Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 106

03/14/2006 11:00 AM EDUCATION

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11:10:40 AM Start
11:10:57 AM HB247
11:58:59 AM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
HB 247-CLASS SIZE REDUCTION GRANTS                                                                                            
[Contains brief mention of HB 228.]                                                                                             
11:10:57 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR NEUMAN announced  that the only order of  business would be                                                               
HOUSE  BILL NO.  247, "An  Act  establishing a  grant program  to                                                               
support  voluntary  class  size  reduction."    He  informed  the                                                               
committee that  it was  his intent  to hold  the bill  because he                                                               
would  like  the committee  to  first  hear and  compare  similar                                                               
proposed  legislation, HB  228, sponsored  by Representative  Jim                                                               
11:11:36 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE ERIC  CROFT, Alaska State Legislature,  as sponsor                                                               
of HB 247, opined that given  a small enough class size, teachers                                                               
are allowed  sufficient time to  teach which  is one of  the most                                                               
important aspects of public education.   He highlighted that data                                                               
has shown  that a class size  of 30 pupils makes  it difficult to                                                               
effectively teach.   Furthermore,  he relayed that  reductions in                                                               
class size  to 15 to 18  students has shown "dramatic  results in                                                               
terms of student achievement."   He then directed the committee's                                                               
attention  to the  attached  fiscal  note of  $120  million.   He                                                               
expressed his belief that this amount  and more is well worth the                                                               
improvement it  will make to  education.  He explained  that this                                                               
is not  a "typical"  class size  [reduction] bill  because unlike                                                               
other state mandates, this one  would provide the needed funding.                                                               
He  then  referred  to the  [Tennessee  Department  of  Education                                                               
Student Teacher Achievement Ratio  study (Project STAR)] on class                                                               
size reduction.  He said  6,000 Tennessee students were placed in                                                               
three different classes:   a reduced class of 17  or 18 students,                                                               
a "normal"  class size, and  a normal  class size with  a teacher                                                               
11:17:36 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR NEUMAN  inquired as  to the cost  per student  in Tennessee                                                               
and how it compares to the amount Alaska spends per student.                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  CROFT   replied  that   he  did  not   have  this                                                               
information but  would find out.   He said that  although Project                                                               
STAR was  implemented as a  study and determined that  class size                                                               
reduction made significant improvements  to education, he was not                                                               
certain  whether  the study  went  any  further  than that.    He                                                               
suggested  that  "the cost  to  implement  this may  have  scared                                                               
Tennessee  off."   A  class  size  reduction  study was  done  in                                                               
Florida  as well,  he  relayed, however  funding  any changes  to                                                               
class sizes  was determined too  costly.  He suggested  that this                                                               
committee first "prove  to ourselves ... that  it has significant                                                               
results and then let's talk  about whether we're willing to spend                                                               
the money to achieve those results."                                                                                            
11:19:13 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE LYNN  opined that it  would be like "going  to lot                                                               
of trouble  to prove  the obvious"  and that  one could  even say                                                               
having  a private  tutor  would be  ideal.   He  referred to  his                                                               
former years  as a  teacher for  a class of  43 students  with no                                                               
teacher aides  and expressed his belief  that effective education                                                               
is more  a matter of  the kinds of students  in a class  than the                                                               
total number.                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE WILSON  offered her  belief that  lowering numbers                                                               
of classroom  students might be  "a nightmare for schools."   She                                                               
asked what would happen to the  extra kids per classroom, or with                                                               
the kids  in combined-grade classrooms,  and whether  there would                                                               
be enough classrooms to accommodate the change.                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE  CROFT,   returning  to  the  statement   made  by                                                               
Representative Lynn,  said he agreed  that the benefits  to class                                                               
size  reduction  is "proving  the  obvious"  yet  how much  of  a                                                               
reduction or  how big an effect  is information he would  like to                                                               
share with  the committee.   Additionally, he expressed  his hope                                                               
that HB 247  provides "the maximum flexibility  and incentive for                                                               
districts to  [implement class size reduction]  without mandating                                                               
exactly how  they do it  ...."  He  returned to the  Project STAR                                                               
study and highlighted  that dramatic results were  seen for those                                                               
class sizes  reduced to 15  to 18  students.  Other  studies have                                                               
shown that  solely lowering class  size closer to 20  students is                                                               
not as  effective.  He said  that "there's a magic  sort of sweet                                                               
spot  around the  15 to  18 [students  per classroom]"  where the                                                               
disruptive influence of unruly  students is dramatically reduced,                                                               
where time spent with the  teacher is dramatically increased, and                                                               
when  the  "feedback  loop"  is   shortened.    This  latter,  he                                                               
explained, is the  time it takes for a student  to learn from the                                                               
teacher whether his or her answer  is correct or not.  He relayed                                                               
that "it's vital  to have that [feedback loop] be  a fairly quick                                                               
turnaround -  the more they sit  with the wrong answer,  or right                                                               
answer they don't know is right,  the less they're learning."  He                                                               
directed the  committee's attention to  the chart on page  154 of                                                               
the report  on Project  Star entitled,  "The Enduring  Effects of                                                               
Small  Classes,"   showing  the  "SAT  grade   equivalents"  from                                                               
kindergarten  through   third  grade.     He  noted   that  those                                                               
kindergartners  participating in  Project STAR  tested .5  months                                                               
ahead in  reading and word skills,  and over 1.5 months  ahead in                                                               
math skills by the end of the  year.  These results, he said, are                                                               
"significant  but  fairly modest  gains"  compared  to the  third                                                               
grade students who  tested 4.5 months ahead of  those students in                                                               
a  class size  of 25  students, 5.5  months ahead  in word  study                                                               
skills, and  2.6 months ahead in  math skills.  He  then directed                                                               
the committee's attention to the  graphs on page [156] which show                                                               
the increased  benefit to those  students enrolled more  years in                                                               
the smaller  class sizes.  He  noted an example of  the gains for                                                               
second graders  up to 5.8, or  "essentially half a year  ahead of                                                               
[those students in fuller classes]."                                                                                            
11:28:19 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  THOMAS  inquired  as  to whether  there  are  any                                                               
comparative  studies  on those  students  who  are home  schooled                                                               
versus those taught in a large classroom setting.                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE   CROFT   said    that   the   superintendent   of                                                               
Delta/Greeley  School District  conveyed  to him  that those  who                                                               
home school  and follow a  curriculum tend to  do very well.   He                                                               
opined that "home schooling can  be tremendously effective if the                                                               
parents are truly involved in  teaching and not very effective if                                                               
they're not doing much."                                                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE  THOMAS expressed  his  belief  that the  attached                                                               
fiscal  note is  lacking  in  that it  does  not include  capital                                                               
construction.  This expense, he  explained, would derive from the                                                               
need to build  more classrooms to house the  overflow of students                                                               
resulting from decreasing the number of students per classroom.                                                                 
11:30:22 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE CROFT  announced that  before he addressed  how to                                                               
implement smaller class  sizes, he had one  additional benefit to                                                               
highlight  for the  committee.   He  relayed that  not only  were                                                               
[Project STAR]  students tested  in earlier  grades, but  also in                                                               
later  grades  to determine  whether  the  benefits of  being  in                                                               
smaller class  sizes "fade away"  upon returning to  larger class                                                               
sizes.  "The short answer is 'no'," he said.                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA inquired  as to  whether reducing  the class                                                               
size could be limited to core  classes in order to help lower the                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  CROFT relayed  that in  some states,  limits have                                                               
been applied to  Title I schools.  He then  turned the discussion                                                               
to the failed attempts by other  states to reduce class size.  He                                                               
referred to the State of  Georgia which mandated that class sizes                                                               
be  reduced  statewide  until  it was  realized  there  were  not                                                               
sufficient  funds to  back the  project.   He explained  that [HB
247] is a  voluntary grant program and not mandated.   "No school                                                               
district in  the state  has to  reduce [its]  class size  if [it]                                                               
doesn't want to,"  he said.  He relayed that  those schools which                                                               
choose to participate would receive financial assistance.                                                                       
CHAIR  NEUMAN interjected  that  he could  "not  imagine why  any                                                               
school district  in the state would  not say, 'You bet  I'll take                                                               
that  money' ...."   He  then  sought confirmation  of this  from                                                               
Carol Comeau, superintendent of the Anchorage School District.                                                                  
11:33:58 AM                                                                                                                   
CAROL  COMEAU, Superintendent,  Anchorage School  District (ASD),                                                               
expressed her  belief that school districts  would take advantage                                                               
of   the   program   if   assured   of   high-quality   teachers.                                                               
Additionally,  she opined  that  having an  [adequate number]  of                                                               
facilities is  a real concern  and that  a school might  be faced                                                               
with the question of where  to place a possible sixteenth student                                                               
when its class  sizes are set at  a maximum of 15  students.  She                                                               
opined that  establishing a  5-year period for  the project  is a                                                               
good commitment.  However, she  remarked that the language in the                                                               
bill regarding  the possibility of  a parent "going to  court ...                                                               
to compel  a district  to honor their  commitment" is  unclear to                                                               
her.   She repeated her concern  in how a very  mobile, transient                                                               
district  like ASD  would deal  with "the  sixteenth or  even the                                                               
seventeenth  student"  once  committed   to  a  15:1  class  size                                                               
11:35:33 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE GATTO, in regard  to building new space, suggested                                                               
there may  not be a  need to do so  by simply dividing  the space                                                               
with a  curtain.   [The real  expense], he  opined, might  be the                                                               
need to  hire additional  teachers.  He  noted that  smaller size                                                               
classes  already exist  in the  bush  and larger  class sizes  in                                                               
urban areas.                                                                                                                    
MS.  COMEAU  explained  that  depending on  the  school  and  the                                                               
mobility  factor, ASD  does  have  classroom sizes  of  15 to  16                                                               
students through the aid of  federal, class-size reduction funds.                                                               
Given  that   these  classes  are  taught   by  highly  qualified                                                               
teachers, she  expressed the effectiveness  of having  a [smaller                                                               
class size].                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  THOMAS,  in  regard  to  possible  abuse  of  the                                                               
program, asked  whether those rural  schools that  currently have                                                               
smaller class  sizes of 15  students wouldn't already  qualify to                                                               
receive the $8,000 [per student].                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE CROFT  added that  many of these  rural classrooms                                                               
contain mixed grades.   However, he explained  that regardless of                                                               
the existing mix or number, whether  a rural or urban school, any                                                               
school with  kindergarten through  third grade  students enrolled                                                               
in  a small  class  size, and  furthermore  guarantees they  will                                                               
maintain  that small  class size,  would  receive the  additional                                                               
funding.   He  said  that although  capital  construction may  be                                                               
significant, he  suggested that decisions  regarding construction                                                               
might  be ones  the  districts would  prefer  to make  themselves                                                               
[rather than at the state level].   He relayed that given the way                                                               
the bill  is structured, there  will likely be as  many different                                                               
"solutions to this" as there are school districts.                                                                              
CHAIR NEUMAN  informed the  committee that  all 53  Alaska school                                                               
districts were invited to participate in this discussion.                                                                       
11:40:50 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE WILSON remarked that  although this is a fantastic                                                               
bill, she wondered how school  districts could tackle the project                                                               
given all the  existing challenges they face:   increased heating                                                               
costs,  teacher  turnover,  increased insurance  rates,  and  the                                                               
funding of  retirement benefits.   She expressed her  belief that                                                               
the districts  "would like [the  funding] to come in  a different                                                               
way."   She relayed that  the primary  concern of the  schools in                                                               
her district are the school cost-differentials.                                                                                 
11:42:10 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR  NEUMAN   referred  to   earlier  presentations   on  early                                                               
childhood education  opportunities and  the cost of  running such                                                               
programs.    He noted  the  similar  goals to  providing  earlier                                                               
education and  creating smaller class  sizes:  "teaching  kids to                                                               
learn how  to learn."   Determining the best means  to accomplish                                                               
this goal is an on-going  question among the school districts, he                                                               
said, and a  challenge given all the  other obligations districts                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  CROFT  relayed that  he  has  been "fighting  for                                                               
increases  in the  foundation formula  for 10  years" and  opined                                                               
that "nothing  significant" has happened in  regard to increasing                                                               
education funding.  He suggested  that simply announcing possible                                                               
monetary increases is  not sufficient and that a  new approach is                                                               
needed to convey  how to achieve the goals  to improve education.                                                               
He expressed his  belief that his goal of reducing  class size is                                                               
tangible,  understandable, and  one  to which  Alaskans would  be                                                               
willing to commit.                                                                                                              
CHAIR  NEUMAN asked  Ms. Comeau  where she  believed "we  get the                                                               
best bang  for our buck":   funding early childhood  education or                                                               
[reducing class size] from kindergarten through third grade.                                                                    
MS. COMEAU expressed  her belief that more should  be invested in                                                               
prekindergarten  (Pre-K) through  third  grade.   In response  to                                                               
Chair  Neuman,  she   said  she  could  not   [easily]  make  the                                                               
distinction as  to which age  group, Pre-K or grades  K-3, should                                                               
be addressed  first.  She relayed  that if she had  to choose one                                                               
over  the other,  it "would  be grades  K-3 because  it's in  the                                                               
system already."   However, she  remarked that in  addressing K-3                                                               
alone "we  would be missing  the boat"  because many of  the kids                                                               
entering kindergarten are not ready  to learn.  "Lower class size                                                               
will help them immeasurably ... but  they would do so much better                                                               
if  they'd had  some help  before [entering  school]," she  said.                                                               
She highlighted that what she likes  most about HB 247 is that it                                                               
gives the local  school districts the power to  decide whether or                                                               
not  they  wish  to  participate  in  the  class  size  reduction                                                               
11:50:27 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA referred  to  the different  amounts of  oil                                                               
revenue that  would be generated at  the 25 percent tax  rate [as                                                               
opposed to the 20 percent rate]  and suggested this as a possible                                                               
source for funding early childhood  education.  He then said that                                                               
every year  the implementation of  small class sizes  is delayed,                                                               
more schools are  built that cannot accommodate this  change.  He                                                               
asked  Representative Croft  how  he would  feel  about adding  a                                                               
provision that requires  new school construction be  done in such                                                               
a way as  to ensure it can accommodate the  change to small class                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  CROFT said  that he  agreed with  this idea.   He                                                               
informed  the  committee  that he  has  already  approached  Eddy                                                               
Jeans,  the  director of  School  Finance  at the  Department  of                                                               
Education  and Early  Development and  that an  amendment to  the                                                               
facility specs addresses this.   Returning to questions regarding                                                               
"what  do you  do with  that 16th  kid," he  relayed that  he had                                                               
considered including  waiver language that would  allow more than                                                               
15 students "for a brief period  of time" yet decided against it.                                                               
He explained  that he wanted  parents to have the  guarantee that                                                               
their child would be in a  classroom of no more than 15 students.                                                               
He opined that the grant  would provide sufficient funds to shift                                                               
class numbers as needed without  exceeding 15 students.  However,                                                               
he suggested the committee include waiver language if it wished.                                                                
CHAIR  NEUMAN stated  his  preference  that Representative  Croft                                                               
provide the committee with suggestions on how to word this.                                                                     
11:55:03 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE THOMAS,  referring to  the large number  of school                                                               
districts he represents,  opined that the rural  students are the                                                               
ones  being  "choked in  by  school  sizes  and money  not  being                                                               
there."   He expressed his belief  that the [focus should  be] on                                                               
fixing the  cost-differential and that  Senate Bill 36  [from the                                                               
Twentieth Alaska State Legislature] "was wrong."                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE CROFT informed the committee  that he was the only                                                               
legislator  from Anchorage  or Fairbanks  to vote  against Senate                                                               
Bill 36  and relayed that his  concerns were similar to  those of                                                               
Representative Thomas's.                                                                                                        
CHAIR NEUMAN said that through  conversations he's had with rural                                                               
school districts, it was conveyed  to him that they don't believe                                                               
they  will benefit  from [HB  247]  because they  don't have  the                                                               
required class sizes.  He  relayed that these districts think the                                                               
money  would  be better  spent  on  increasing the  base  student                                                               
allocation (BSA).                                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE CROFT  expressed his  belief that the  opposite is                                                               
true.   According  to the  information he  has received,  he said                                                               
that there  are a  "fair amount  of rural  schools that  ... have                                                               
already made  the sacrifices  to have  [smaller class  sizes], so                                                               
they would qualify already."                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  WILSON opined  that the  rural schools  have been                                                               
underfunded  for so  long  that  "they would  love  to apply  for                                                               
something  like  this," however,  would  not  be  able to  do  so                                                               
because they are financially so far behind.                                                                                     
11:58:14 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR  NEUMAN  remarked  on  the   variety  of  education  issues                                                               
requiring funding:   early education, smaller  class sizes, cost-                                                               
differential   studies,   and  different   educational   delivery                                                               
systems.  He announced that HB 247 would be held over.                                                                          

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