Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 106
03/08/2005 03:00 PM HEALTH, EDUCATION & SOCIAL SERVICES
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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HB 16-SCHOOL FUNDS RELATED TO BOARDING SCHOOLS 4:29:18 PM CHAIR WILSON announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 16 "An Act relating to funding for school districts operating secondary school boarding programs and to funding for school districts from which boarding students come; and providing for an effective date." 4:29:35 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOHN COGHILL, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor, explained that the main purpose of HB 16 is to help boarding schools in Alaska. House Bill 16 provides that under certain circumstances [the state] will give a stipend to some students to attend boarding schools. He related that he has a "sensitivity to how that might affect other schools so ... [there are] some sideboards ...," which are as follows: the boarding school has to be operating on a 180-day school system calendar; if a student's absence from his/her [district school] places the school "under the number floor," and ends funding, then that student shall be held harmless. The five-year timeframe in the legislation would allow the legislature to evaluate the impacted boarding schools in Galena, Bethel, and Nenana. He added that the aforementioned school districts use the "student dollar count" towards schooling, similar to the state run boarding school of Mt. Edgecumbe, however, different cost factors are involved with Mt. Edgecumbe. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL relayed his personal experience regarding the positive influence of boarding schools in Nenana. He related that the House passed similar legislation last year, by a vote of 38:0, but questions in the Senate arose about the operations of one of the schools. Although he said he felt that the questions in the Senate were addressed, the question as to whether these boarding schools will take the "best and the brightest" from the smaller districts remains. Representative Coghill opined that would not be the case. He added that boarding schools have saved the state money, although "it's debatable how much." For example, a smaller district with a lower ratio of students means the dollar per student is high, but [if a student] came to the larger district, the student dollar reimbursement is lower based on the [school district's cost factors]. He opined that he is not "doing it for the savings" but rather he is interested in boarding schools because they are "one avenue where education really does excel" due to the combined interests from the parents, children, and community. He noted that many of the students are coming from "tough circumstances," and they are being offered the opportunity to change their lifestyle and excel. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL reiterated that the sideboards will allow [the legislature] to evaluate if this system will work, and if so, why it works so well. The earlier mentioned districts have applied their own "sweat equity capital" into these schools. For example, Galena has made creative usage out of its airbase and uses it for "absolutely fascinating" vocational technology, while Nenana focuses on a more college preparatory approach to learning. He highlighted that seven out of fifteen students from Nenana's 2004 graduating class went to universities. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL said the Department of Education and Early Development (EED) would determine the monthly stipend plus the cost of travel to and from the boarding school one time, for each student. 4:40:12 PM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER said she loves HB 16 because it supports school choice and offers rural children more opportunities. She explained that the superintendent of Galena, Jim Smith, pointed out that its vocational technology program meets a need in the state, which should be expanded upon. Furthermore, the school also provides a socially comfortable environment for children that come from less than ideal situations. She related her belief that perhaps, if not the "best and the brightest," [the schools retain] the most motivated children. However, she asked whether the [boarding schools' obtaining] motivated children could adversely impact their home schools. Even if that's the case, Representative Gardner said that she wouldn't want to stand in the way of those students and would rather encourage it, even if there's a certain cost to their home schools. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL replied yes, adding that a student should be allowed to excel to the best of his/her ability. However, the home districts and parents are also looking for the best education for students, and the purpose of this legislation is not to hurt local home districts. 4:43:48 PM REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL, in response to Representative Seaton, clarified that the school district [within which the boarding school is located] would receive a reimbursement or a stipend for the boarding of a student. 4:44:22 PM REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA said she supports the concept of HB 16, but noted her frustration that other programs in the state desperately need the state's investment and support. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL highlighted that the sideboards on the legislation evaluate how it's working. He acknowledged that the legislation will benefit fewer students than he would like. However, there is also debate regarding how the rural communities are going to answer educational needs. Representative Coghill concluded by noting that the legislature "needs to work on all fronts." 4:46:00 PM CHAIR WILSON inquired as to the amount of the stipend. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL replied that the attached fiscal notes highlight an annual round-trip airfare cost and the yearly costs, which amounts to a monthly stipend that ranges from $472 to $577. He pointed out that boarding school costs are much more than $500 a month [per student]. CHAIR WILSON related her belief that the children at Mt. Edgecumbe benefit greatly from the school. She highlighted the preparedness and knowledge she encountered when teaching those students a state government class. REPRESENTATIVE MCGUIRE moved to report HB 16 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, HB 16 was reported out of the House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee.