Legislature(1995 - 1996)

03/22/1995 01:37 PM Senate CRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 SCRA - 3/22/95                                                                
                SB 32 NATIVE LANGUAGE EDUCATION                               
 Number 415                                                                    
 SENATOR TORGERSON introduced  SB 32  as the final order of business.          
 SENATOR GEORGIANNA LINCOLN, prime sponsor of SB 32, told the                  
 committee that while campaigning five years ago, she went to a                
 rather large, predominantly Native village and found that the                 
 students there were learning the Russian language through a                   
 television set.  Through the Star Program they had a choice of                
 Russian, Spanish or Japanese languages.  She asked how many of the            
 students would have chose their Native language if that were an               
 option, and all hands, regardless of their ethic background, were             
 raised.  She asked the same question, not only in her district, but           
 all over the state, and, without hesitation, the youths would raise           
 their hands unanimously in their desire to have the Native language           
 Senator Lincoln directed attention to backup from the University of           
 Alaska that shows that by the year 2030 most of the languages,                
 other than Central and Siberian Yupik, will become extinct.  She              
 noted that there are very few anymore that all speak the Native               
 language.  It has been pointed out that students actually do much             
 better in their classes and in basic reading, writing and                     
 arithmetic if they have the background of their Native language.              
 Number 495                                                                    
 DAVID CORNBERG, an independent consultant, testified from                     
 Fairbanks.  He informed the committee he has a Ph.D. in education             
 with specialization in cross-cultural education, and he has been on           
 contract with Tanana Chiefs Conference for over two years as the              
 primary planner for their new tribal college.  The college serves             
 villages of the Interior which are primarily Athabascan Indian.               
 Part of the curriculum mandate for the tribal college from the                
 people of the Interior is keeping Athabascan language a culture.              
 Therefore, they are very eager to see a coherent language and                 
 culture program in Natives languages from Head Start all the way              
 through 12th grade.                                                           
 Mr. Cornberg said there is very good evidence that young people who           
 are competently taught in a Native or indigenous language, along              
 with a mainstream language such as English, do better academically.           
 In the long run, the bill will save money for the state, because              
 those same people gain better self respect, better self esteem and            
 a higher ability to tolerate differences around, and, therefore,              
 they become less likely to act out in socially negative ways.                 
 Mr. Cornberg said the fiscal note on the bill may be a little high,           
 but there are teacher aides in many schools in Alaska who would be            
 able to step into the position of advisory board to teachers                  
 without any additional cost to the state.  There are also thousands           
 of pages of useable curriculum in the closets and the shelves of              
 school districts and local school all over Alaska that are quite              
 literally waiting for this legislation.                                       
 Number 590                                                                    
 VINCE BARRY, Education Program, Department of Education, stated the           
 department is in agreement with the general tenor of SB 32.  They             
 are extremely interested in bilingual education, dealing with                 
 youngsters in the state that speak 102 different languages.                   
 However, the department is in opposition to the bill because it               
 outlines what is already happening in about half of the districts,            
 and those districts chose to undertake these kinds of activities.             
 Mr. Barry said SB 32 would be duplicative and the issues in the               
 bill may be done now by any district that so chooses.  There are              
 bilingual programs in 50 districts, and the state foundation                  
 represents a cost of close to $20 million a year.                             
 Mr. Barry, in discussing the fiscal note, said the bill itself                
 would not create any further costs to the department, but it would            
 to the state foundation program.                                              
 Number 650                                                                    
 SENATOR LINCOLN commented that this is not a bilingual bill.                  
 Presently, the bilingual teachers in the communities are teaching             
 words and phrases, but they are not teaching the language as                  
 language like they do with Russian, Spanish and Japanese.                     
 TAPE 95-9, SIDE A                                                             
 Number 005                                                                    
 SENATOR LINCOLN reiterated that SB 32 is not a bilingual bill, and            
 she pointed out that it provides for local advisory boards, where             
 it is predominately Native, to make the determination of the                  
 affordability and establishment of a Native language curriculum for           
 a school.                                                                     
 Number 010                                                                    
 ANNE KESSLER, Education Program Support, Department of Education,             
 said the use of the word "bilingual" education is one that creates            
 a lot of confusion.  The department's viewpoint of bilingual                  
 education programs, as they are currently funded in the state, is             
 that Native language is one of several other languages within the             
 bilingual program.                                                            
 Ms. Kessler said districts who choose to submit a bilingual plan of           
 service, work with their school boards, work with parent and local            
 advisory boards, to make the selection as far as what type of                 
 program to offer.                                                             
 Number 056                                                                    
 SENATOR HOFFMAN questioned why, if there are all of these programs            
 going on, there are statistics saying that many of these Native               
 languages are going to die by the year 2030.  ANNE KESSLER answered           
 that there has been 20 years of bilingual education programs.                 
 There are other social and economic factors that have created at              
 least a one-generation gap in the students who are now parents,               
 because of not having access to those programs for various reasons.           
 She agreed that the statistics are probably accurate, but she                 
 thinks some of the languages have a very good chance of surviving.            
 Number 145                                                                    
 DAVID CORNBERG added that what needs to be considered is that while           
 the bilingual programs are effective to some extent, they are not             
 the programs that are going to reverse the decline of the language.           
 The emersion programs will reverse the decline of the languages.              
 He added that is being shown all over the world, it is not just an            
 Alaskan experience.  ANNE KESSLER agreed that research has shown              
 the emersion programs to be very effective, and she said any                  
 district that wants to start an emersion program can do so within             
 the provisions of the LOESL program (language other than english as           
 a second language program).  The department is supportive of these            
 programs and will work with districts to implement them within the            
 realm of the bilingual education regulations.                                 
 Number 188                                                                    
 SENATOR TORGERSON stated he agreed with an observation made earlier           
 by Senator Hoffman that if they were doing a good job with their              
 bilingual program, there wouldn't be a need for SB 32.                        
 There being no further witnesses to testify, SENATOR TORGERSON                
 asked for the will of the committee on SB 32.                                 
 SENATOR HOFFMAN moved that SB 32, along with a new zero fiscal                
 note, be passed out of committee with individual recommendations.             
 Hearing no objection, it was so ordered.                                      

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