Legislature(2019 - 2020)BUTROVICH 205
04/16/2019 09:00 AM EDUCATION
Note: the audio and video recordings are distinct records and are obtained from different sources. As such there may be key differences between the two. The audio recordings are captured by our records offices as the official record of the meeting and will have more accurate timestamps. Use the icons to switch between them.
Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as
Download Video part 1. <- Right click and save file as
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 6-PRE-ELEMENTARY PROGRAMS/FUNDING 9:00:04 AM CHAIR STEVENS announced the consideration of SB 6. He noted that the committee had run out of time for public testimony at the first hearing. He stated his intention to allow time for public testimony today and then to hold the bill in committee. 9:00:35 AM SENATOR BEGICH, speaking as prime sponsor, said he described the bill at the last hearing and he wanted people to have a chance to hear from the public. He did want to reinforce that early education is absolutely essential. When he met with the governor last week, the governor asked him what solutions would make a difference in education. The Department of Education material that was provided to the committee indicates that when they do evidence-based early education, when they require higher levels of certification, when they ensure that they collaborate and cooperate with culture and with existing early education programs, they find that the outcomes for kids are substantial, whether it is urban or rural Alaska. The successes by third grade in terms of reading skills and by now even eighth grade are significant. He wants to hear from the professionals and the public. He hopes over the interim they have an opportunity to fine tune the bill based on today's testimony. 9:02:04 AM SENATOR HUGHES said she missed the first hearing. She has read that early education can be helpful, but it balances out in later grades. If the teaching is good, a child can catch up. She asked him to comment on that. She has wondered whether some children are not mature enough for school. In Finland they don't start school until seven or eight and they do fabulously. She asked if they should think about flexibility in terms of children starting school later. SENATOR BEGICH said that in regard to the effects fading, it depends on the studies and the quality of the prekindergarten. With evidence-based, high-quality prekindergarten like the Oklahoma model and the other models they used to help develop this bill, they do not see the fade effect as they go on. They are showing that in the results for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED). Those results show that the accelerated differences are clear, whether it is Mat-Su or the Lower Kuskokwim. They are now in the tenth year of consistent pre-K programming. The results are retained, even in the older age groups. The Perry pre-K project tracks pre-K kids into adulthood and a wide variety of indicators, such as income and criminal justice interactions, show those kids do not become wards of the state. The Finnish model is complex and is not just about the age of maturity. Alaska has a unique situation, particularly in rural Alaska, but also in Anchorage, with a lot of dual language students. The majority in the Anchorage School District is actually a minority and over 100 languages are spoken. His district is the most diverse senate district in the United States. They are dealing with a lot of dual language learners. The data in Alaska seems to show that the earlier they can prepare students the better off they are. Those are two short answers to those questions. He can produce different studies to support his comments. After public testimony, the goal is to hear more about this. He would like to request that the committee do a hearing over the summer so he can more directly address those questions. The Finnish model works. Finland has a fairly uniform language pool and in Alaska they have a diverse one. He hoped some people testifying would comment on that also. 9:06:24 AM CHAIR STEVENS moved to invited testimony. 9:06:49 AM STEPHANIE BERGLUND, Chief Executive Officer, thread, Anchorage, Alaska, supported SB 6. She said thread is Alaska's childcare resources and referral network, a 33-year-old private nonprofit that works to increase access to affordable and quality early care and education. Thread supports expanding quality, early childhood education services, including pre-K. Decades of research demonstrates that pre-K makes a difference, not just in the short term but in the long term as children grow and become employed and contribute to the strength of the economy. Early and sustained participation in quality early education leads to more children graduating high school, higher lifetime earnings, reduced public spending on remedial education and services, and lower incarceration rates. This is especially true if they invest in struggling schools or target disadvantaged populations to help close the achievement gap. When they work to close the achievement gap before children start school, they put children in a more successful school trajectory. MS. BERGLUND said that in 2016 a Texas study on its public pre-K programs that target at-risk three- and four-year-old children found that children who attend full-day pre-K programs scored 28 points higher on their standardized third grade reading exams and had a 40 percent higher likelihood of reading at a college- ready pace. Programs with higher investments yielded even better results. In 2017 in Montana, students enrolled in the STARS Preschool showed a 21 percent overall increase in their school readiness. Findings published in December 2018 showed that students who participated in North Carolina's More at Four pre-K reduced the likelihood of repeating a grade between third and eighth grade. The findings included a 36 percent reduction in special education placements. Positive program outcomes were consistent from third to eighth grade, reinforcing a continuity of positive impacts. The findings show that more vulnerable populations, including students from economically diverse backgrounds, averaged higher scores than their counterparts without an early education foundation. MS. BERGLUND said that in Alaska their pre-K services are working. Children participating in pre-K are showing growth in cognitive, language, literacy, and math development and the pre- K program is meeting all ten benchmarks set by the National Institute for Early Education Research. While these benchmarks demonstrate high-quality, the current grant reaches a small number of children. Expanding this high-quality, early childhood education through SB 6 will continue to promote school readiness, identify and provide support for Alaskan children who are most at need, maximize parental choice and continuity of care through collaborative, mixed delivery systems, and support quality activities. Access to high-quality, early education programs are desperately needed in the state. Thread estimates that there are only half of the needed spaces for quality, early childhood programs. By expanding pre-K, they can support families with more choices by creating more affordable and accessible opportunities for children to learn in quality settings. To reap the full benefits of pre-K investments they must ensure that the programs are of high-quality. Elements of high-quality pre-K include highly qualified, and where possible, degreed professionals who are well compensated with benefits, low teacher-child ratios and small class sizes, parental involvement, minimum hours of contact or pre-K instruction, developmental screening and early intervention supports, and programming for smooth transitions to kindergarten. MS. BERGLUND said that thread supports SB 6 as a way to grow and better sustain pre-K services. They encourage that any pre-K services be provided in communities through a diverse delivery system. That means that pre-K in Alaska can be strengthened, with not only additional investments but by allowing for service delivery in ways that best meet individual community needs and that work to align and expand existing early childhood education services and support infrastructure. This could include existing community-based programs in addition to school districts. Alaska's quality recognition and improvement system, QRIS, is called Learn and Grow. That provides a framework to ensure quality activities and can be used for all early childhood education program types, including pre-K. MS. BERGLUND said that in addition to utilizing existing quality early childhood education programs for pre-K, they encourage the committee to consider full-day options. Studies show that full- day programs like those in North Carolina may be more beneficial than part-time programs. Where they invested more, they saw the strongest outcomes in third grade. Full-day programs provide continuity of care for young children, they reduce transportation needs between care settings, and they provide what working families need. Most families are looking for full- day support so they can work and go to school. Alaska is not alone in investing in pre-K and growing their investment in early education. Only three states have decreased funding for pre-K in the last two years and over 40 states have significantly increased their investments. High-quality pre-K needs to be followed by strong teaching and learning environments in the early elementary grades and funding for pre- K should be aligned with increased investments in young children beginning in infancy and include policies and alignment with the elementary grades and standards. Quality early education, including pre-K, needs to be part of Alaska's economic infrastructure as a means of creating a strong and prepared workforce. The state can invest now or pay more later. The evidence is clear that high-quality pre-K programs are among the most cost-effective interventions they can make with long-term payoffs. CHAIR STEVENS asked if she could give them facts to support the statement that pre-K leads to lower incarceration rates. MS. BERGLUND replied that she would be happy to provide more specific research. When they have higher graduation rates, they see more adult success in terms of job security and higher earnings. They have more protective factors and resiliency to avoid some of those public ills. CHAIR STEVENS said he would like that evidence if she could provide it. SENATOR BEGICH said that is directly from the Perry preschool's study, which is the longest single study. Those participants who were in the preschool when it began are now in their 40s. They analyzed employment and incarceration rates. In his sponsor statement he refers to the Perry preschool project. He can get an updated reference to the Perry preschool study to the committee. SENATOR HUGHES said that Ms. Berglund brought up Montana and North Carolina. They do have some preschool programs in Alaska. The results in Montana and North Carolina are impressive. She asked if they had any information for Alaskan students that showed how many points ahead they are in standardized tests. MS. BERGLUND replied that can be sought through the Department of Education and Early Development. She did not have that information in front of her, but there are gains. Many school districts have that information about gains in early elementary grades from pre-K interventions. SENATOR BEGICH said that the committee packets have information about DEED's early childhood programs, which shows the differences in outcomes for the Lower Kuskokwim, Mat-Su, Anchorage, and Nome School Districts. The information identifies those changes occurring in Alaska with higher level, evidence- based pre-K that the department has been promoting with its experimental process. 9:17:15 AM ABBY HENSLEY, Executive Director, Best Beginnings, Anchorage, Alaska, supported SB 6. She said Best Beginnings supports early literacy with Imagination Library and parent education. Her comments are not focused on the bill itself, but on one aspect of early learning that takes place in programs promoted by the bill. There is a lot of talk about low scores on state and national reading proficiency assessments. If a child is a good reader by third grade, he is more likely to graduate from high school, attend postsecondary education or training, stay out of prison and off welfare, and become a productive citizen, adding to Alaska's future rather than taking from it. Some studies show up to 70 percent of people who are incarcerated are functionally illiterate. MS. HENSLEY asked how do children become productive citizens. She asked if they realized that the first years of life is a time of synaptic exuberance. A baby's brain makes a million synapses or neural connections every second. That more that baby is played with and talked with, sung to, and read to, the stronger the baby's brain architecture becomes, laying the foundation for learning. A few years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended for the first time that parents read with their babies from birth. Along with enhancing the development of early literacy and language skills, reading with young children helps nurture the relationship between parent and child and build social and emotional skills. They see the results of that when they looked at resiliency studies. MS. HENSLEY said that reading is a learned skill for humans. It does not come naturally. The first step in learning to read has to do with vocabulary. The more words children know, the more sounds and words they recognize. Vocabulary strengthens every aspect of learning to read. In 2015, the Society for Research in Child Development found that children who had a larger oral vocabulary at age two were better prepared academically and behaviorally for kindergarten with greater reading and math achievement and better self-regulation. MS. HENSLEY said that parents develop children's vocabulary by talking to them, when there is that back-and-forth conversation, even with babies. A study in Psychological Science found that pictures books are a richer source of unique words than conversation. The research has found that picture books have some 72 percent more unique words than conversation, thus helping grow children's vocabulary. Next in the path to reading is phonological awareness, the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate sounds in spoken words and words and sentences. The emphasis is on hearing the sound in spoken words. The fact that young children can't hear these sounds is not always apparent. That is why developmental screenings early on are so critical. Then there is phonics, the connection between the letter sound and the letter that makes the sound. Finally, there are print concepts, such as knowing that print carries a message and print is read left to right and from top to bottom. To learn to read once they get to school, children need to have been exposed to books and reading in fun and pleasurable ways. MS. HENSLEY said that in quality early care and learning programs, children read to regularly from a wide variety of children's books. This month more than 18,000 Alaskan children from birth to age five are having those important experiences. They are building vocabulary, they are hearing the sounds in letters and words, they are connecting sounds and letters and they are understanding print concepts, all those aspects of getting ready to read, right in their homes through Imagination Library. It is more than just getting a book in the mailbox. Eighty-one percent of their parents say that receiving Imagination Library books have increased the time they spend reading with their children. Eighty-seven percent say that reading with their child has brought them closer together. Eighty-four percent say that their child is more excited about reading now. Eighty-seven percent say their child is happy when they are reading together. These positive experiences with books and reading are reinforced in the kinds of programs promoted by this bill. She is passionate about ensuring that all Alaskan children have books and the early literacy experiences they need to become good readers. It is really one of the best investments in their future they can make. 9:24:13 AM CHAIR STEVENS asked what is happening with early learning pre-K with the governor's budget and the House budget. MS. HENSLEY replied that in the governor's budget, virtually all the funds for early learning have been deleted. That includes the $2 million for pre-K program grants that have gone to school districts over a number of years; $1.2 million for schools as part of the Moore settlement; $475,000 for Parents as Teachers, the home visiting program that is in a number of communities around the state; $6.8 million for Head Start, which has been the state matching portion for the federal $40 million; $320,000 for Best Beginnings. As a consequence, Head Start says 138 jobs would be lost. Programming would not be available for hundreds of children. Twelve to fifteen communities may have no early childhood programs. The department can provide information about the consequences of cutting the pre-K grants. MS. HENSLEY said that as far as Best Beginnings, the $320,000 is the state investment in the public-private partnership since Best Beginnings began. Imagination Library is set up in the state very differently from the rest of the country. The state has been held up as model by the Dollywood Foundation. Twenty- eight Imagination Library affiliates are supported by Best Beginnings, many with funding but all with training and technical assistance. The resources needed to do that are way more than $320,000. That is half the budget of Best Beginnings. The value of the books provided by Best Beginnings and local communities that also raise money for the program is about $2,908,000. In 2018, 223,729 books were delivered in 112 communities. She has heard people say that is something that parents should take responsibility for. Parents do have the base responsibility for their children, but for this low cost of $30 per child per year, from birth to age five, families can have as many as 60 books in their home libraries. In other states, kindergarten teachers say that kids enrolled in Imagination Library have more school readiness but also common knowledge and background information because they have read the same books. That is very valuable to the kindergarten teachers as they begin to pull a group of children together. Another study shows that children who come to kindergarten also have higher math achievement. CHAIR STEVENS asked what is in the House budget. MS. HENSLEY said the House budget is the same as the management budget for Fiscal Year 19 with the $2 million for preschool grant program for school districts, the $1.2 million for the Moore schools, the $6.8 milli0n for Head Start, the $475,000 for Parents as Teachers, and the $320,000 for Best Beginnings. They are pleased that the House saw fit to make those decisions. 9:30:13 AM SENATOR BIRCH said the constitution calls for the state to establish a system of public schools without saying K or pre-K. So, frankly, the judgement and responsibility for funding those outside of the constitutional requirements are vested with the legislature and governor. In the Molly Hootch case, a young woman said they are entitled to an education under the constitution. One challenge he has is they passed SB 26, percent of market value. They have a finite amount of revenue. The judgement call that this body will be making is a dollar of permanent fund dividend money vs. a dollar for public services. He has a question about the transition between age zero to five. They all hope that adults have good parenting skills, but that is not always the case. He is curious about her perspective about screen time and the impact on the pre-K child. In the committee they have talked about distance delivery and putting educators on a screen. He asked for her reflections about whether the state should support that or moderate that. MS. HENSLEY responded that the whole notion of media screen time and children has been of great interest to her for a long time. She began to work with public television and young children and parents and childcare provides in 1994. She has kept up on what is happening. About two years ago the American Academy of Pediatricians modified their position on screen time. Previously they had said, without basing it on research, no screen time for children under the age of two. They have now modified to say that screen time under the age of two should be more interactive with a parent. The type of screen time most beneficial for children is FaceTime with far away grandparents, for example. When there is a real person talking to the child, there is almost the same interaction that occurs when the person is there in person. But they still say kids have too much unattended screen time. A section on the Best Beginnings website has resources and help for parents about this. A recent study said that e-books are probably better for older kids. Print books are of greater benefit for young children than e-books. Children can lose track of the story with an e-book. SENATOR BEGICH said that based on the work of the task force that he and Senator Stevens served on, he has been thinking of early education as an opportunity for developmental screening for audio and visual and other things. He asked for her professional perspective on that. MS. HENSLEY replied that one thing they talked about in her work with ARISE [Anchorage Realizing Indigenous Student Excellence] with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council a few years ago was that for most children, there was a hearing screening at birth and then not again until they entered school. For a long period, no one would know if the child could see or hear well. For phonological awareness, child must hear the sounds in letters and words in order to learn what they are and learn how to make sense of that. If no one knows that a child can't tell the difference between sounds p and t, then people don't know what type of interventions might be needed. That type of screening would be valuable. 9:36:49 AM SENATOR BEGICH said that one element of high-quality early education is social interaction. Part of the Finnish model is doing a lot of work around social interaction to prepare them to fall into a learning environment. Early education is about developing reading and social skills, not screen time. MS. HENSLEY said that one of the reasons that the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends reading to children from birth is to develop those social, emotional attachments. In Finland, formal reading education starts at age 7. There is a lot of play-based education. Sometimes that is lost in America where the first grade curriculum has been pushed down into kindergarten. They are concerned that the kindergarten curriculum will be pushed down into pre-K. It is important that pre-K programs and standards are very much in line with age- appropriate and developmentally appropriate standards. She has some concern that they might make things even more academic, which hurts children rather than helps them. SENATOR HUGHES said that she read to her children and taught them to read before they entered kindergarten, but she didn't start to read to them when they were newborn. Her daughter started reading to her son when was a few weeks old and now he is just over a year old. It has been fascinating to see how much he enjoys that time. CHAIR STEVENS [opened public testimony]. 9:40:52 AM DAVID NEES, representing self, Anchorage, Alaska, raised questions about data on the effectiveness of pre-K programs. They have been doing pre-K in Alaska at least since 2001. The McDowell Group ARISE report did a good job of looking at the data from 2010 to 2016. The committee packet has an incomplete snapshot because it only includes one year. There are many years to look at. Anchorage has a consistent gap between the Native and non-Native population. Cook Inlet Tribal Council has a good approach, but they are missing longitudinal data. The committee should be asking DEED to produce report a report. They hear anecdotal evidence about the benefits, but Yupiit School District is consistently one of worse performing school districts in the state and has 92 percent pre-K enrollment without good outcomes. He asked why they are spending $50 million a year in state funding on Head Start if it is not producing a result they can look at. Other studies say the lack of a male in a household is a better predictor of not doing well in school and being incarcerated. Statute  AAC 06.712 requires that all children coming into kindergarten be tested, but there is no law about what to do with the data. When he was on the House education task force five years ago, the assistant commissioner at the time was looking at a longitudinal study on Head Start that was never completed or published. They need that data. MR. NEES said that there is no constitutional mandate to give children any kind of education before grade seven. If they are going to make a choice to invest the money in this based on anecdotal evidence, then they should look for some long-term, actual evidence to determine if students graduated, if they went to college, if they are incarcerated. Thousands of children have gone through the program, yet they have no data on whether it was successful and whether giving away millions of books has worked. Without that, they have to look at the main driver. To him it seems one of the main drivers is that if they run this pilot program for five years, school districts get to count the children in their ADM [average daily membership] and with the multiplier effect, the further away they are from Anchorage, more money goes into the program. The bill has merit, but without hard data about whether it is working--yes, it employs people, it keeps people at nonprofits, thread, Best Beginnings, employed. The committee needs to get longitudinal data while looking at that bill. DEED's former commissioner and assistant commissioner started the study in 2014. They need to find the data to have an analytical look at the $60 million investment. CHAIR STEVENS said he made some good points for the committee to follow up on. 9:46:56 AM PATTY OWEN, Director, Alaska Public Health Association, Juneau, Alaska, supported SB 6. She said the Alaska Public Health Association is a statewide organization of health professionals and other community members dedicated to improving health and well-being in Alaska and is an affiliate of the American Public Health Association, which is on record as supporting universal preschool. She came to remind people that it is an important public health issue. They consider education as one of primary social determinants of health, along with things like economic status and housing. Education strongly correlates with a longer life expectancy and improved health status. Early education is particularly important, not just for school readiness, but also for brain development and positive social and emotional and cognitive development. They know that Adverse Childhood Experiences have detrimental effects to young people and are related to diseases and other adverse health outcomes later in life. Early childhood development opportunities can help provide protective factors to somewhat offset those Adverse Childhood Experiences. They are very supportive of early childhood development for improving health and education. When she says education, she does mean quality early education and quality K- 12 education. 9:49:40 AM SENATOR BIRCH said there has been a pushback against vaccinations, which he does not think is healthy. Because of her affiliation, he is curious about her thoughts about vaccinations in general and for public schools, where they have lots of kids herded together. MS. OWENS replied that the public health community is united in supporting immunizations. CHAIR STEVENS said they have seen some shocking things on the news. SENATOR BEGICH said earlier they were talking about developmental screening. He is thinking of adding something to the bill related to that. He asked if there is a role that Ms. Owens could play in that process of developing an adequate screening tool. Screening came up in the task force on dyslexia and is something Ms. Hensley described. MS. OWENS responded that she could look into it. She thinks they would be interested. 9:51:39 AM DAVID BOYLE, representing self, Anchorage, Alaska, asked for more research about the efficacy of pre-K programs. He said everyone in the state wants what is best for Alaskan children, but they must proceed carefully in their efforts to improve education outcomes. Before they spend money on a perceived problem, they must evaluate the efficacy of pre-K programs in Alaska and across the nation. He has read most of the documents in the bill packet and has some concerns regarding the cherry picking of research to justify universal pre-K in Alaska. He strongly recommends that committee members do their own research, looking at both sides of the debate, and then take the most reliable, gold standard randomized research to decide if pre-K is the way to go. Initially, it may seem like the right thing to do, but pre-K may have unintended consequences. The greatest may be to have less parental involvement in their child's education. When a state is the main provider of early education, then the parent is absolved of that responsibility for early education. They all want parents to be more involved in their kid's education, both pre-K and K-12. The state is replacing the parent as the teacher of the child. MR. BOYLE said that in addition, the majority of pre-K majority studies shows no difference after third grade between the control group and those children who were enrolled in pre-K. The most recent longitudinal study, the Vanderbilt study, shows that the control-group kids had higher achievement than those in the pre-K group. Unbelievable. The Vanderbilt study was gold standard research which compared two randomly selected groups of children. Even the federal government's study of Head Start demonstrated that there were no significant differences in student achievement after third grade. He has drilled down into other states' pre-K programs. The state of Alabama has the highest rating for a pre-K program from the National Institute for Early Education Research. The reading proficiency rate in the Montgomery public schools is less than one percent according to the state standardized test. He asked what the impact of an excellent pre-K program is and what is the solution. He suggests a pilot program with parents actively involved in their children's early education that teaches parents how to teach their child phonics, reading, and basic math. Parents want to be involved, but they don't know how to do it. He has faith in parents and they know their kids better than the government does. Throwing more money at pre-K won't produce what they need. CHAIR STEVENS asked Mr. Boyle to inform the committee staff about how to access the Vanderbilt study. SENATOR BEGICH said he wanted to remind the committee that this is not a bill to expand Head Start. Their packets have a list of studies, including a study of the Arkansas Better Chance program that shows the children who went through the Better Chance program scored higher on kindergarten measures of vocabulary, math skills, and understanding of print concepts than students who did not. There are a number of studies for every state that provides that some form of universal pre-K. "No cherry picking here, Mr. Chairman, just the facts," he said. SENATOR HUGHES said the committee has talked about a policy of ensuring that every child reads proficiently by third grade. That would meet the same goal that the sponsor seems to want to attain. She agrees with Ms. Hensley about healthy play and activities at a young age. She is thinking of Finland where they don't focus on actual phonics and the letters until age seven and then the kids do very well. She did not know if any of the studies were from states with read by nine efforts. They are not seeing only what preschool is doing if there is also a read by nine approach. They haven't been talking about a child being ready to do math. There has been a lot about reading. She asked if the state wants to do both or focus on reading by nine since they already have kids in grades K-3. The cost factor is a concern. It is about $11 million a year based on what they do now. The fiscal notes show with the multiplier effect once the children are added to the BSA [base student allocation], they are talking about a significant number of dollars. She would like the longitudinal data from the Department of Education, so they know whether it is working here. Districts have been doing their pre-K programs long enough for them to have the data about the impacts all the way through high school graduation. CHAIR STEVENS said the department representatives had to leave, but the committee will pass on that they need that data. 10:00:03 AM BRIDGET WEISS, Ph.D., Superintendent, Juneau School District, Juneau, Alaska, supported SB 6. She said she wanted to share what is going on with a Juneau project that has been dear to her heart. As a community, they have spent a lot of time over the last few years talking about early childhood and high-quality childcare, so from zero to five. They have grave concerns about the availability and capacity for high-quality childcare. Mayor Weldon put together a childcare task force. Dr. Weiss is one of seven, including assembly members and community members, tackling that and deciding as a city, what can they contribute and what should that look like. In the Juneau School District, they use some local dollars and some from DEED. They have partnered with different Southeast communities through a five- year STEPS grant for pre-K that the Association of Alaska School Boards is facilitating for them. DR. WEISS said that their questions about data and tracking are very important. She is hopeful that after her first year of superintendency, when there is a bit of calm in July, that they can set the course on some of that data for themselves. She would ask the committee, when looking at the data, to consider that there are so many variables. Educational data is seldom scientific. For example, when they are looking at their targeted population for their early childhood programs, they are targeting their most vulnerable population. They want students who are already in economically disadvantaged homes. Juneau's program called KinderReady hosts children aged three to five. This year they have three classrooms compared to one last year. About 60 percent of the students in each classroom are in economically disadvantaged homes. One piece they gain through that is family engagement. That is a different slice from the testimony they heard earlier about family engagement and responsibility for children's education. She would love it if every child in Alaska was in a high-functioning home and all the activities around their children were a priority and the children came to them ready. The reality is they have families in crisis across Alaska. Sometimes due to language challenges, as Senator Begich said. Sometimes due to economic factors and other trauma experiences. DR. WEISS said that when they track that data, they want to see impact, but it may be relational in comparison to children from families who may not have any challenges. The Juneau district commits 13 classrooms to preschool. Seven of those are for special education programs, plus the three KinderReady programs. They also use two classrooms to support Head Start and a Montessori classroom that is a blended pre-K and kindergarten classroom. It is a strong commitment. She told a story of how her work with Family Promise, a program for homeless families, is a beautiful example of the continuum that the most vulnerable children need. There are many layers--academic, social/emotional, self-regulation, and parent engagement at an earlier level where they can help guide families who may not know how to read to their children and how to connect with schools. Many of their parents have had traumatic experiences in their system. They don't come running to the district for support, but if the district can meet a need for their kids, they enter the district systems earlier and the district can start influencing that home piece. There are a lot of moving parts that do make a difference. They can start putting some of those data pieces together. SENATOR BIRCH asked about the situation regarding onsite daycare in Juneau. He asked if there is commercial or government support for that because it is a component of zero to five. DR. WEISS said they have some, such as for the Coast Guard in the federal building. They have had closing day cares because of the financial challenges. That is one thing the childcare task force is looking at. After lots of discussion, they are looking at the continuum from zero to age 5. They are being creative about where to look in Juneau to increase capacity and quality. One earlier piece came up about health care screenings. The district is federally required to do Child Find. They are obligated to pursue students who have special needs if they have not been identified yet and they do that in many ways. These experiences are one way to get at that. They also partner with the Association for the Education of Young Children. 10:09:10 AM POSIE BOGGS, Alaska Reading Coalition, Anchorage, Alaska, supported SB 6. She said that reading starts in infancy. They support high-quality preschool and early literacy screening. The result is to produce intervention if needed. If they had high- quality early literacy screening and preschool, she wouldn't be tutoring a ten-year old to read nor would she be teaching a 35- year-old had he had early screening in preschool. He is now learning to read with her help, along with an online reading coach. She would like the committee to consider early preschool screening as a parental right. Parents do not have the knowledge to be aware of what to look for. She asked if parents naturally know about phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, orthographic mapping, and other topics. MS. BOGGS said that regarding Senator Hughes' comments about Finland, it is important to know that Finnish is easy to learn to read. One letter has one sound. English has 26 letters and 44 sounds. It is extremely difficult. It is considered an opaque language, not a transparent language such as Finnish, Spanish, or Turkish. They must start literacy as early as possible because of the nature of English. The first thing Finland did when it went from a poor education system to one of the best was to close every school of education except the five best and then standardized teacher preparation courses. That fact gets buried with the love affair they are having with Finland. That does worry her. They give way too much credit to Finland. MS. BOGGS said, addressing Senator Hughes through the chair, that the other piece is that they don't catch up. The NAEP shows that 12th grade reading outcomes are just as dismal as fourth grade reading outcomes. If they did significantly catch up as the years went on, they wouldn't be experiencing the cost of illiteracy in the nation. The cost to industry is $250 billion because they don't start in preschool with screening and intervention. For information on incarceration, she asked them to consult U.S. Senator Cassidy who lead the charge on reading and screening for incarcerated people. He has all the data they will ever want. 10:16:19 AM TIM PARKER, President, NEA-Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska, supported SB 6. He said educators primarily work with kids from ages five to 18, but they rely on what happens in the pre-K zone in order for the learning to happen. The two are interlinked. NEA- Alaska supports SB 6. When he moved to Alaska almost 30 years ago, the name of the education department surprised him. Everywhere else it is the Department of Education, but here it is the Department of Education and Early Development. This bill helps to push the state in that direction. They should lean into the promise reflected in the name. The Alaska Education Challenge is the driving force within the professional organizations. At the center of that is an excellent education for every student every day. To get to that, they have to focus on where kids are before they enter their schools. One commitment of the Alaska Education Challenge is to cultivate safety and well-being. It is a recognition that Alaska is not like other places in the country or world. They need additional focus to make sure some of their most vulnerable students are getting what they need in order to be able to learn what they want them to achieve. MR. PARKER said that learning doesn't start at age five. They can't wait until children are five to see if they are in a safe environment. Those environmental influences have dramatic effects on how students are doing. Some people mentioned the Alaska Developmental Profile, which their 600 kindergarten teachers do every year. The results are not stellar. Teachers look at 15 areas for incoming kindergarteners. About 70 percent of students meet fewer than ten of those benchmarks. That comes from DEED's study from 2018. The committee had discussed the idea of return on investment. The research from Professor James Heckman, the Nobel-winning economist from the University of Chicago, points to a 13 percent return on investment in the pre- K area. They should be interested as a state in a 13 percent return on investment. The longer the state waits, the less the return on investment. MR. PARKER said the quality of pre-K is important. He appreciates that Senator Begich has put together a large volume of research in this area. When someone says this study shows one thing, it is usually the lack of quality in that program that rises to the surface quickly. They have to decide whether the pre-K program the study is looking at is actually of quality. They have to go to DEED and their professionals and say that the state needs a program that actually works and works with parents and that fits Alaska. He said to look to their professionals and invest in Alaska's children. 10:21:28 AM CHAIR STEVENS asked Mr. Parker to provide the Heckman report to the committee and noted that the committee would have further hearings after the interim. 10:21:51 AM PATTY MERITT, representing self, Fairbanks, Alaska, supported SB 6 with some recommendations. She said she has been a professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks for over 40 years in early childhood education, but she is speaking for herself. She is excited about this bill. It is wonderful that Alaska is looking at a universal pre-K option. She has three concerns with the bill. The first is about the qualifications of the lead teacher and other adults in the classroom. Early childhood education is often misunderstood. She made a comparison to the health field and said most people don't want a dental hygienist drawing blood or a phlebotomist to clean teeth. People recognize specialized training in the health field but not in the education field. This bill refers to six early childhood credits for someone who is already certified. The training and course of study is very different for someone to teach K-12 compared to early childhood. Most K-12 teachers have one course in child development that covers years zero to 18. In early childhood, they have three courses to cover that range. Curriculum and preparation is very different. Assessment in K-12 is standardized. For preschool it is performance based and uses specialized observation skills. Early childhood training focuses on child guidance while training for older kids focuses on class management. To say a type A certified teacher could get six credits to become a lead teacher is a significant gap in the bill. MS. MERITT said another concern is that the bill is missing some points about quality. The research shows that ratios are critical. She would like to see the bill address group size and ratios. Public schools, due to funding and space problems, are often working with large group sizes. CHAIR STEVENS asked her to sum up because of the time and to send her written recommendations. MS. MERITT said her third point is that what is in the bill should be equitable to what is required for childcare licensing standards. They don't want some children in childcare which has to meet 1 to 10 ratios in a private setting and then have children in a public setting be in a setting of 1 to 15 or 1 to 20. 10:28:27 AM JUDY ELEDGE, representing self, Anchorage, Alaska, opposed SB 6. She said that having worked in education in Alaska since 1981 and in rural and bush Alaska since 1997, she sometimes wants to scream during testimony because all the things people are asking for have been done and tried. That is her biggest frustration when she thinks about the amount of money this is costing. The state is not addressing truancy, which is a problem. In her experience, attendance is even worse in pre-K. Since 2003 she has worked with low-performing schools as part of the state system of support. She has worked with the lowest of the low. She was a principal in Copper River, which was not one of the lowest, so she has a varied background working on the ground in schools. At this time when they are cutting K-12 education, it is baffling to be discussing adding pre-K when they are struggling in K-3. Perhaps they should be discussing improving what they currently do before adding additional grades. MS. ELEDGE said she supports the read by nine effort because they have been doing early screenings since they brought up Roland Good of DIBELS from the University of Oregon in 2001. This was a requirement that was taken away from the districts. With [DEED Commissioner] Roger Samson, several million was spent on Alaska reading, an online course to ensure teacher quality. It went down in flames as the teacher union fought them because they did not want to be told how to teach reading. She has worked in schools where all the students in grades one through five were at a kindergarten level. With a strong program, a strong principal, they turned that school around, but it took six years to get students to grade level. Many districts that are low performing don't have the capability to do this or there are no consequences for them not doing it. She did work under No Child Left Behind. She said someone asked her why they are not making districts do what they need to do. That is a good question. They know what needs to be done. There is nothing in this testimony that they have not done or do not know about. The Department of Education has limited resources and doesn't have authority about what can or can't be done. Her hope is that they look at K-3 reading. She has had students enter kindergarten well behind where they should be and after six weeks, they caught them up. This can be done. She has done it. Their biggest problem is that when they mandate what needs to be done, there is a huge outcry of "don't tell us what to do." That is frustrating. She is being honest today because she has listened to years and years of this testimony and nothing ever changes. 10:33:08 AM ESTHER PEPIN, representing self, Naknek, Alaska, supported SB 6. She said she is the early learning coordinator for Bristol Bay School District. As a recipient of the pre-elementary grant, her community has been able to provide every four-year-old with a quality half-day pre-K program for the last three years. This has had a significant impact on children's development, kindergarten readiness, and development of a culturally responsive education program. With the continuation of pre-K funding, they are hopeful they can continue exploring a sustainable model to ensure that early learning support is a priority for their community and that their children's needs are being met. The pre-elementary grant is not a one size fits all preschool program. It is a challenge to ensure that districts are developing a model responsive to their community's needs by developing a model that supports continuity of care through a mixed delivery system. They respect the educational role of parents and elders and families and their right to participate as their child's first educators, not just at home but also in the classrooms for early learning. MS. PEPIN said that continuity of care means that preschool is not a silo learning experience and continuity includes Alaska Native ways of knowing and a Western education system. The program has ensured their young children are ready for kindergarten. Before receiving the pre-K funding, their children averaged 25 to 30 percent fully ready for kindergarten based on the Alaska Developmental Profile. The last three years it has been from 67 and 100 percent fully ready on the 13 goals that kindergarten teachers measure. They hope this readiness will be reflected in future years when measuring kindergarten readiness and also when measuring literacy and math skills in third grade and beyond. Funding has allowed the school district to provide a responsive program that meets the social/emotional, cognitive and physical needs by providing daily opportunities for inquiry- based play. It has allowed them to provide and train teachers, select and implement research-based inquiry curriculum resources and develop a rich, support environment that can support children as they begin to develop an understanding of their world and the skills they need to succeed in it. As a mother who will have a child in preschool next year, she hopes that they will have access to support his needs and that he will have a rich environment to socialize in and play with other children as he prepares not only for kindergarten but his educational career. She asked the committee to hear her concerns as a representative not only of her community but communities across the state. 10:37:11 AM LAURA BONNER, representing self, Anchorage, Alaska, supported SB 6. She said SB 6 is a good long term investment. She submitted written testimony last month about the benefits. She particularly like Section 3 that creates a stair step grant program. This will help the lowest performing districts improve. Many of those are in rural areas with less access to programs. She also likes the language in Section 5 regarding cultural content in the local communities and accommodations for the needs of all pre-K children and their families, regardless of socioeconomics circumstances. This bill speaks to four- and five-years olds but should include three-year-olds. Her adult adopted daughter who has autism was in a special education pre-K program at the age of three-and-a-half because of testing performed by a program for infants and children. She did not know anything about autism. Through the pre-K program she learned how to help her daughter. All this cost money, but early investment cost less. She asked the committee to find the revenue to fund this. 10:39:29 AM JENNIFER SCHMITZ, State Representative, Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals, Principal, Scenic Park Elementary School, Anchorage, Alaska, supported SB 6. She said the Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals strongly supports early childhood. She has been an elementary principal in Anchorage for the past 13 years and has seen more rigorous standards and changes in families' overall fiscal and personal situations. She taught kindergarten her first year of teaching in 1990. All but one of her students that year had attended at least one year of preschool. Today, her school has 85 kindergarten students and 12 of those students have attended some type of preschool program. Those who were in a preschool are immediate leaders in the classroom. She and her colleagues have had many conversations and agree that they remain leaders long after kindergarten. Unfortunately, quality programs are not available to all families. They are difficult to find and expensive. While the number of students in high-quality programs has decreased, the standards for what students are expected to do in school have increased. When her 22-year-old son was in kindergarten, it was a half day. They played, learned social skills, did art projects and had rest time and a basic introduction to letters and numbers. Today, kindergarten is a full day. Students are expected to learn all their letters, letter sounds, letter blends, story structure, to compose and decompose numbers, add and subtract fluently to five, and many other skills. They have raised their rigor, which is a good idea to compete nationally, but they have decreased what families have access to prior to starting kindergarten. MS. SCHMITZ said that every year, many of her kindergarteners have never held a pencil, no one has ever read a book to them, many of them have never heard English at home. They have never had to sit in a circle, stand in a line, learn their colors, and many other things. Her teachers spend much of the year being the pre-K teacher while also being expected to be the kindergarten teacher. It is difficult to get them all where they need to be at the end of the year. Unfortunately, some never catch up. Pre- K gets parents involved early. They learn about the importance of reading to young children. As Ms. Hensley said, reading to children at home and talking and interacting with them is vital to getting kids on the right track for reading. However, many of their young parents, without early childhood programs and resources, don't know how to do this and the importance of it. She asked them to support the bill and adequate and early funding for public education. 10:43:11 AM STEPHANIE GISH, Discovery Preschool, Juneau, Alaska, supported SB 6. She said neuroscience has confirmed that the first five years of life are crucial to human development. Early childhood experiences lay the foundation for the rest of people's lives. Infants are active participants in their learning. It is more than just preparing for kindergarten. Early child educators are trained to spot trauma triggers and to build resiliency in preschoolers. Considering Alaska's statistics on abuse and neglect, early learning programs could be the only place where healthy development of executive function is being fostered. Continued lack of investment in early education will continue to produce dire and costly results, both social and economic. The lifelong effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) place a significant and lifetime burden on the state. High ACEs scores are correlated with poor physical and mental health, along with the increased likelihood of criminal behavior and unemployment. In short, criminals are made from children who are abused and neglected, children who cannot access healthy environments or attachments. Lowering crime rates in Alaska starts with early childhood education. Adversity does not just happen to the impoverished. Childhood trauma happens to far more children than people realize and the results can last for generations. MS. GISH said that learning begins at birth and an infant's brain triples in size by age three. Their dense brains are eager to learn more about the world. The brain cannot distinguish one type of toxic stress from another. They have the same impact and capacity to impair health and well-being for a lifetime. If they honestly want to make a difference for current and future Alaskans, they will pave the way for high-quality care and education to begin in infancy. Programs that provide developmentally appropriate, high-quality continuity of care will generate greater academic, social, and economic success. 10:46:10 AM KATHY CLARK, representing self, Homer, Alaska, supported SB 6. She said she lived in Talkeetna when they first introduced the primary program into the elementary school for three- and four- year-olds. His teacher at his daycare happened to be the teacher who would be doing the preschool program. That teacher talked to her about entering her son into the preschool program. Because he entered the program when he was three-and-a-half years old, they discovered he had dysgraphia, which made a huge difference in how they approached his education. If he had not been given the opportunity to get into the school system at an early age, it might have gone unseen and unnoticed. He is a successful graduate and getting his contractor license at 21. Early education is not only important for social issues but for learning disabilities. A concern she has heard today is about the availability, capacity, and quality of childcare. In Homer, if they lose their Head Start programs and early preschool programs, there would be only one church that does childcare. It would be cutting off an entire community of children. Unfortunately, some parents do not have the education to even sit and read with their children or do simple math. This is horrible for these parents because they are seeing their children left behind in a system that left them behind. As a concerned mom, she would like to see this pushed through. It is important. 10:48:38 AM LISA SKILES PARADY, Ph.D., Executive Director, Alaska Council of School Administrators, Juneau, Alaska, supported SB 6. She said that Ms. Hensley, Dr. Weiss, Principal Schmitz, and others have laid the background for the importance of this investment in early learning. The Alaska Council of School Administrators (ACSA) 2019 joint positions statements have early childhood as one of their highest priorities. The members are fully vested in the position statements. She read the ACSA position statement on early childhood education, "ACSA believes equitable access to fully funded, sustainable preschool programs provides a foundation of excellent social, emotional and cognitive instruction to students. Research clearly demonstrates that early intervention and instruction is one of the best ways to increase student achievement across all demographics and create the greatest opportunity for all students to read proficiently by third grade. Early childhood education should be considered as part of public school funding through the BSA." DR. PARADY said that the ACSA and their educational partners invested in a public opinion poll administered by Zogby Analytics, a highly respected international polling and research company. The poll was administered so they could have a better understanding of Alaska voters' perspectives, both on pre-K and K-12 public education. The pre-K question was whether voters support or oppose state funded public preschool. The answer was overwhelming--73.5 percent of Alaskan voters support state funded preschool. The evidence of public opinion is clear. Yesterday, the Anchorage Daily News published an opinion piece that she, along with her colleagues Norm Wooten and Sarah Sledge, wrote. She will submit that as written testimony. She agrees strongly with the previously callers that the committee should look into the research on their own. They will find that investing in early childhood programs is one of the most critical investments they can make in the future success of their children and of their state. SENATOR BEGICH disclosed that his wife is Sarah Sledge, the executive director for the Coalition for Education Equity. 10:53:02 AM CHAIR STEVENS held SB 6 in committee.
SEDC 4/16/2019 9:00:00 AM
SEDC 4/16/2019 9:00:00 AM