Legislature(2021 - 2022)DAVIS 106
03/29/2021 08:00 AM EDUCATION
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HB 25-PUBLIC SCHOOLS: SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL LEARNING 9:05:34 AM CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND announced that the final order of business would be HB 25, "An Act relating to the duties of the state Board of Education and Early Development; relating to statewide standards for instruction in social-emotional learning; and providing for an effective date." 9:05:48 AM REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS, as prime sponsor of HB 25, highlighted the need for social-emotional learning (SEL) for students, including skills such as coping, resiliency, cooperation, and empathy. He highlighted the efforts of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District (MSBSD) and the Anchorage School District (ASD) in developing standards and programs for these skills. He recalled the testimony of a teacher in a House Education Standing Committee meeting from the previous year, where she told the story of her students trying to process the death of one of their peers from suicide. He went on to provide other specific examples of teachers who had helped their students process emotions and return to learning. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS stated that HB 25 does not mandate anything for school districts, as the SEL requirements in the bill fall outside the core curricula mandated by the State of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED). However, he noted, most districts in the state have some semblance of a standard for SEL. He noted that schools in Fairbanks have received a grant to provide counseling and are observing the results of that pilot program. He noted letters of support from the Alaska Gateway School District (AGSD) and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District (KPBSD), which spoke to the need for SEL standards to be in place statewide. 9:12:58 AM REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS acknowledged concerns from a previous budget subcommittee that the bill could turn into a social program or result in the teaching of religion or anti-religion. He stated that the bill would provide a way for districts to avoid that problem by seeing standards developed by experts and leaders in education adopted at the state level. These standards would provide the districts with proper guidance in order to avoid conflicts. He brought attention to the fiscal note, which supported his position that the standards would be developed by experts in the field, not at the legislative level. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS addressed the question of why the proposed bill should be passed if many districts already have standards in place, stating that industry is asking for these skills. He listed the skills that the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) standards and industry standards have in common, including: working with others; honesty and integrity; pride and productivity in work; respect for others; responsibility; self-discipline; manners, goal-setting; and problem solving and managing stress. He added that educators also seek these skills, as evidenced by the testimony of Dr. Keith Hamilton in his earlier confirmation hearing. Furthermore, he stated, SEL is the most desired and attended professional development for educators in Alaska as it allows teachers to become better mentors and role models for their students. He stated further that districts also desire SEL, as shown by the letters of support from AGSD and KPBSD, as well as from the Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB). He referred to a presentation in a committee meeting from a previous year by Mark Foster, the former chief financial officer for the Anchorage School District. In that presentation, Mr. Foster pointed out that the strongest indicator for future success in students after school was SEL skills, he stated. He said that pre- kindergarten (pre-K) guidelines for SEL have existed in Alaska since 2008. However, he stated, SEL is practically ignored after kindergarten. He reiterated that SEL is just as important for a graduating 18-year-old as it is for a 5-year-old. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS reminded the committee that HB 25 would mandate nothing for school districts; it simply would provide guidelines for them to create their own programs. The standards created by HB 25 would allow districts to spend their money wisely in creating these programs, he stated. He recalled the earlier testimony of Dr. Keith Hamilton, who found that the greatest issues facing students were trauma and truancy. He said SEL provides the tools necessary to face these issues and continue to learn and develop. He recalled the earlier testimony of Jeffrey Erickson, who touted the benefits of sports and activities in promoting confidence and leadership, and added that those skills should be taught in school and at home as well. He stated that CASEL implementation involves listening to parents to ensure that lessons apply to a student's home life. He reiterated that the bill is essential to student development, recalling public testimony at a FNSBSD Board of Education meeting demanding that students return to school due to a lack of social interaction and progress in SEL. He closed by saying that parents, districts, educators, and industry all demand SEL, and that is why HB 25 was created. 9:21:35 AM TANIA CLUCAS, Staff, Representative Grier Hopkins, on behalf of Representative Hopkins, prime sponsor of HB 25, reviewed the sectional analysis. She began with Section 1, which amends AS 14.07.165(a) to read: "The board shall adopt statewide standards for instruction in social-emotional learning". She continued to Section 4, which would provide an effective date of July 1, 2022. She continued to read from the fiscal note, which showed a total operating cost of $71,000 for fiscal year 2022 (FY 22). She explained that these costs were associated with 20 educational staff members participating in a year-long development program along with the State Board of Education. The money would provide a stipend as well as a contract from the Department of Education and Early Development to a national SEL organization in order to provide expertise and advice for standards adopted by the state. MS. CLUCAS presented a diagram for Alaska's Education Challenge outlining standards and objectives for Alaska students. She stated that SEL cultivates safety and well-being and promotes responsible and reflective leaders through self-responsibility and self-assessment. She referenced the previous statement of Representative Hopkins and the presentation of Mark Foster, which both supported SEL in order to increase student success. She explained that these aspects combine to achieve the goal of "an excellent education for every student every day." MS. CLUCAS explained that the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) does not tell educators how to perform their jobs, but rather cooperates with families, communities, and educators to develop the appropriate social- emotional framework for students. She emphasized that this approach is especially important in Alaska, where the needs of one community may be very different from those of another. She stated that CASEL's collaborative process has been adopted in school districts in Anchorage and Fairbanks, as well as in the Gateway School District of Tok. She noted that CASEL represents just one SEL organization, and the state will not mandate the use of one organization or another, she said. She reiterated that districts would have the flexibility to adopt standards and programs that are most appropriate for them. MS. CLUCAS continued to a diagram of the CASEL SEL framework, [found in a two-page document in the committee packet], which highlighted five aspects of SEL: social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making, self-management, and self- awareness. She recalled her experience as a manager, where self-awareness and self-management were critical to integrity and addressing issues and mistakes in the workplace. She also recalled her experience as a player and coach in sports where social awareness helped players identify each other's strengths and weaknesses in order to work together. She emphasized the importance of social awareness in conflict resolution. She highlighted responsible decision-making and stated that, given her background in data, the objective of learning to make a reasoned judgement after analyzing information, data, and facts represents a core value to her. 9:28:33 AM MS. CLUCAS brought attention to [a 14-page document in the committee packet that shows] the MSBSD standards for SEL [specific to grade levels]. She directed attention to the standards for SEL for pre-K through second-grade [shown on pages 1-3 of the document] and explained that these guidelines are not an added burden for teachers, but rather a complement to their curriculum that already exists. She highlighted a section on student sense of personal responsibility, where students accept that there are positive and negative consequences for their actions. She continued to the Mat-Su standards for SEL in third- through fifth-grade [on pages 4-6 of the document], highlighting the section where students are aware of, and accept, their responsibilities and can define what it means to be responsible and identify things for which they are responsible. 9:31:47 AM MS. CLUCAS continued to the Mat-Su standards for SEL in sixth- through eighth-grade [on pages 7-9 of the document], highlighting the section where students build on their sense of personal responsibility by identifying the areas of school and life that are within their control. She added that students also learn to analyze the short- and long-term outcomes of safe, risky, and harmful behaviors, as well as define their responsibility. She explained that this ties into a health- related curriculum, as per Mat-Su standards, but there is no mandate to how other districts may decide to present it. MS. CLUCAS continued to the Mat-Su standards for SEL in ninth- through twelfth-grade [on pages 10-14 of the document], and she talked about students learning to take responsibility for their own choices. She explained that students are able to describe how taking responsibility can lead to personal success and, conversely, how not taking responsibility should lead them to reconsider their actions. She elaborated that students in this stage are learning how to be responsible citizens within their community by taking volunteer or leadership opportunities, moving into the workforce, or pursuing education. 9:34:06 AM REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS interjected to bring attention to [the top-right portion of] page 11 of the document, and he described the standards listed as follows [original punctuation provided, with some formatting changes]: Teen Leadership Restorative Circles Lunch reflections Positive Action Kit 1: Life's Big Question: "Who Am I?" Focuses students on who they are and who they want to become. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS explained that these activities can be implemented throughout the day and during lessons. MS. CLUCAS next directed attention to a 3-page document included in the committee packet provided by the Alaska Process Industry Career Consortium (APICC), which is overseen by the Alaska Safety [Alliance] which works with resource industries and private sector employers. She noted the standards sought after by the alliance, including work attitudes and values. She recalled her managerial experience and seeking to hire employees with "soft skills" because technical skills can be taught. She explained that the terminology is new, given that things change and grow, but it still describes Alaskans with soft skills that employers desire, including reliability, teamwork, and a desire to learn. She reiterated that these are the attributes that Alaska's most significant career development consortium seeks in potential employees, and schools are responding accordingly. 9:36:26 AM REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS noted the APICC Career Readiness packet, which stated "These critical skills, values, and attitudes were identified by CEOs, personnel directors, and other employer representatives, and revised by Alaska's Youth: Ready for Work, following review by parents, educators, students, and other community members". He reiterated that the ideas included in HB 25 come from these entities. MS. CLUCAS resumed, reiterating the need for employees with good work attitudes and communication and problem-solving skills. She added that potential employees will also display good work ethic, attendance, and dependability. She referred to a [1- page] flyer from the Alaska Staff Development Network [included in the committee packet], which offered SEL and trauma-engaged professional development, and stated that these courses are some of the most-requested and attended courses that they offer. She stated that HB 25 does not introduce anything that is not already happening and simply introduces standards at the request of the education community. MS. CLUCAS referenced a 2-page document [included in the committee packet], titled "Alaska Council of School Administrators Joint Position Statements for 2021." She noted that the council requested social, emotional, and mental health above all other non-fiscal priorities. She stated that the council recognizes the need for SEL to be part of the standards and culture of Alaska's schools. MS. CLUCAS moved on to the letters of support for HB 25, [included in the committee packet], and highlighted a letter from KPBSD, which she stated has "legislative priorities" in SEL and recognizes students' need for it. She emphasized that AGSD Superintendent Scott MacManus has worked with her and other staff on [related legislation] in a previous legislature and stated in his letter of support that his district uses the CASEL 5 framework in its SEL curriculum. She touted the district's innovative approach to the needs of a diverse community and their recognition of the importance of SEL implementation. MS. CLUCAS referred to the letter of support from AASB, which also supported SEL as a legislative priority. She noted that the association wrote in the letter, "The bill is broad enough to provide districts the latitude to localize SEL to fit the needs of students, families, and communities." She emphasized that the need for SEL is recognized by those in the education field across Alaska. She continued to a letter of support from the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership and noted that, of all people, pediatricians would likely be the ones in tune with the needs of children. She stated that, according to the partnership, the framework and skills developed through SEL are essential for children to be healthy and thrive. She referenced the last letter of support from the Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and the Alaska Mental Health Board and noted that many students come from backgrounds with many challenges. She explained that the two boards recommend SEL as an essential way to cope and overcome those challenges. 9:43:18 AM REPRESENTATIVE GILLHAM asked what, given that SEL programs already exist, the bill will actually do. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS responded that HB 25 would give districts the guidelines for going forward. He noted that not all districts have these standards in place, and those that already have programs in place would like specific standards in case they would like to change the programs or find additional resources. He stated that districts want guidelines as they do not have all the answers or the needed resources and time to research them. He emphasized that standards would save districts the resources and time in implementing their programs. REPRESENTATIVE GILLHAM said that he is confused by the purpose of the bill and asked why districts don't simply copy the standards in place in the Mat-Su and Anchorage School Districts. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS reiterated that the bill does not mandate the standards, but simply lays them out for the districts that would like to use them. He noted that every district has different needs and challenges and just copying and pasting program standards across districts will not serve their needs. REPRESENTATIVE GILLHAM stated that he has received over a dozen emails in opposition to HB 25 and zero emails in support. The emails stressed the importance of schools teaching reading, writing, and math while leaving mental health to families. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS noted that he has received emails in opposition to grants taken on by the State of Alaska Board of Education for mental health professionals in schools, but none in direct opposition of the bill. He emphasized that the bill does not put any new mental health professionals in schools, but rather provides guidelines, in cooperation with parents, to make sure that the needs of the school are met. 9:47:04 AM REPRESENTATIVE PRAX noted that soft skills are an interesting subject and an aspirational goal. He stated that in schools in Fairbanks that he attended 40 years ago, schools and teachers were working towards the same goals. He also noted that in his company, each pump station formed its own little community with each crew having a different approach to accomplishing those same goals. He stated that these goals are often addressed naturally but, in his experience, when they are addressed deliberately it does not work. He predicted that it will be difficult to codify these goals at the state level and direct everybody towards a specific thing instead of letting it develop at the local level. He stated that he would have to think about whether these goals could be properly regulated for local communities and businesses. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS agreed that HB 25 sets an aspirational goal. However, he stated, it does not dictate what must be done and instead provides guidelines for finding appropriate practices for each district or community. He noted that training on how to be a good coworker will not be beneficial for somebody in his/her 40s and 50s, but starting early, from kindergarten through twelfth-grade, will help teach and develop those skills. 9:51:27 AM REPRESENTATIVE GILLHAM asked if HB 25 lays out specific guidelines. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS answered no, it does not provide specific guidelines, but would instead bring together teachers, educators, industry representatives, and medical experts in order to figure out what those standards should look like. He stated that he does not know what those answers would be, as he has never taught in the classroom, and HB 25 would bring together the people who do. REPRESENTATIVE GILLHAM noted that some districts already have standards and introducing new specifics would take away from individuality. 9:52:26 AM REPRESENTATIVE STORY asked if the intent of HB 25 is to bring together educators from the community to help develop best practice programs which would then be available to other districts with no program in place. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS noted that there will be invited testimony in a future hearing from AASB and other groups that would work to implement the programs across the state level. He stated that he was unsure of what their discussions would entail but guessed that their approach would be to identify which programs and curricula would be relevant to the needs of Alaska. He reiterated that the invited testimony would shed more light on what exactly that will look like. REPRESENTATIVE STORY offered her understand that "this is something that is implemented throughout the school day" via guidelines rather than specific programs. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS replied yes. 9:54:50 AM REPRESENTATIVE CRONK asked whether standards, if implemented, would be the same standards used in the state grant program. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS replied no, the $9.1 million specified under HB 25 would be for mental health practitioners in schools and would not direct how the money must be spent. He stated the bill has more to do with what needs to be done and how staff, from teachers to principals, can work collaboratively to help teach the necessary skills. 9:55:54 AM CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND asked if the fiscal note that Representative Hopkins referenced is from a previous iteration of HB 25. REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS stated that it is a new fiscal note provided in the previous week and should be included in the bill packet. He noted that the fiscal note was $30,000 dollars less than the fiscal note for the last iteration of the bill, given that the collaborators would perform their work remotely rather than in person. 9:56:41 AM CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND announced that HB 25 was held over.