Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/22/1995 01:37 PM CRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 taught. 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.