Legislature(2017 - 2018)CAPITOL 106
03/27/2017 08:00 AM EDUCATION
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HB 52-PRE-ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PROGRAMS/PLANS 8:10:53 AM CHAIR DRUMMOND announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 52, "An Act relating to providing a pre- elementary program within a school district; and providing for the certification of early childhood education plans." 8:11:03 AM REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT KAWASAKI, Alaska State Legislature, reminded the committee HB 52 would provide voluntary statewide universal pre-elementary (Pre-K) programs by request to interested school districts. He advised children who take a Pre-K program perform better on tests, graduate in higher numbers, are more successful as adults, and are more likely to attend college. Through school districts' existing Pre-K, [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] Head Start, and other early education programs, the bill creates a means in which early education can be offered to all children aged three to five years. REPRESENTATIVE SPOHNHOLZ concurred that studies indicate the benefits of Pre-K education and exposure to caring adult models include better health and social skills, self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and resilience. She asked whether the voluntary structure of the bill was that the programs are voluntary to individuals, or voluntary to school districts. REPRESENTATIVE KAWASAKI said school districts would decide whether to offer Pre-K programs, and parents would choose whether to enroll their children in a Pre-K program. He pointed out compulsory school attendance in Alaska is not required until a child attains the age of six. CHAIR DRUMMOND opened public testimony on HB 52. 8:15:12 AM SAMANTHA ADAMS, Licensed Childcare and Preschool Teacher, said she has been a licensed childcare and preschool teacher for ten and one-half years. From her experience networking with colleagues in early childhood education, and other teachers, she related young children need school readiness which is defined as cumulative gains across developmental domains from birth to age five. For example, fine motor skills and literacy are two important developmental areas that can be learned in the home prior to entering school if the home setting can provide appropriate resources. However, other areas of development, such as social and emotional competency, take place best in group settings. Ms. Adams explained young children need the opportunity to work in a social setting with their peers to problem-solve, self-regulate, and to prepare for social settings; with this foundation, children are ready for academics in kindergarten and first grade. Furthermore, a preschool class of twelve students to one teacher is the ideal group size in which children can develop social and emotional competency and prepare for larger classrooms in kindergarten. Finally, she said "fadeout" of the skills learned in early childhood learning is a myth; in fact, early skills are learned for life. 8:18:17 AM REPRESENTATIVE PARISH asked about the potential impact of the bill. MS. ADAMS described a variety of preschool education programs: programs not offered through school districts but certified by the Department of Education and Early Development (EED); family childcare providing preschool and fulltime childcare; part-time religious programs. For the legislation to broadly impact communities, the funding must address other programs that are not part of the public school system, because the programs need to be "positive and sustained." CHAIR DRUMMOND asked for the cost to place a child in a private preschool program in Juneau. MS. ADAMS advised her preschool sessions are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., and cost $415.00 per month. When preschool and fulltime childcare services are not consolidated, families must take children to multiple programs. In further response to Chair Drummond, she said the Juneau School District offers a peer-integrated preschool program which takes place in a classroom of twelve children, six of which have special needs. Ms. Adams further explained preschool programs help identify special needs children at a very early age, from birth to five years. REPRESENTATIVE PARISH asked for the percentage of children who are identified with special needs. MS. ADAMS said during her ten and one-half years of teaching she has referred three or four children. High quality [Pre-K] programs are qualified to make referrals based on indicators that the families may be reluctant to acknowledge. She offered anecdotal stories of the families that she has helped address their child's special needs. 8:25:46 AM CHAIR DRUMMOND asked whether pediatricians in Juneau are making referrals and identifying needs. MS. ADAMS pointed out a pediatrician may only see a child for a brief visit, whereas consolidated preschool and daycare allows the teacher/caregiver to observe the child for seven to eight hours a day. She directed attention to her written comments submitted to the committee containing additional testimony. 8:27:38 AM TREVOR STORRS, Executive Director, Alaska Children's Trust, informed the committee the Alaska Children's Trust (ACT) is a statewide organization focused on the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Mr. Storrs observed the legislature has an opportunity to invest in the wellbeing of young children. [HB 52] would provide school districts and communities the opportunity to invest in children so children are ready to succeed in school and in life. Providing Pre-K is not about [higher] test scores, but puts children in position to be successful, contributing adults. In order for the state to avoid high Medicaid costs, building more jails, concerns about law enforcement and homelessness, and other ills, the state needs to create a new system based on the proven changes brought by early childhood education that will - over time - address the state's [budget] deficit. Mr. Storrs said ACT highly urges the committee to support HB 52. 8:30:24 AM STEPHANIE BERGLUND, CEO, thread, said thread is Alaska's childcare resource and referral network. Ms. Berglund stated strong support for HB 52, and any expansion of Pre-K in Alaska. Decades of research has shown Pre-K makes a difference to children not only in school readiness, but for a lifetime. The most formative years of brain development come well before a child goes to kindergarten; further, the state needs a workforce of individuals who achieve education beyond high school and who have advanced technical skills. Ms. Berglund acknowledged the state's budget situation; however, the budget situation will improve if the state invests more of its resources to productive endeavors rather than in remediation, incarceration, and welfare. She pointed out the budget benefits of Pre-K education come from cost savings in education, grade retention, and the criminal justice system; and from cost increases in greater economic productivity. She closed, observing that every $10,000 invested in a child increases his/her future earnings by 10 percent. Ms. Berglund restated thread's support of HB 52 and programs to expand voluntary Pre-K to all four-year-old children in Alaska in a mixed delivery setting. CHAIR DRUMMOND asked about the shortage of available space [to place young children] in preschools. MS. BERGLUND clarified thread estimates - although children need care through the age of twelve - families with the highest need for quality childhood programs are for children between the ages of zero and six, so it is estimated that there are about 40,000 children, under the age of six, in families with all the adults working, and there are less than 18,000 quality early care and learning spaces in Alaska. CHAIR DRUMMOND concluded then less than one in two children have quality space available. 8:34:58 AM KARLI LOPEZ stated her support for HB 52 and said she is the parent of two preschoolers, one of whom is in his third year attending special education preschool in the Anchorage School District. She said the bill is missing one component: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) directs that whenever possible her son is to be educated in the least restrictive environment and in a classroom with his peers, which is not possible due to the lack of a public preschool program. The preschool program attended by her son is only available to children who qualify for special education, and thus is not a fully inclusive setting. In an inclusive setting, her son's classmates understand his different needs and he is welcomed. Ms. Lopez provided examples of how peer modeling is tremendously beneficial to the understanding and participation of children with disabilities. She urged the committee to recognize the long-term benefits of early childhood education and to invest in Alaska's future. 8:37:13 AM CHAIR DRUMMOND, after ascertaining no one else wished to testify, closed public testimony on HB 52. She remarked: Universal Pre-K is such a big topic, and Representative Spohnholz and I are working out a joint Education/Health and Social Services committee meeting, so we can help to remove the funding silos for children from birth to age five, that we all know exist in this state, and that we've heard from several testifiers today. I know this topic of preschool will fit in nicely with this discussion, so I'm going to set this bill aside for now so that we can have that joint meeting and get a better feel for the big picture. 8:38:06 AM The committee took a brief at-ease. CHAIR DRUMMOND said a document is being distributed to be included in the committee packet from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, entitled, "Early Childhood Education for Low-Income Students: A Review of the Evidence and Benefit-Cost Analysis." 8:38:51 AM HB 52 was held over.