more likely to develop a higher degree of proficiency in the English language;". Number 320 REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLIA said this was a friendly amendment and she approved of it. Number 330 REPRESENTATIVE KOTT made a motion to adopt the amendment to HB 160. Number 336 CO-CHAIR IVAN heard no objections, and it was so ordered. Number 336 MS. PETERSON stated that she would contact spokes persons from the Department of Education to find statistics on the learning behaviors of young children whose first language isn't English. Number 343 CO-CHAIR IVAN expressed his appreciation at Ms. Peterson's offer. He clarified again that this bill wouldn't mandate school districts to incorporate this program into their curriculum. Number 346 REPRESENTATIVE NICHOLIA said this bill gives a school district the option to accept or reject the recommendations of the committee established by the school district. Number 350 CO-CHAIR IVAN asked if it would be up to school districts to work on their budget from the state funding formula and up to each district to determine how much they want to become involved in this program. Number 354 MS. PETERSON confirmed this and stated this was the reason for the revised fiscal note which clearly represented that the money has been appropriated into the foundation program. Initially, the Department of Education stated there were school districts that did not have a bilingual program but upon choosing this new program, the fiscal note proved how much it would cost the district but they could make the choice with or without HB 160. Number 367 CO-CHAIR IVAN stated once community people got involved with the program and the schools, they would contribute their time and expertise to ensure that the Native study programs are supported. He said he currently sees the elders separated from the school due to not being given the opportunity to get involved. He supports HB 160 and encourages its passage. He asked if the committee had any more questions or comments for the bill sponsor. Number 388 CO-CHAIR AUSTERMAN made a motion to move HB 160 as amended from the committee with individual recommendations to the next committee referral. Number 392 There being no objection, it was so ordered.