Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/10/2003 02:56 PM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 109                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     "An Act relating to the limitation on payment of state                                                                     
     treasury warrants; and providing for an effective                                                                          
     date."                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Croft  MOVED   to  ADOPT  proposed  committee                                                                   
substitute Work Draft, 23-LS0581\I,  4/10/03.  There being NO                                                                   
OBJECTION, the work draft was adopted.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
LINDA SYLVESTER,  STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE WEYHRAUCH,  testified                                                                   
in  support  of  the  legislation.  She  explained  that  the                                                                   
legislation would address stale  dated warrants. She referred                                                                   
to  the  supplemental  budget, which  included  requests  for                                                                   
stale dated checks  of up to two years.  She  stated that the                                                                   
legislation amended current statute  to limit warrants to six                                                                   
months. She noted  that under the proposed legislation,  if a                                                                   
warrant has  not been cashed  in six  months, it would  go to                                                                   
the Unclaimed  Properties Division. She maintained  that this                                                                   
process would not create an added burden for that division.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Ms.   Sylvester   also   noted  that   the   bill   addressed                                                                   
streamlining  miscellaneous debts.   She  gave examples  from                                                                   
the  supplemental  budget of  extremely  irregular  requests,                                                                   
such as  a charge  of $26  for facsimile  charges dating  two                                                                   
years  prior.   She  maintained  that the  legislation  would                                                                   
eliminate    stale   dated    warrants   and    miscellaneous                                                                   
expenditures from the supplemental budget process.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
KIM GARNERO,  DIRECTOR OF  FINANCE, ADMINISTRATIVE  SERVICES,                                                                   
DEPARTMENT  OF   ADMINISTRATION  spoke  in  support   of  the                                                                   
legislation.  She noted that  her department was  responsible                                                                   
for payments  from the state  of Alaska.   She noted  that if                                                                   
warrants  were  not  cashed within  two  years,  the  current                                                                   
process of  "stale dating" required  the amount to  revert to                                                                   
the General Fund.  She explained  that, when a claim is later                                                                   
made, a new  appropriation was required to pay  the warrants,                                                                   
which  could  take  up  to one  year  for  completion.    She                                                                   
reiterated that  the fast track supplemental  budget included                                                                   
$44 thousand for stale dated warrants.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Ms.  Garnero referenced  the  unclaimed  property statute  of                                                                   
1986.  She noted that the proposed  legislation would shorten                                                                   
the  time  frame  and change  the  handling  of  stale  dated                                                                   
warrants by treating them as unclaimed  property.  She stated                                                                   
that with the new procedure, the  Department of Revenue would                                                                   
actively seek  the owners of  the unclaimed warrant,  thereby                                                                   
expediting the process.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Ms.  Garnero  also  stated  that   the  proposed  legislation                                                                   
addressed  the   state's  ability  to  pay   vendors  from  a                                                                   
previously  dated  invoice.    She  noted  that  current  law                                                                   
required  a new  appropriation  for invoices  older than  two                                                                   
years.    She explained  that  the  legislation  would  allow                                                                   
agencies to simply  pay the invoice from the  current budget,                                                                   
as long  as they have an  adequate lapse balance in  the year                                                                   
relating  to  the  obligation.    She  maintained  that  this                                                                   
procedure  would   more  efficiently  handle   accounts  with                                                                   
vendors.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Representative   Hawker  referred   to  section   2  of   the                                                                   
legislation and  asked for a  definition of a  valid approved                                                                   
claim.  Ms. Garnero  defined  it  as a  claim  that has  been                                                                   
reviewed  by  an  agency  and   approved  by  the  Office  of                                                                   
Management and Budget.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
RACHEL  LEWIS,  UNCLAIMED PROPERTY  DIVISION,  DEPARTMENT  OF                                                                   
REVENUE  responded to  a  question by  Representative  Croft.                                                                   
She explained that unclaimed property  is held in perpetuity.                                                                   
She  noted  that  each year,  several  million  dollars  were                                                                   
transferred  from  the  Unclaimed   Property  Fund  into  the                                                                   
General Fund, retaining a working balance.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Foster   MOVED  to  report  HB   109  out  of                                                                   
Committee with  the accompanying fiscal note.  There being NO                                                                   
OBJECTION, it was so ordered.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
CSHB  109  (FIN) was  REPORTED  out  of Committee,  with  one                                                                   
previously published zero fiscal  note from the Department of                                                                   
Administration, and a "do pass" recommendation.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
HOUSE BILL NO. 154                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     "An  Act relating  to admission  to  and advancement  in                                                                   
     public  schools  of  children   under  school  age;  and                                                                   
     providing for an effective date."                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
KEVIN SWEENEY,  LEGISLATIVE LIAISON, DEPARTMENT  OF EDUCATION                                                                   
AND   EARLY  DEVELOPMENT,   testified  in   support  of   the                                                                   
legislation. He  explained that current statute  allows early                                                                   
entry for students at the discretion  of the school district,                                                                   
providing  the  child meets  board-prescribed  standards.  He                                                                   
stated   that  the   Department   of  Education   and   Early                                                                   
Development  feels that  the  intent of  the  statute was  to                                                                   
allow  the early  entry of  a  truly exceptional  child.   He                                                                   
maintained  that the  provision  has resulted  in a  two-year                                                                   
kindergarten program in some districts,  enrolling every four                                                                   
year old in  the program and counting them  toward foundation                                                                   
funding.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Sweeny  stated that  the legislation  intends to  clarify                                                                   
the criteria  for early enrollment for  a four year  old.  He                                                                   
clarified that  the Department  supports early enrollment  of                                                                   
kindergarten children  with the intent  of moving them  on to                                                                   
first  grade  in the  next  year.  He  observed that  only  a                                                                   
portion  of school  districts currently  provide services  to                                                                   
four  year  olds.    He  speculated  that  if  all  districts                                                                   
provided this service, the fiscal  note might be close to $63                                                                   
million.  He concluded  that the effect of the  bill would be                                                                   
to  clarify  whether  the state  would  provide  thirteen  or                                                                   
fourteen years of funding per child.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
BRUCE   JOHNSON,  ASSOCIATION   OF   ALASKA  SCHOOL   BOARDS,                                                                   
testified  in opposition  to the  legislation.  He read  from                                                                   
prepared testimony as follows:                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
     HB 154  in the estimation  of our Association's  members                                                                   
     will  eliminate an  important tool  that many  districts                                                                   
     have  utilized  to  ensure  an  "equal  start"  for  all                                                                   
     children.   The inequality  that currently  exists among                                                                   
     children starting  formal schooling is  well documented.                                                                   
     A  recent   study  by  the  Economic   Policy  Institute                                                                   
     validates   that  children   enter   school  with   wide                                                                   
     achievement  disparities.   This particular study  found                                                                   
     that children  in the highest socioeconomic  group score                                                                   
     60  percent   higher  in  mathematics  and   reading  as                                                                   
     compared  to the  students in  the lowest  socioeconomic                                                                   
     group.    Findings  such  as  these  help  support  what                                                                   
     educators have  known for years - the  "achievement gap"                                                                   
     begins long  before children  enter school.   This bill,                                                                   
     should  it  become law,  will  severely  limit a  school                                                                   
     districts'  capacity  to  better  ensure  that  children                                                                   
     enter  the public  school  starting gate  on more  equal                                                                   
     footing.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     Please  don't  misunderstand  AASB's  position  on  this                                                                   
     issue - we believe strongly  that all children can learn                                                                   
     regardless of their socioeconomic  status.  But the fact                                                                   
     remains that many children  come to the schoolhouse door                                                                   
     without  the  advantages  provided  to children  in  our                                                                   
     state's  more affluent  homes,  and  this difference  is                                                                   
     extremely  difficult to  overcome without  opportunities                                                                   
     to  start  the  schooling  experience  at  a  pre-school                                                                   
     level.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
     I would draw  your attention to the  tremendous advances                                                                   
     in student  learning that are  occurring in many  of our                                                                   
     school  districts.   In nearly  all cases,  such as  the                                                                   
     Chugach School District's  Continuous Improvement model,                                                                   
     students  pass  through  a system  comprised  of  levels                                                                   
     based on demonstrated skills,  not based on specific age                                                                   
     or time frames.   Early intervention is  key to students                                                                   
     acquiring  the skills necessary  to advance to  the next                                                                   
     level.  I would submit that  a program targeted to needy                                                                   
     four  year olds is  far superior  to retention  at later                                                                   
     grades.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
     In  summary, I  urge you  to  reconsider HB  154 and  if                                                                   
     needed,  regulate  the current  law  before denying  the                                                                   
     opportunity  for children most  in need to  enter public                                                                   
     schools  on an  equal footing  with  their peers.  Thank                                                                   
     you.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
In response  to a  question by  Co-Chair Harris, Mr.  Johnson                                                                   
observed that there are approximately  10,000 students at any                                                                   
grade  level   and  acknowledged   that  Mr.  Sweeny's   cost                                                                   
estimates  were  probably  accurate.   He  conceded  that  to                                                                   
institute  a program  for four  year olds  to fill  available                                                                   
classroom space was  not proper policy.  He  pointed out that                                                                   
many of the students served come  from disadvantaged homes in                                                                   
primarily rural  districts. He  encouraged the Department  to                                                                   
regulate the  program, rather  than eliminate an  opportunity                                                                   
for these most needy students.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
In response  to a  question by  Co-Chair Harris, Mr.  Sweeney                                                                   
responded   that  the   Department   was  currently   seeking                                                                   
clarification  of   the  statute  that  provides   foundation                                                                   
funding.   He  emphasized that  the formula  was intended  to                                                                   
fund  school districts  equally.  He  suggested  that if  the                                                                   
program is  provided to  one district it  must be  offered to                                                                   
all.  He  acknowledged  the  benefit  of  the  programs,  but                                                                   
speculated  that it  was not  the intent  of this  particular                                                                   
statute.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Harris  questioned   why  Anchorage  and  Fairbanks                                                                   
school  districts have  not taken advantage  of the  program.                                                                   
Mr.  Sweeney maintained  that  more districts  would wish  to                                                                   
take  advantage of  the  program  now that  they  know it  is                                                                   
available. He  added that increased space  requirements would                                                                   
result in increased capital costs.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
In response  to a  question by  Co-Chair Harris, Mr.  Johnson                                                                   
noted that  there would have  to be  a minimum of  four hours                                                                   
per day  of instruction  in order for  a district  to qualify                                                                   
for full foundation  funding. He added that  there is reduced                                                                   
need  where  there  are  quality  pre-school  or  Head  Start                                                                   
programs. He  noted that more  urban communities  offer these                                                                   
types of opportunities.   He noted that programs  served less                                                                   
than  half of  the children  eligible for  Head Start,  since                                                                   
there  was  not  sufficient  funding   to  serve  the  entire                                                                   
population.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
ROBERT  BOYLE,  NORTH  WEST ARTIC  BOROUGH  SCHOOL  DISTRICT,                                                                   
testified   via   teleconference   in   opposition   to   the                                                                   
legislation. He quoted  a study from the University  of North                                                                   
Carolina illustrating that the  State could achieve a savings                                                                   
of up to $13 thousand per pupil  by investing in early years.                                                                   
He noted that  the savings was realized by  avoiding remedial                                                                   
services later.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Joule asked  if it  would be  to the  State's                                                                   
advantage to  have children in  the system earlier  in school                                                                   
districts  with  disadvantaged  students.  Mr.  Sweeney  once                                                                   
again  acknowledged  the  Department's   recognition  of  the                                                                   
program's  value. He pointed  out that  most of the  programs                                                                   
receive Title 1 funding.  He noted  that the Department would                                                                   
continue to provide  full Title 1 funding at  $4 thousand per                                                                   
student  if  districts  offered   a  preschool  program.  The                                                                   
Department  is asking  for  legislative  clarification as  to                                                                   
whether  the   program  should   be  supported  through   the                                                                   
foundation formula.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Representative Stoltze  noted that he had not  heard from his                                                                   
two  school districts  [Matsu  and Anchorage]  regarding  the                                                                   
legislation.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Mr.  Johnson  stated  that  the   Anchorage  School  District                                                                   
supports the program, even though  they have not participated                                                                   
in it.   He noted  that more  urban districts serve  students                                                                   
with Head Start programs.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Harris  speculated   that  the  issue  is  of  more                                                                   
importance  in  other  areas   of  the  state,  such  as  the                                                                   
Northwest Arctic Borough.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Foster  pointed  out that  there  are  unique                                                                   
needs  throughout the  state. Co-Chair  Harris stressed  that                                                                   
the Committee must look at the State as a whole.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Joule  noted that  there  are  only two  Head                                                                   
Start  programs in  his large  district.   He emphasized  the                                                                   
need for all young children to have access to early learning                                                                    
opportunities.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
HB 154 was HEARD and HELD in Committee.                                                                                         

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