Legislature(2011 - 2012)CAPITOL 106
04/06/2011 08:00 AM EDUCATION
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|Presentation(s): Superintendent, Juneau School District|
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 145-K-12 SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM HJR 16-CONST. AM: EDUCATION FUNDING 8:29:24 AM CHAIR DICK announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 145, "An Act establishing the parental choice scholarship program to be administered by school districts for the purpose of paying the cost of attending grades kindergarten through 12 at public and private schools; and providing for an effective date." and HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 16, Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to state aid for education. 8:30:00 AM JOHN ALCANTRA, Government Relations Director, NEA-Alaska, stated that the members of NEA-Alaska strongly opposed HB 145 and, by extension, HJR 16. He declared that the Alaska State Constitution clearly stated: The Legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the state and may provide for other public educational institutions. Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control. No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution. MR. ALCANTRA pointed out that discussions with the supporters of the bill had indicated that the legislation did not ensure that religious or private schools would accept all Alaskan children, did not ensure that teachers would be certified, and did not ensure the same testing requirements as public schools. He referred to earlier testimony from Cook Inlet Academy which stated that it was necessary to screen applicants, as the school did not have the facilities for students with serious special needs. He stated that public education was provided for all who wished to attend, regardless of religious affiliation, learning styles, or physical needs. The committee took an at-ease from 8:32 a.m. to 8:34 a.m. 8:34:00 AM ROD McCOY expressed his belief in America, the Constitution, and democracy and pointed out that, as a teacher, he had taught these values to his classes. He stated his belief for the value of maintaining a separation of church and state, not to disregard the importance of church, but to maintain this distance as dictated by the writers of the Constitution. He declared his passion and protection for his religion, and he endorsed the guidance for a rational approach to state affairs. He expressed his disagreement with an earlier statement that "there would be an equitable opportunity for both private schools and public schools." He declared: That is entirely untrue. The public schools under the scenario there would be required to keep each and every student. The private schools in [HB] 145 would have no such requirements. MR. McCOY observed that there was not a structure to require the private schools to retain any students. He stressed that segregation would occur. He reported on research by Money magazine that compared like circumstances, and had stated that investments in private education did not result in any greater "bang for their buck." He offered his belief that change for change sake did not guarantee improvement. He asked that the legislators "walk slowly" in consideration of change to the Alaska State Constitution. 8:38:45 AM REPRESENTATIVE WES KELLER, Alaska State Legislature, reiterated that proposed HB 145 would provide public funding for the cost of attending grades kindergarten through 12 at any school of the parent's choice. He offered to answer any questions. [It was clarified that Version D was in front of the committee.] 8:39:47 AM REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT asked to clarify that HJR 16 would be put on the ballot so the people of the state could vote to change the constitution. REPRESENTATIVE KELLER agreed and explained the remainder of the process through the legislature. 8:40:40 AM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked for an explanation of how the school district would have the responsibility to administer the program and yet not have the authority for monitoring performance. REPRESENTATIVE KELLER explained that any school must comply with AS 14.45.030 or AS 14.45.100 - 14.45.130. [Statutes that govern religious or other private schools] He listed the necessary records to maintain exemption from other provisions of law pertaining to education. 8:42:56 AM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked for more information to the educational responsibility of the school districts. REPRESENTATIVE KELLER replied that the school district would have information about the participating schools. 8:44:27 AM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked to clarify, should the [private] schools which received funding not perform as well as the public schools, would there be a report to the parents. He asked if there was any accountability or mechanism for the school district to stop the funding to the [private] schools. 8:45:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER expressed "a lot of faith in the fact that the parents would not choose a school that is doing a bad job, and that's the whole point is to get that information out there and the parents are the ones to make the choice." He stated that "the market will work." 8:45:47 AM REPRESENTATIVE P. WILSON reflected that if private schools had to follow the same regulations as public schools, then the screening process at private school would not be allowed. 8:46:06 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER replied that participating schools would have independence and that laws prohibited discrimination. REPRESENTATIVE P. WILSON asked again if the screening processes would be stopped. She referred to earlier testimony from a private school principal that there was a screening process, and that the [private] school could choose the students. She pointed out that the public school was not allowed this choice. REPRESENTATIVE KELLER replied that the private schools could not "pick and choose based on race, gender, beliefs, what have you, that's part of the state law." REPRESENTATIVE P. WILSON asked for Representative Keller to put on the record that there would be no screening. REPRESENTATIVE KELLER declared that the decision was based on choice and if a school provided a statement of faith, parents would make the choice whether or not to sign such a document. 8:48:50 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER, in response to Representative P. Wilson, agreed that it would be the parent's choice. REPRESENTATIVE P. WILSON asked for confirmation that the school would not turn away a student. REPRESENTATIVE KELLER replied: There may be supplements in the application that somebody will not go to the school, will choose to not go to the school, because of the requirements that are there, but I think it's pretty clear that we want to leave those choices to whatever school is participating. 8:50:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE P. WILSON offered an example of a student with a handicap, and a private school might indicate that it was not prepared to deal with that handicap. She pointed out that public schools were not allowed to turn students away. 8:50:41 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER, in response, said that as a parent, he would choose the school that would best serve the child. 8:50:58 AM CHAIR DICK interjected that this was a discussion of minutiae, and he reflected on the difficulty for projecting the final outcome. He posed that it was not necessary to discuss details, and that moving proposed HB 145 out of committee would allow further scrutiny. He stated that this was a nationwide issue. He announced that the issue would "end up in front of the people of Alaska, and I think that's really where the dialogue needs to take place." He expressed his desire to allow the discussion to continue beyond the committee. He stressed the importance that this decision be made by the people of Alaska, and not by those in government. 8:53:42 AM REPRESENTATIVE KAWASAKI directed attention to Version I, which stated that districts would approve the participating schools and it "specifically cited that the discrimination in admission and hiring practices was part of this bill." He noted that Version D did not include this statement, but that it stated "they would admit students based on a random selection process, but could apply the preference for siblings." He offered his belief that Version D specifically allowed discrimination against students to continue. He opined that this was the proper venue to discuss policies of discrimination against students. He announced that he would not support to move the bill out of committee. 8:55:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON pointed out that the proposed HB 145 would not go to a vote of the people, as it was currently unconstitutional. He directed attention to HJR 16, which would allow a vote on proposed HB 145 by Alaskans. He emphasized that a job of the committee was to get into the minutiae of a bill. 8:55:58 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER, indicating Version D, page 2, lines 14- 17, observed that the intent of the sponsor was that the school district may participate in the option of student transportation. He reported that "it leaves the option up to the good will of the district based on the money they received on that program." 8:57:24 AM REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT expressed his concern with perception of the word "may." He declared his concern with the fiscal accountability for the transportation clause of the proposed bill. He indicated that the transportation cost should be borne by the parents of the student. 9:00:16 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER, in response to Representative Pruitt, said that the burden for transportation was placed on the district, but that the proposed bill did not require expansion of the current transportation beyond 100 percent of that allocated to "a similarly situated student." 9:01:14 AM The committee took an at-ease from 9:01 a.m. to 9:06 a.m. 9:06:43 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER, in response to Representative Pruitt, offered to remove the transportation language from the proposed bill. 9:07:27 AM REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT asked to clarify that the legislative intent was not to provide transportation for every child, and that the parental choice of schools would include the parental responsibility for the student's transportation to the school. 9:08:35 AM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked if it was the intent of the sponsor of the bill that the district would provide transportation to some private schools, but not to other private schools. REPRESENTATIVE KELLER replied that the school district would have the choice to provide transportation. 9:09:30 AM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON stated, for the record, that the intent was to allow a school district to supply transportation for some students to schools within the district, but not to all students to all schools. 9:10:09 AM REPRESENTATIVE P. WILSON expressed her concern that a parent may bring a law suit if the school district does not transport equally. REPRESENTATIVE KELLER said that the bill was not specific, and that the intent of the sponsor was "to give the district the choice based on good sense of what to do." 9:11:46 AM REPRESENTATIVE P. WILSON asked what the intent of the sponsor was for transportation. 9:12:21 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER apologized and stated that his intent was to allow a school district the option for student transportation. He said that the bill wording was not that specific. 9:13:06 AM REPRESENTATIVE P. WILSON maintained her concern for this issue. 9:13:24 AM CHAIR DICK said that HB 145 would be held over. 9:13:41 AM REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT moved to report HJR 16 out of committee with individual recommendations. 9:13:59 AM REPRESENTATIVE KAWASAKI objected for discussion. 9:14:01 AM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON stated his support for HJR 16, as it would need to be passed by the legislature and the people of Alaska. 9:15:24 AM REPRESENTATIVE KAWASAKI maintained his objection. 9:15:31 AM A roll call vote was taken. Representatives Feige, Pruitt, P. Wilson, Seaton, and Dick voted in favor of HJR 16. Representative Kawasaki voted against it. Therefore, HJR 16 was reported out of the House Education Standing Committee by a vote of 5-1. 9:16:41 AM Representative Keller pointed out that HJR 16 and proposed HB 145 could not ultimately be separated. He encouraged support for HB 145.