Legislature(2005 - 2006)SENATE FINANCE 532
05/02/2006 09:00 AM FINANCE
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 16(RLS) "An Act relating to funding for school districts operating secondary school boarding programs, to funding for school districts from which boarding students come, and to the effectiveness of district secondary school boarding programs; and providing for an effective date." This was the first hearing for this bill in the Senate Finance Committee. Co-Chair Wilken moved to adopt committee substitute Version 24- LS0125\C as the working document. Co-Chair Green objected for explanation. 10:15:07 AM RYNNIEVA MOSS, Staff to Representative John Coghill, the bill's sponsor, informed the Committee that five years prior, Representative Coghill had spent time in Nenana on a building remodeling project. Students attending the Nenana Boarding School assisted in that project. Those students communicated to Representative Coghill the newfound optimism they were experiencing as a result of attending the boarding school. The experience "changed their opinion of where they were going with their life" and expanded their opportunities for becoming "productive citizens". Ms. Moss stated that, because of this interaction, Representative Coghill became "interested in the so-called boarding school concept". This bill is a product of that interest. This bill has generated tremendous discussion. She cited Co-Chair Wilken as instrumental in prompting the Department of Education and Early Development (DOE) and the State Board of Education "to actually propose regulations that will regulate these boarding schools". Representative Coghill viewed student attendance at a boarding school "as an issue of choice, and an opportunity for students all over the State to enter into a program that can basically change their life". For example, the Nenana Boarding School graduated 14 students in 2005: 11 of those graduates continued their postsecondary education with financial assistance; two enlisted in the United States Marines, and one entered the Job Corps. The entire graduating class improved their life "and became productive on- going citizens". Ms. Moss stated that Version "C" would allow any Statewide Secondary Residential Program (SSRP), commonly referred to as a boarding school, established prior to January 1, 2005, to be reimbursed for operating the residential program through a stipend. To qualify for this program, the SSRP must have a suitable student dormitory, daily access to a public school offering grades nine through 12, and be a full time school. The stipend rate would be determined by the DOE with the stipulation that it could not to exceed the statutory limits as specified in Section 1(b)(2) lines 8 through 12 of Version "C". Ms. Moss stated that Version "C" also defined what would constitute a school district and what would qualify as a district-operated Statewide Residential Educational Programs. Furthermore, Version "C" would align language with existing regulations. An effective date of July 1, 2006 is specified in the bill. 10:18:51 AM Senator Dyson asked whether the bill's sponsor was "comfortable with the changes" included in Version "C". Ms. Moss affirmed he was. Senator Dyson asked whether the sponsor considered the $20 per student per day stipend adequate to feed, clothe, and house a student at the school. Ms. Moss responded in the negative. The sponsor believed that students' parents and school districts should contribute toward the expense of the program. Thus, the stipend is "a portion" of the actual costs. Senator Dyson acknowledged. Senator Bunde understood the stipend would be paid to the school district rather than to the individual. Ms. Moss affirmed. Senator Bunde asked regarding the provision that would provide each student a round trip ticket to the school, as he felt that requiring a student to personally "buy-in" would result in the student being "more dedicated" to the endeavor. Requiring a student to be responsible for their travel expenses might further their "incentive to achieve". Ms. Moss responded that the majority of students who attend the schools live in remote areas of the State, thus "the cost of travel is fairly expensive". While a student might make two or three trips home during a school year, the school would compensate for only one round-trip ticket. The travel expense would amount "to only a small part" of the total student cost. Senator Bunde viewed the round-trip ticket offering as "a marketing tool: come to our school and we'll give you a free trip." The provision to pay for the round-trip ticket was of concern to him. Co-Chair Green noted that, in addition to the stipend and the trip, the State's Base Student Allocation (BSA) formula funding would also be applicable. Ms. Moss responded in the affirmative. 10:21:46 AM Co-Chair Wilken pointed out that the inclusion of the Lower Kuskokwim in the Residential School Program details, as specified on page 2 of the DOE fiscal note #2, dated May 2, 2006 was an error, as "the Bethel program was no longer part of this bill". 10:22:10 AM EDDY JEANS, Director, School Finance, Department of Education and Early Development, affirmed. The Department would revise the fiscal note to reflect the removal of the Bethel Lower Kuskokwim School from the Residential Program. Co-Chair Green acknowledged that a corrected fiscal note would be developed. Co-Chair Wilken shared that a few years prior, because of his concerns about the boarding school program, he had been accused of eliminating State funding for the Nenana Boarding School. To that point, he appreciated Representative Coghill, Ms. Moss', and the Department's efforts to address his concerns, as evidenced by the inclusion of the phrase "approved by the department under regulations" in Section 1, Article 2(a) page 1 on line 9 of Version "C"; specifically the inclusion of the reference to State regulations. He displayed a compilation of DOE regulations [copy not provided], which were currently under review. Because of the State Board of Education's lack of action on overseeing the boarding school program, the Department updated regulations and developed criteria, which must be met before someone could establish a boarding school program. As a result, the State could "analyze whether it's in the best interest of the State" to allow the formation of another boarding school program. 10:23:40 AM Co-Chair Wilken appreciated the endeavor to replace the term "boarding school" with Secondary School Residential Program. Co-Chair Wilken warned that the Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program would force the State to change its approach to education. Many outlying communities might be unable to provide a curriculum and education that would allow a student "to perform on the world stage". Thus, some students might be forced to participate in such things as a SSRP. One area of concern is the negative impact this would have on a community desiring to keep their youth in their community. Another concern is one relating to economic development. State facilities such as the King Career Center in Anchorage, the Hutchison Career Center in Fairbanks, and vocational technical schools in Kotzebue, Nome, Bethel, Seward, and Galena should be developed in anticipation of the pressure to meet NCLB standards. To that point, his recent decision not to support funding for the St. Mary's school in the FY 07 capital budget was a difficult one, as that community was attempting "to do exactly" what is being discussed in this bill. Co-Chair Wilken stated that were the proposed DOE boarding school regulations not adopted as presented, the discussions on this issue would continue during the next Legislative session. The regulations are "good" and have widespread support. He supported the bill and the sponsor's "efforts to take us to the next step in rural education". 10:25:58 AM Senator Bunde informed the Committee he would be offering an amendment to the bill that would provide the funds to address the one million dollar fiscal impact reflected in fiscal note #2. Co-Chair Green removed her objection to the committee substitute. Without further objection, committee substitute, Version "C" was ADOPTED as the working document. Amendment #1: This amendment deletes all language in Sec. 5 line 28 of CS HB 16(RLS) and replaces it with the following. [NOTE: The amendment must be conformed to Version "C".] Sec. 5. The uncodified law of the State of Alaska is amended by adding a new section to read: CONTINGENT EFFECT OF SECTIONS 1-4. Sections 1 -4 of this Act are contingent on the passage by the Second Regular Session of the Twenty-Fourth Alaska State Legislature and enactment into law of a version of SB 112 that imposes a tax on residents of and individuals employed in regional educational attendance areas. Sec. 6. If sections 1-4 of this Act take effect, they take effect on the effective date of a version of SB 112 passed by the Twenty-Fourth Alaska State Legislature and enacted into law that imposes a tax on residents of and individuals employed in regional educational attendance areas. Sec. 7. Sections 5 and 6 of this Act take effect immediately under AS 01.10.070(c). Senator Bunde moved Amendment #1. Senator Dyson objected. Senator Bunde agreed with Co-Chair Wilken that, in the foreseeable future, the State would experience an increase in the number of boarding schools. 10:26:43 AM Senator Bunde proclaimed that many of these boarding schools would be located in Rural Education Attendance Areas (REAAs) "where the folks unfortunately haven't chosen to accept the personal responsibility to support their schools". Therefore, this amendment would impose a tax that would assist in supporting the expenses of a boarding school in an REAA. 10:27:22 AM Ms. Moss stated the bill's sponsor would be opposed to the amendment. "There already is an existing stipend that's being paid for students that come into boarding schools." This bill would broaden the opportunity so that more students could attend such a school. The sponsor would argue that the tax proposed in this amendment "is a whole separate issue that doesn't belong in this piece of legislation". Senator Bunde was concerned that the proposals in this bill could provide REAAs an opportunity to "double-dip", as schools in those areas are already fully supported by State funds. Senator Olson voiced "strong objection" to the amendment. Support of it would be contrary to the "spirit" of the original bill. A roll call was taken on the motion. IN FAVOR: Senator Bunde, Co-Chair Wilken and Co-Chair Green OPPOSED: Senator Hoffman, Senator Olson, Senator Dyson and Senator Stedman The motion FAILED (3-4) Amendment #1 FAILED to be adopted. Conceptual Amendment #2: This amendment deletes the entirety of material in Section 1(b)(1) beginning on page 2, lines 2 through 4, which reads as follows. (1) one round trip on the least expensive means of transportation between the student's community of residence and the school during the school year if the district expends money for the trip; and Senator Bunde moved Amendment #2. Senator Olson objected. Senator Bunde echoed his earlier comments against providing travel for students. Eliminating the free travel provision is "an attempt to encourage people to invest in their own education". People work harder when they have a personal investment. Ms. Moss communicated that the bill's sponsor would object to the amendment. While waivers are available in hardship cases, parents of students attending the Nenana Boarding School are currently required to provide $1,000 toward their child's room and board. The students to whom a round trip travel ticket would be provided are those with no road access to the school. Attending the school is "an extra hardship" for such students due to the expense and distance that must be traveled. While attending the school is optional, it should be recognized that the school is graduating students who are becoming productive Alaskans, who otherwise might become "a burden to the State". 10:30:41 AM Senator Bunde voiced concern that instead of attending the school in pursuit of furthering their education, some students might view the free travel as an opportunity to escape from a small town or their parents. "That would defeat the purpose of what the bill is trying to achieve." Co-Chair Wilken shared that the round trip travel was an issue of discussion during the development of the bill. The State currently provides a round trip ticket to students attending the Mt. Edgecumbe School in Sitka, and, while the Nenana Boarding School is not exactly the same model as that school, "the thought was" that providing a round trip ticket to the Nenana Boarding School might alleviate pressure on Mt. Edgecumbe, which has a waitlist of students. In addition, the decision was made to include in the bill the requirement that the "least expensive" mode of transportation be utilized. A roll call was taken on the motion. IN FAVOR: Senator Bunde and Co-Chair Green OPPOSED: Senator Olson, Senator Hoffman, Senator Dyson, Senator Stedman and Co-Chair Wilken The motion FAILED (2-5) Conceptual Amendment #2 FAILED to be adopted. 10:33:03 AM Mr. Jeans communicated that the Department worked diligently with the State Board of Education to develop "regulations that would limit the number of communities that could participate in this program" to the communities of Nenana and Galena. In addition, the proposed regulations would require the State Board of Education to determine a need and an application process before allowing any other school district to begin to operate a boarding school. Furthermore, this legislation would require an additional step to be taken in that the Department must seek Legislative approval in order to expand the program. The necessary safeguards would be in place. Mr. Jeans shared that an annual report on the boarding school program would also be required. The report would include such things as the number of students applying, accepted, and enrolling in the boarding school program as well as the Mt. Edgecumbe program. The data would be shared with the Legislature. Co-Chair Green recalled that the FY 07 capital budget would include one million dollars each for the Galena and Nenana boarding schools. She asked whether the funds specified in this bill would be in addition to that money. Ms. Moss stated that the money included in the capital budget would be in addition to the funding specified in this bill. The capital budget funds would be utilized to expand dormitory facilities. There being no further discussion, Co-Chair Green ordered the bill HELD in Committee.