Legislature(2021 - 2022)DAVIS 106

03/17/2021 08:00 AM House EDUCATION

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08:04:14 AM Start
08:05:00 AM HB43
09:03:57 AM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
-- Teleconference <Listen Only> --
Heard & Held
-- Testimony <Invitation Only> --
**Streamed live on AKL.tv**
         HB  43-EXTEND SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICE AGENCY                                                                     
8:05:00 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  DRUMMOND  announced that  the  only  order of  business                                                               
would be  HOUSE BILL  NO. 43, "An  Act extending  the termination                                                               
date of the  special education service agency;  and providing for                                                               
an effective date."                                                                                                             
8:05:17 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR STORY, as prime sponsor, introduced HB 43.                                                                             
8:08:20 AM                                                                                                                    
MARY HAKALA, Staff to Representative  Story, provided an overview                                                               
of  supporting  documents  [included in  the  committee  packet],                                                               
beginning with   sectional analysis  of HB 43,  Special Education                                                               
Service Agency  (SESA) - Sunset  Extension, which  served Special                                                               
Education high-needs students wherever they lived in Alaska.                                                                    
Section  1 extended  the sunset  [termination] date  for SESA  to                                                               
June  30, 2029;  Section 2  provided for  an immediate  effective                                                               
date upon passage of HB 43.   Children served by SESA had complex                                                               
disorders including deafness  and blindness, were developmentally                                                               
and  physically  impaired,  severely emotionally  disturbed,  and                                                               
were students with multiple disabilities,  she shared.  The staff                                                               
at  SESA  worked  both  directly   and  remotely  with  teachers,                                                               
paraprofessionals, and parents, she added.                                                                                      
MS.  HAKALA  shared  SESA's  funding  formula/rate  [included  in                                                               
members' packets],  which was $18.65 multiplied  by the statewide                                                               
foundation  average daily  membership count,  [the student  count                                                               
from previous  fiscal year], which  has remained  unchanged since                                                               
2013.  She shared SESA's caseload  has grown from 206 students in                                                               
2012 to  335 students  in 2020,  a 63  percent increase,  with no                                                               
adjustment to the rate.                                                                                                         
8:13:02 AM                                                                                                                    
KRIS CURTIS, Legislative Budget  and Audit, directed attention to                                                               
page 5 of the SESA audit  report, first outlining the creation of                                                               
SESA:    SESA  was  created to  help  Alaska's  school  districts                                                               
provide  special education  services  to individuals  with a  low                                                               
incidence disability (LID),  she shared.  Occurring  in less than                                                               
1 percent of  the national school-aged population,  LIDs are more                                                               
severe   in   nature   and   required   specialized   educational                                                               
intervention, she  added, and continued with  further information                                                               
about  its  inception:    SESA was  established  as  a  nonprofit                                                               
corporation whose governing authority  was the Governor's Council                                                               
on Disabilities  and Special Education,  organizationally located                                                               
within  the  Department of  Health  and  Social Services  (DHSS).                                                               
However,  SESA's primary  service, the  LID Outreach  Program, is                                                               
budgeted  and  funded  by  Department   of  Education  and  Early                                                               
Development  (DEED), she  explained.   Funding for  SESA provided                                                               
additional financial support to  help ensure students affected by                                                               
LIDs  were receiving  the free  and appropriate  public education                                                               
required by state and federal law, she shared.                                                                                  
MS. CURTIS  explained SESA services  were available  to districts                                                               
whose   low   incidence    special   education   needs   occurred                                                               
infrequently, making it  difficult for the district  to serve low                                                               
numbers   of  students   in  need   of   a  particular   service.                                                               
Furthermore,  SESA  recruited,  trained, and  retained  education                                                               
specialists  to provide  special  education technical  assistance                                                               
and  training to  parents, students,  and district  staff without                                                               
regard to location in the state.   She drew members' attention to                                                               
a map  on page 8 of  her presentation, which showed  the location                                                               
and number  of students served by  SESA:  335 students  across 48                                                               
districts.   This information was  also located in Appendix  C to                                                               
the audit  report, beginning on  page 27  and broken down  by LID                                                               
category, she added.                                                                                                            
8:15:39 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  CURTIS  continued  with  report   conclusions  on  page  11:                                                               
overall,  the  audit  concluded  SESA  has  served  the  public's                                                               
interest  by assisting  school  districts  in providing  students                                                               
affected  by  LIDs an  education  to  meet the  students'  unique                                                               
needs;  by  providing  opportunities  to  enhance  teachers'  and                                                               
paraprofessionals'  capabilities;   and  by  providing   LID  and                                                               
special   education   resources.      Ms.   Curtis   shared   the                                                               
recommendation SESA  be extended eight years,  the maximum length                                                               
of time allowed in statute.   According to Ms. Curtis, as part of                                                               
the audit,  a survey was sent  to the 51 school  district special                                                               
education directors  served by SESA.   Thirty  district directors                                                               
responded, a  59 percent response  rate, a little lower  than was                                                               
expected, she  pointed out,  which may  be pandemic-related.   In                                                               
general,   survey  respondents   viewed   SESA  services,   staff                                                               
availability,  and  expertise  favorably,  she  stated.    Survey                                                               
questions  and  responses were  included  in  Appendix C  of  the                                                               
report, she added.                                                                                                              
MS. CURTIS  repeated the  details of the  formula Ms.  Hakala had                                                               
presented in  her opening remarks,  expounding on them  by adding                                                               
that although  SESA's LID  caseload had  significantly increased,                                                               
the agency  did not request an  increase in funding to  allow for                                                               
additional  staff due  to declining  state operating  budgets and                                                               
challenges  with  recruiting and  retaining  specialists.   As  a                                                               
result,  education  specialists  serving certain  LID  categories                                                               
experienced high caseloads,  and as of February  2020, the agency                                                               
had three educational specialist  vacancies.  A statutory funding                                                               
formula that incorporated inflation  would help ensure SESA's LID                                                               
funding was not reduced by the passage of time, she imparted.                                                                   
8:17:30 AM                                                                                                                    
MS. CURTIS  reviewed recommendations  and audit response  on page                                                               
18:  the auditors had reviewed  42 students' files and found that                                                               
five students'  disabilities [12  percent], as identified  in the                                                               
school district  referral form, had  been reclassified by  a SESA                                                               
education   specialist    without   having    provided   adequate                                                               
documentation.   Additionally,  four  of the  five student  files                                                               
lacked  documentation   to  show  SESA  staff   communicated  the                                                               
students'   revised  disability   category  to   school  district                                                               
personnel.     School  district  staff  determined   a  student's                                                               
eligibility   for  special   education  services,   obtained  the                                                               
necessary   parental   signature[s],   and  provided   SESA   the                                                               
supporting documentation  that included the  student's disability                                                               
on the required written referral.   In some instances, SESA staff                                                               
reclassified  a  student's  disability based  on  a  specialist's                                                               
assessment of a student's educational needs, she shared.                                                                        
MS. CURTIS shared responses to the  audit on page 35:  generally,                                                               
Commissioner Michael Johnson, DEED,  the DHSS, and SESA concurred                                                               
with report conclusions and recommendations.                                                                                    
8:18:53 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND asked about the  funding formula related to the                                                               
number of students with LIDs.                                                                                                   
MS.  CURTIS said  the  formula  was based  on  the average  daily                                                               
membership  (ADM), or  fall [student]  count.   If  the ADM  went                                                               
down, funding  would also go  down, she stated.   At the  time of                                                               
the last  sunset audit  in 2012,  the rate  hadn't changed  in 14                                                               
years.  The  current rate has been in place  for eight years, she                                                               
8:20:41 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS asked  if the formula could  be changed at                                                               
any point, not just within HB 43.                                                                                               
MS. CURTIS replied yes.                                                                                                         
8:20:57 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR STORY commented  it was helpful to  survey districts and                                                               
asked if  it was common practice  to get a response  to the audit                                                               
confirming steps had been followed.                                                                                             
MS.  CURTIS  replied there  was  always  a formal  response  from                                                               
management included in  the back of an audit.   She added in most                                                               
cases corrective action was also provided.                                                                                      
8:22:12 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  DRUMMOND commented  serving 53  school districts  was a                                                               
lot of management  and confirmed 60 percent had  been received on                                                               
the survey.                                                                                                                     
MS.  CURTIS replied  that management  from  an audit  perspective                                                               
would  entail  with whom  the  audit  would  be done,  which  was                                                               
determined to be  the SESA board chair and  the two commissioners                                                               
that oversaw  departments.   The goal was  to determine  SESA was                                                               
serving the public and had  expertise and quality, and the survey                                                               
was an excellent means of obtaining that information.                                                                           
8:23:47 AM                                                                                                                    
PATRICK  PILLAI, Executive  Director,  Special Education  Service                                                               
Agency,   provided  a   PowerPoint  presentation,   titled  "SESA                                                               
Introduction."  He directed attention  to slide 2, SESA's website                                                               
[www.sesa.org],  which contained  its mission  statement:   "SESA                                                               
provides  consultation   and  training  to  support   the  unique                                                               
educational  needs of  individuals  and  the Alaskan  communities                                                               
that  serve them."    The  legacy of  SESA  support followed  the                                                               
Individuals with Disabilities Act  (IDEA) of 1975 reauthorized in                                                               
2004 and  amended in  2015 to the  "Every Student  Succeeds Act,"                                                               
and which demanded  a free and public education  to students with                                                               
disabilities,  he  imparted;  SESA   helped  parents  and  school                                                               
district  staff make  tangible,  through specialized  educational                                                               
interventions, the services mandated by special education law.                                                                  
8:26:01 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. PILLAI  went over statute AS  14.30.630(b)(1), which required                                                               
SESA to  provide special education services,  including access to                                                               
specialists and  other resources, to  LID students.   Through the                                                               
"qualification"  statute AS14.30.350,  SESA was  able to  provide                                                               
students  who fit  outside  the  LID realm,  such  as those  with                                                               
Autism.   The  "Logic Model"  presented on  slide 6  captured the                                                               
process of delivering specialized  services to parents, students,                                                               
and  districts  with  the  intent   of  addressing  the  gap  via                                                               
solutions  that promoted  availability of  SESA services  through                                                               
on-site  and  distance  support.    The  approach  created  broad                                                               
participant  training,  [indisc.]  staff turnover,  and  promoted                                                               
collaboration between teachers and paraprofessionals, he shared.                                                                
MR. PILLAI stated SESA's approach  reduced isolation and promoted                                                               
teacher retention,  especially in remote areas.   Benchmarks were                                                               
created to ensure SESA was holding  itself to a high standard, he                                                               
said, adding  benchmarks provided a threshold  of expectation and                                                               
guided specialist  expectation for  continuous improvement.   The                                                               
flow of service  delivery was designed to  gather information and                                                               
meet  site   needs,  he  stated.     "Technical  Assistance"  was                                                               
demystified on  slide 8, Mr.  Pillai going over the  continuum of                                                               
service including student  observations, assessments, educational                                                               
interventions, modeling of  strategies, in-service trainings, and                                                               
many   more  pertinent   activities   based   on  requests   from                                                               
educational team  members.  Specialists also  worked with vendors                                                               
to help deal with device malfunction, he shared.                                                                                
8:28:18 AM                                                                                                                    
MR.  PILLAI shared  on  slide 9  that by  using  feedback on  the                                                               
annual  public  audit and  sunset  legislative  audits, SESA  had                                                               
designed  a  program  and   specialist  evaluation  system  using                                                               
metrics  in which  each specialist  would  be evaluated  annually                                                               
using  a   standardized  evaluation  form,  and   in  which  each                                                               
specialist, post provision of service, would email an agency-                                                                   
designed  satisfaction   survey  to  service  recipients.     The                                                               
satisfaction survey  would be  analyzed for  indicators including                                                               
quality  of service,  level  of  preparedness, coordination  with                                                               
site staff,  preferred mode of  technical assistance, and  use of                                                               
evidence-based practices.  Evaluations  were also used to collect                                                               
data on  various aspects  of agency activity,  he shared.   These                                                               
metrics  focused  on  mission-centric  activities  such  as  site                                                               
travel,  creation of  educational  materials,  training, and  in-                                                               
services, and writing of student  service reports, he stated.  On                                                               
slide 11  Mr. Pillai  shared a visual  example of  the customized                                                               
management system  SESA designed  to ensure  data-driven decision                                                               
making.     Individual  reports   provided  data   on  specialist                                                               
activity,  allowing for  measurement  of  productivity, and  were                                                               
completed within the agency timeframe of ten working days.                                                                      
8:30:28 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. PILLAI shared slide 12,  an example of electronic versions of                                                               
student  records,  and  slide  13,  a line  graph  of  number  of                                                               
students between  2011 and 2020.   The  solid blue line  showed a                                                               
steady increase  on SESA's  LID caseload,  he pointed  out, while                                                               
slide  14 showed  a  history  of SESA  fund  balance.   The  last                                                               
funding increase was in 2013, he pointed out.                                                                                   
8:32:05 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. PILLAI  shared slide  15, the  legislative audit  report from                                                               
November  12,  2020,  which  concurred  SESA  met  the  needs  of                                                               
students with  LIDs, provided opportunities to  enhance teachers'                                                               
and  paraprofessionals'   capabilities,  and  provided   LID  and                                                               
special  education  resources  to  staff, and  concluded  with  a                                                               
recommendation   for   reauthorization.     Reauthorization   was                                                               
requested by SESA, Mr. Pillai shared,  so as to continue to offer                                                               
key  services  to the  state  which  included  all the  areas  of                                                               
technical  assistance reviewed  earlier in  the presentation,  he                                                               
stated.     The  database   allowed  SESA   to  run   reports  of                                                               
productivity,  he  imparted.   Slide  17  captured activities  of                                                               
technical  assistance,  the  number   of  schools  and  districts                                                               
served,  the  number  of  trainings  conducted  on-site  and  via                                                               
distance  delivery,  as  well  as an  analysis  of  expenses,  he                                                               
8:33:47 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GILLHAM asked how many employees SESA had.                                                                       
MR. PILLAI  replied 20  full employees:   one  administrator [Mr.                                                               
Pillai]; one administrator-in-training;  14 technical specialists                                                               
who  traveled   to  school   districts;  one   technologist;  one                                                               
librarian, and two program assistants.                                                                                          
8:34:30 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR STORY  asked whether SESA  had adequate funding  to keep                                                               
its  resource  library,  specifically  literature  pertaining  to                                                               
Autism, current.                                                                                                                
MR.  PILLAI   replied  yes,  adding   the  library   was  updated                                                               
frequently  and districts  could test  materials before  adopting                                                               
them.   He added between  the LID  program and the  Alaska Autism                                                               
Resource Center resources were plentiful.                                                                                       
CO-CHAIR  STORY  asked about  distance  trainings  and how  often                                                               
staff  participated  in  video conferences  with  families,  even                                                               
before COVID-19.                                                                                                                
MR. PILLAI replied that the  decision to move to video technology                                                               
was  a   product  of  availability  of   resources  and  previous                                                               
legislative audits.   He added it had come up  that investment in                                                               
technology represented  cost savings  to the  state, and  as such                                                               
SESA had invested in technology  to supplement onsite visits with                                                               
Zoom  meetings.    During  COVID-19,  families  who  had  already                                                               
established in-person contact fared better  than those who had to                                                               
begin the process over Zoom, he related.                                                                                        
CO-CHAIR STORY asked if SESA  had received COVID-19 funds to help                                                               
during the pandemic.                                                                                                            
MR.  PILLAI replied  no, Alaska  CARES  Act funding  began at  50                                                               
employees, and SESA did not qualify because it had 20 employees.                                                                
8:39:50 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR   DRUMMOND  asked   about  the   464  distance-delivered                                                               
activities;  whether each  activity involved  one student,  or if                                                               
they were combined based on needs.                                                                                              
MR.  PILLAI  replied  most activities  were  single-student-based                                                               
unless a  site requested in-service trainings  for entire schools                                                               
or multiple teachers.                                                                                                           
CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND  confirmed "hands-on activities" were  done via                                                               
a specialist working remotely guiding the teacher.                                                                              
MR.  PILLAI  affirmed  that.   He  explained  for  students  with                                                               
emotional  disabilities, a  school in  crisis mode  needed to  be                                                               
viewed  in real  time  via Nest  cameras  and other  intervention                                                               
techniques.  When behavior was  deescalated, aides were sometimes                                                               
not needed, he added.                                                                                                           
CO-CHAIR  DRUMMOND asked  if additional  equipment  needed to  be                                                               
acquired, since SESA switched to a distance model.                                                                              
MR. PILLAI  replied no massive  update had been required  as SESA                                                               
had already been using technology effectively for several years.                                                                
8:45:56 AM                                                                                                                    
BEN GRIESE,  Special Education Teacher, South  West Region School                                                               
District,  advocated  for  SESA,  especially in  rural  parts  of                                                               
Alaska such  as his village  of New Stuyahok  with inconsistently                                                               
reliable  technology and  a high  rate of  teacher turnover.   He                                                               
provided examples  of SESA's  impact regarding  training teachers                                                               
and advocating for  students.  He related that  the four teaching                                                               
awards he  has received over the  last seven years should  all be                                                               
credited to SESA; that he could  not have earned them without the                                                               
8:49:14 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND asked  how many people lived in  the village of                                                               
New Stuyahok and how many students were in the school.                                                                          
MR. GRIESE  replied the village  was 550 people, and  the school,                                                               
Pre-K - 12, was 150 students.   He added that he sometimes had to                                                               
travel  between  8 and  60  miles  to deliver  special  education                                                               
needs, and since the village was  off the road system this travel                                                               
was often completed by boat or snow machine.                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR  DRUMMOND  confirmed  that he  traveled  throughout  the                                                               
district and did not just stay in the village.                                                                                  
MR. GRIESE replied yes, but primarily he was in New Stuyahok.                                                                   
CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND  asked if  prior to  COVID-19, SESA  staff made                                                               
on-site visits.                                                                                                                 
MR. GRIESE  replied yes, two to  three times a year,  in addition                                                               
to doing work online, he added.                                                                                                 
8:51:17 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE PRAX  sought to clarify SESA  worked directly with                                                               
students in addition to working with teachers.                                                                                  
MR.  GRIESE  explained SESA  provided  staff  training, but  that                                                               
working  with kids  and families  was  necessary to  know how  to                                                               
train  teachers,  especially  in  the village.    He  added  this                                                               
approach  was   the  best  way  for   students'  independence  to                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  PRAX  clarified SESA  came  to  a district  of  a                                                               
teacher's request.                                                                                                              
MR. GRIESE replied yes, and it was  up to the teacher to keep the                                                               
ball rolling.                                                                                                                   
8:56:53 AM                                                                                                                    
NATALIE VORON, Special Education  Teacher, Sitka School District,                                                               
also spoke  to the invaluable  service SESA  provided, especially                                                               
with its specific materials for  different levels of Autism.  She                                                               
related anecdotally  SESA's delivery  of an integral  resource in                                                               
just two  days, and the  multiple ways in which  the organization                                                               
has been able to help students, families, and teachers alike.                                                                   
8:59:47 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND asked how SESA was able to deliver in just two                                                                
MS. VORON replied through GoldStreak flight service.                                                                            
9:00:56 AM                                                                                                                    
The committee took an at-ease from 9:00 a.m. to 9:02 a.m.                                                                       
9:03:42 AM                                                                                                                    
CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND announced HB 43 was held over.                                                                                

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
HB0043A.PDF HEDC 3/17/2021 8:00:00 AM
HB 43
HB 43 SESA Sponsor Statement Version A.pdf HEDC 3/17/2021 8:00:00 AM
HB 43
HB 43 SESA Sectional Analysis Version A.pdf HEDC 3/17/2021 8:00:00 AM
HB 43
HB43 SESA Presentation .pdf HEDC 3/17/2021 8:00:00 AM
HB 43
20120-SESA-FINAL-AUDIT LB&A.pdf HEDC 3/17/2021 8:00:00 AM
HB 43 Letters of Support Received 3.15.21.pdf HEDC 3/17/2021 8:00:00 AM
HB 43
HB0043-EED-SS-3-11-21 Fiscal Note.pdf HEDC 3/17/2021 8:00:00 AM
HB 43