Legislature(2001 - 2002)
02/22/2001 03:02 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 101-CHARTER SCHOOLS CHAIR DYSON announced the committee would hear testimony on HOUSE BILL NO. 101, "An Act relating to charter schools; and providing for an effective date." Number 1020 WESLEY KELLER, Staff to Representative Fred Dyson, Alaska State Legislature, came forth to address proposed committee substitute (CS), version 22-LS0254\O, Ford, 2/22/01. He stated that Alaska is in its fourth year of charter schools. In 1995 the charter school Act was passed, and in the fall of '97 schools began to put in applications. Since 1997, 19 schools have opened and two have closed. There are currently 17 operating, with a student population of 1,271 this past fall. According to a recent Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory federally funded study of Alaskan charter schools, dated 4/14/2000, most charter schools have a very high level of parental participation; half of the schools require it. There is an overall average pupil- to-teacher ratio of 17-to-1, which is approximately the same as the state average. Many of the schools utilize classroom aids and parents in the classroom, which brings the student-adult ratio down to about 9-to-1. MR. KELLER stated that 11 schools have acquired permanent facilities, and 5 are in temporary buildings, which include schools, community centers, portables, spaces in shopping malls, and buildings on military bases. Several school districts do not provide anything by way of facilities. He continued, stating that charter schools employ 87 full-time and 178 part- time teachers, with an average of seven years' experience. Nine of the sixteen schools that reported have a special education teacher on staff. He stated that the estimated cost per student ranges between $3,813 and $7,736, with an average of about $5,236. He added that the statewide average is about $7,500. Number 1150 MR. KELLER stated that there is a group called the Center for Education Reform that has evaluated all the charter school laws in the United States. Alaska is rated 26th of the 39 laws. Other states have done things for charter schools that Alaska has not, including: multiple chartering authorities; legal/operational autonomy; guaranteed full funding, where the money just follows the student to wherever the student chooses to go; exemption from collective bargaining agreements, fiscal autonomy, where Alaska is rated 1 out 5; and automatic waivers from school and district regulations. Number 1210 MR. KELLER remarked that HB 101 is just a small step and does none of these things. He reviewed the sections for the committee in order to clarify what the bill does. He said that Section 1 doubles the allowable number of charter schools in Alaska, from 30 to 60. Number 1240 CHAIR DYSON added that Section 1 also eliminates geographical distribution. MR. KELLER continued, stating that Section 2 specifies that charter schools be subject to the benchmark and qualifying exam, like all public schools. Section 3 deals with a section of law that explains what must be in the contract. He added that these changes are mostly grammatical; one change just conforms to the change made in Section 5. Section 4 adds a new section of law that allows for a one-time charter school grant, in the amount of $500 per student, to be used in the year that the school applies. CHAIR DYSON stated that the original Alaska charter school laws were set up as a pilot [program] because there was federal money available to get the schools going. He asked whether that [federal money] would be going away. ME. KELLER answered that [the money] is dribbling away. CHAIR DYSON asked if the $500 mentioned is really significant in helping the charter schools get going. Number 1324 MR. KELLER replied that the state board recommended, several years ago, that startup money for the charter schools be available, and this complies with that. He continued describing the bill, stating that Section 5 changes the allowable charter school contract length from a maximum of five years to a maximum of ten years. This is a significant change because some landlords have been hesitant for charter schools to make changes if they only have a five-year commitment. He stated that this ties in with Section 7, which gets rid of the sunset date for the charter schools. Section 6 specifies that a charter school would need at least 150 students to be counted as a separate school for the purposes of the foundation formula calculations. He noted that existing law states that alternative schools need at least 200 students. He added that a lot of the charter schools, even though they are small, receive the same funding as that for students who attend the largest schools in the district. Number 1430 REPRESENTATIVE STEVENS asked whether any of the 17 charter schools are approaching this 150 figure. MR. KELLER replied that, from memory, about 25 percent are, and maybe five or six are at the 100/125 range. He remarked that this is a matter of interest to the charter schools because they would like that number as low as possible. Number 1640 DEBBIE OSSIANDER, Legislative Chair, Anchorage School Board, Anchorage School District, testified via teleconference. She said that charter schools are a wonderful experiment; they are proving to have a real value for education across the state. They offer an innovative way to try different types of curriculum and instruction. She said that [charter schools] offer more choices to families, who can basically design their schools with the district's cooperation. However, they have faced major challenges, particularly with the startup costs. She remarked that the Anchorage School Board is very supportive of this bill and committee substitute. She added that they are especially pleased that expensive administrative reporting requirements are being avoided, and that the startup funds will be available as new dollars, instead of coming from existing schools' programs. Number 1684 REPRESENTATIVE STEVENS asked if Ms. Ossiander would comment on how the charter school [students] did on the exit exam testing. MS. OSSIANDER replied that she didn't have the specific information with her, but, in general, the charter schools performed very well. She added that there is one family- partnership charter school that is consistently above the district average in terms of test scores. Number 1723 BILL SYVERSON, Head Teacher, Aurora Borealis Charter School, testified via teleconference. He said that Aurora Borealis Charter School has a student population of 100, is expanding to 120 for next year, and in four years will be up to 200. He read a letter that was submitted to Chair Dyson from the board chairman: This letter is in support of HB 101 regarding charter schools. The academic policy committee at Aurora Borealis Charter School is in support of the provisions of HB 101. We particularly urge passage of the provisions in the bill to eliminate the sunset clause, and to extend the term of contract to ten years. MR. SYVERSON continued to read: Aurora Borealis Charter School is providing a valuable alternative to regular public school. Our enrollment has increased annually, our students have received benchmark test results that are among the highest in the district, and parents are happy with our school. We have a waiting list of 200 students, which is twice our current enrollment. Removing the sunset date and extending the contract term will be advantageous to all charter schools, especially in retracting and retaining qualified teachers. Longer contract terms will help charter schools that were having difficulties securing facilities. Additional funding to charter schools would be advantageous, especially since the current law does not give specific direction to school districts on how to fund charter schools. MR. SYVERSON concluded reading: We are also very much in favor of the provision which establish alternative schools as separate schools for funding purposes. Kenai Peninsula Borough School District apparently has been penalized with lower funding because our enrollment is added to the larger school district. This inequity in the funding formula needs to be corrected. Number 1823 REPRESENTATIVE STEVENS asked how the students at the Aurora Borealis Charter School did on the exit exam. MR. SYVERSEN said they did very well and that the school's [scores] are among the highest in the district. Test scores have continually risen each year. He stated that every grade is tested with the CAT 5 each year, so there has been an excellent track record since year one. CHAIR DYSON stated: "We sometimes hear the criticism that charter schools sweep the cream of the students out of the district, and have the best and most active parents." He asked if that was true at Aurora Borealis Charter School. MR. SYVERSEN replied that they do generally have supportive parents. He added that, by law, every student that comes through the door is accepted. He said the tracking has proved that there are students who have improved dramatically with their test scores. One contracted administrator, with 30 years of district experience, has stated that several kids who would probably qualify for special education are doing quite well. CHAIR DYSON asked Mr. Syversen if there were any kids who had been expelled from other schools in the school system Number 1895 MR. SYVERSEN answered that there haven't been any students who have been expelled, but there have been some who have gone from school to school in the first year or two. He stated that two or three had left the school because things were not working out well for them; however, that is the case with the other schools as well. CHAIR DYSON asked if there were any foster or adopted kids at the Aurora Borealis Charter School. MR. SYVERSEN replied that he is not sure about foster kids but said there are some adopted kids. Number 1950 CARL ROSE, Executive Director, Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB), came forth and stated the AASB's concern is to maintain authority to govern charter schools with local control. Another concern, which has been addressed in HB 101, is the startup cost. He added that these schools were struggling in their early years without assistance from a district pot of money. He stated that there had also been some concerns with the earlier [bill] version's language, counting alternative schools as charter schools, but that has been clarified. He added that he thinks it is appropriate that the number of students has been increased to 150. MR. ROSE remarked that the AASB looks at this bill very favorably. He expressed that as the charter school date is removed, there's a sense of permanency. He concluded that one worry would be how to provide oversight in terms of the progress of the charter school effort throughout the state. Number 2034 CHAIR DYSON called an at-ease at 3:39 p.m. The meeting was called back to order at 3:40 p.m. Number 2045 CHAIR DYSON stated that the following was omitted from an earlier version: A charter school may be operated in an existing school district facility or in a facility within the school district that is not currently being used as a public school, if the chief school administrator determines the facility meets requirements for health and safety applicable to public buildings or other public schools in the district. CHAIR DYSON explained that this allows the charter schools to operate in a facility that meets public facility safety standards but not necessarily public school standards. It can only do so if school administrators, in conjunction with the local building safety experts, determine that the building is safe for kids. It allows the school to operate in a church or any other public building that's acceptable for public occupancy. Number 2141 CHAIR DYSON made a motion to adopt a conceptual amendment to the proposed CS for HB 101, version 22-LS0245\O, Ford, 2/22/01, that will add new Section 7, taken from Section 3 of the 1-LS0598\T.a version [SCS CSHB 191(FIN), from 2000], to state as follows: A charter school may be operated in an existing school district facility or in a facility within the school district that is not currently being used as a public school, if the chief school administrator determines the facility meets requirements for health and safety applicable to public buildings or other public schools in the district. CHAIR DYSON clarified that existing Sections 7 and 8 will be renumbered consecutively. There being no objection, the conceptual amendment was adopted. Number 2252 Representative Wilson asked why the number is changed from 30 to 60 [allowable number of charter schools] when there are only, presently, 17 schools. MR. KELLER replied that he assumes it will be more attractive for charter schools to open because of the startup money. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON asked what the reason would be for people to pull out of a public school and start a charter school. CHAIR DYSON responded that charter schools are public schools; they are just an alternative that allows people to rally around particular ideas. Number 2314 REPRESENTATIVE WILSON asked how the funding process works. CHAIR DYSON replied that all the funding comes from the local school districts, which distribute the funds according to their own understanding, rules, policies and accounting, as they do for all schools in the district. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON asked if teachers would have to transfer to the charter schools from the public schools. TAPE 01-18, SIDE B CHAIR DYSON answered that the charter schools are free to hire their own teachers, as long as those teachers sign the contract that the district has. Number 2319 REPRESENTATIVE WILSON asked if there is enough funding in the district to do this. CHAIR DYSON answered that most school districts are allowing several kinds of alternative schools to operate within the district, and the charter school is just another kind of alternative school. He stated that he doesn't think it is fair to think of these students as being taken away from other schools. He added that many charter schools have a significant amount of students who were being home-schooled; therefore, they should be considered additions to the public school system. Number 2266 REPRESENTATIVE WILSON asked if any of these charter schools have special education students that require extra help. CHAIR DYSON replied yes, and the districts will use the same resources used to serve the special education kids in the rest of the district. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON asked, if this bill passes, what the rules and regulations are for a charter school to get started. MR. KELLER answered that each charter school has an academic policy committee that goes to the school board with a proposal. The school board considers the request and gives a "yea" or a "nay" based on that plan. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON said she is wondering how easy this would be for school systems. She asked if there would be ramifications across the state if school systems, all at once, started charter schools because they could get $500 extra a student. Number 2176 CHAIR DYSON stated that there has been a struggle, when making these alternatives available, not to build an incentive for existing schools to divide in half. The foundation formula, as it presently exists, mitigates against this because a school loses funding if it starts another small school. A charter school can only start if the local district and local school board approve it. REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA remarked that from knowing many people involved in the charter school program, she feels that [charter schools] really afford a unique opportunity for parents with like views, in terms of the kind of education they would like for their kids, to be able to put in a lot of effort and create something special. She added that it is really tough to get a group of people together and raise the funds needed, because [the school] has to adhere to the public school regulations. Number 2070 CHAIR DYSON noted that there are more students involved in the public school system as a result of charter schools, because they offer the environment that their parents wanted. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON asked whether charter schools get extra funding. CHAIR DYSON answered no, that there has been help available through some federal money, but that is going away. He stated that several of the districts have been good at working with the charter schools to make sure that funding available to the other public schools in the area is also available to the charter schools. Number 1993 REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL made a motion to move the CS for HB 101, version 22-LS0245\O, Ford, 2/22/01, as amended from committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHB 101(HES) moved out of the House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee.