Legislature(1995 - 1996)

03/23/1995 01:10 PM CRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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               
 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             
 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           
 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                
 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           
 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               
 Number 392                                                                    
 There being no objection, it was so ordered.                                  

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