Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/10/2003 02:56 PM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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.