Legislature(1999 - 2000)
04/14/2000 02:20 PM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 301 An Act relating to the education of exceptional children; and providing for an effective date. BRUCE JOHNSON, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT, explained that the purpose of the legislation was to update State special education statutes to conform with federal law in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997. The bill would remove unnecessary detail from State statute, thus removing conflicts and inconsistencies with State and federal law. He noted that Alaska stands to lose $13 million federal funding dollars if we fail to update the statutes. Mr. Johnson itemized the State Statutes Proposed for Repeal: 14.30.191 Educational evaluation and placement: The current State statute is inconsistent and incomplete with regard to evaluation and placement of students with disabilities. Federal statute on education evaluation and placement is comprehensive, and now includes parents in the process of determining their child's eligibility and evaluation needs. The State will rely on federal law. 14.30.272 Procedural safeguards: The current State statute does not include all federal procedural safeguards (parents' and students' rights and protections including mediation, complaint investigation or due process hearings) for students with disabilities. The State will rely on federal law. 14.30.274 Identification of exceptional children: Current State law does not hold statewide correspondence programs fully accountable for identifying enrolled children with disabilities (child find). The State will rely on federal law. 14.30.278 Individualized education program: Parents, students and regular education teachers are now essential members of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) teams according to federal law. The State will rely on federal law. In response to Vice Chair Bunde, Mr. Johnson explained that the State anticipates receiving $14.3 million federal dollars to better serve children with disabilities. Co-Chair Therriault questioned if the funds would really be jeopardized if the legislation were not passed. Mr. Johnson replied that the federal government has responded that their intent is that no waivers will be issued. The State is in an overall correction period with the federal government at this time. Vice Chair Bunde inquired regarding the no waiver time line. Mr. Johnson reiterated that the State has been told that there are no waivers. Vice Chair Bunde asked if it was "imperative" that the bill pass. Mr. Johnson explained that the Department wants to move forward and create the necessary regulations. The federal government has not indicated a time line. Mr. Johnson acknowledged the voiced concern. He noted that the original bill required gifted and talented (GT) services to be offered at the local level. It was amended in the House Hess Committee to cover five areas of children with disabilities. He emphasized that there are no federal requirements that GT children are served. That is a local option for each state. He added that there is $13 thousand dollars to help with the GT program. What these parents are requesting is that they continue to have the same rights and safeguards as children with disabilities. Vice Chair Bunde inquired if it would be a non-funded mandate from the State to the local districts. Mr. Johnson advised that SB 36 provided an add on of 20%, and specifically identified GT students would be a portion of that 20%. He illustrated the use of that the 20%: ? Vocational education ? Bilingual education ? Special education Vice Chair Bunde inquired if the Department had taken a position on the amendment making this a local option. Mr. Johnson replied that the Department believes that should be a local responsibility and does not have the fiscal ability to provide such services to the gifted and talented population. Co-Chair Therriault interjected that local districts should be left with that responsibility. Mr. Johnson responded that with broad guidelines that could occur. Co-Chair Therriault asked what action would be required of the local district. Mr. Johnson explained that each school district would offer services and they would have an identification procedure established to determine eligibility. If a student was eligible, then there should be individual learning plans which would involve the parent meeting with the local school district to determine how best to serve the needs of the child. Additionally, a review process will be established to address complaints. Co-Chair Therriault inquired if funding would be used only for services for the disabled children. Mr. Johnson advised that would be determined by the local school district. ARON STANDLEY, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), STUDENT, ANCHORAGE, testified in support of a mandatory gifted and talented program. JO GARRETT, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), TEACHER, ANCHORAGE, commented that she was a teacher for the gifted and talented program in Anchorage. She believed that such programs would be adversely affected by the proposed legislation. Ms. Garrett voiced strong support for equal funding for gifted and talented and disabled students. She stressed that other educators throughout the State are strongly against this bill and that the program would cause great harm. She enumerated that such a program will cause the gifted students to give a lot up. She urged that the State continue to mandate programs for the gifted students. Vice Chair Bunde pointed out that by not passing the legislation, the State would jeopardize loosing $14 million dollars in federal funding. He asked if these parents were willing to take that chance. Ms. Garrett believed that was a threat not supported with factual information. Vice Chair Bunde inquired which child could lead the most successful life, the gifted or the disabled. Ms. Garrett replied that without special education, the danger is as great for one as it is for the other. YINSHI LEMAN, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), STUDENT, ANCHORAGE, spoke in opposition to the proposed legislation. She noted that the teachers certified in the gifted and talented programs are capable of creating a program to meet each student's needs. The gifted and talented students in a regular class will have an underachievement status. MILLY JOSEPHSON, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), STUDENT, ANCHORAGE, noted that all students that receive other programs would be affected by passage of the proposed legislation. She listed all the various programs which would be affected by the bill and urged members to vote against the proposed legislation. CHASE SWALLING, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), STUDENT, ANCHORAGE, testified in opposition to the legislation. He stated that passage of the legislation would have a negative effect on gifted students in our current school system. ALEX RICHERT, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), STUDENT, ANCHORAGE, commented that the legislation was disturbing, pointing out that funding for the Anchorage school system had also been cut. All those cuts mean less quality education for hundreds of students. Mr. Richert urged further funding for the gifted and talented programs throughout the State. JENNY WOLLEY, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), STUDENT, ANCHORAGE, testified in opposition to the proposed legislation. She noted the importance of the current system and stressed how important the "safe-guards" to that program are. She spoke to the inter-relatedness of the program and the transportation system. She requested continued consideration to the concerns voiced at the meeting. JUSTIN BIRCHELL, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), STUDENT, ANCHORAGE, spoke to the "special" part of special education. He noted that the gifted children are just as special as the handicapped students. He urged members to reconsider the legislation as it would be damaging to a certain class of student. Mr. Birchell pointed out that the gifted and talented programs offer more challenges to the gifted children which is essential to capture their attention and "keep them on track". JEAN KOLLANTAI, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), PARENT, ANCHORAGE, voiced concern that these two groups of students were being "pitted" against one another. She emphasized that more time is needed to work on an "all inclusive" bill. Ms. Kollantai advised that in order to comply with federal law, there needs to be an adequate audit trail. She urged that the Committee consider working cooperatively with one another and noted that the gifted and talented program is a requirement for the highly motivated students. In a regular classroom environment, these students are disabled. Ms. Kollantai noted that very few teachers have training in administering gifted services. Research proves that gifted students whose needs are not met, become under achievers and often times will drop out of school. Co-Chair Therriault asked if there was a distinction made between middle and high school age students. Ms. Kollantai replied that students can continue in the program up into high school. However, she emphasized that it is the younger children who are at risk; in high school there are more class choices. (TAPE CHANGE, HFC 00 - 119, Side 2). Vice Chair Bunde voiced concern that pulling out the gifted students in the classrooms deprives the regular classroom of leadership. He suggested the need for inclusion. Ms. Kollantai explained that the children are not removed from the other children in the school and that makes the program good as they continue to be a part of the curriculum. BERNEY RICHERT, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), STUDENT, ANCHORAGE, spoke in support of the gifted program. He voiced concern with the proposed legislation as the bill would eliminate the guarantee that exceptional children have a good education. DAVID ROSE, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), PARENT/TEACHER, MAT-SU, spoke in support for continued funding for the gifted and talented program that currently exists in the school system. He added that there should be support to include further funding for the gifted and talented students in the legislation. As the bill is currently written, Mr. Rose noted he opposed it. He pointed out that a combination of both programs would provide a safeguard and would save money. He noted that without direction from the Legislature, the parents of the gifted and talented will loose something that is extremely valuable. Mr. Rose noted that the Legislature sought a benefit by offering a program through the University of Alaska to the gifted and talented top 10% graduating students to stay in State by offering free tuition at all University of Alaska campuses. That program cost millions of dollars. He encouraged that those students not be discouraged from being a part of the educational program by pulling the funding. He urged members to find a way to include both gifted and talented students and avoid any federal sanction costs. He also recommended providing the structure to continue services to these deserving students. Co-Chair Therriault stated that passage of the proposed bill does not fit into the budgetary scheme while noting that those funds would continue to float through to the local districts. Co-Chair Therriault spoke to how conservative the structure was in the Mat-Su area. He asked if this were a local issue, would the school district follow through with the program. Mr. Rose acknowledged that he was one of the conservative Republican's living in the Mat-Su area. He noted that the people in Mat-Su would not hesitate to cut further and that his school district had been reduced by 25%. He emphasized that each year they cut. Mr. Rose noted that the gifted and talented program in Mat-Su does not include a "special school with special programs" and would not be a major expense item. Vice Chair Bunde voiced concern with the unintended consequences. He added that the local school board is the "connector". Mr. Rose interjected that through the democratic process, the school board has been molded to be sensitive to the needs of the students. However, that process is slow. At this time, the State is in charge of the money. He acknowledged that he usually did not support unfunded mandates. Co-Chair Therriault responded that there would be funding with "no mandate". The money would flow and the decision will be made at the local level. Representative J. Davies stated that the rewrite of the foundation formula provided for a 20% addition, which was intended to cover in part the gifted and talented program. He noted that the amendment would provide a mandate for that funding. Mr. Rose noted that he supported the amendment. He recognized the situation and supported the work of the Legislature. DEWAYNE JOEHANKS, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), SCHOOL PROGRAM COORDINATOR, WASILLA, commented that these kids are at "danger" given the proposed legislation. He noted that there had been talk about the co-mingling these funds. He pointed out that he had students with multiple disabilities, while at the same time, and were gifted and talented students. DONNA JORDAN, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), PARENT, WASILLA, spoke as a parent of a gifted child in the present school system. She agreed that child is different from the other children in her class. She noted that her gifted child was as disabled as her autistic child. She acknowledged that the proposed legislation would pit these children against one another. Ms. Jordan stressed that the gifted children do not learn without proper teaching ability. Ms. Jordan urged continued consideration of the gifted program for the sake of all children's full potential. LOUISE PARISH, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), PARENT, VALDEZ, proposed that the bill be postponed for a year in order to provide for more in depth consideration. She urged that this bill be "killed" in Committee. MARC GROBER, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), ATTORNEY, ANCHORAGE, noted his faxed testimony included in member's packets. [Copy on File]. He emphasized that the bill is a very defective bill. The bill as written does not address the purposes for which it was intended. That purpose was for compliance with the 1997 IDEA amendment. He reiterated that it is bad legislation. (TAPE CHANGE, HFC 00 - 120, Side 1). Mr. Grober emphasized that research has demonstrated that gifted children that do not have special programs are more likely to become a danger to themselves or to society. Mr. Grober noted that they had asked the Department of Education federal delegation if there would be previously referenced action. He emphasized that the U.S. Secretary of that Department had no intent to cut funding. The intent of IDEA is not to punish states who are attempting to do their best for these children. Instead, they have awarded states for adopting local policy that protect the children. In 1990, the Secretary of the Congress made it clear that IDEA was intended to encourage states to adopt local policy that provide certain protection with certain minimal benefits. Mr. Grober emphasized that there is no reason why Alaska can not continue to offer the same benefits to the gifted children as well as to the disabled children. He maintained that such action would be unlawful and pointed out that the Department of Education and Early Development had "sat" on the issue for three years. He urged that this legislation be "held". JO GARRETT, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), ANCHORAGE, testified in opposition to the legislation. She pointed out that gifted children are at risk when they are not challenged and that programs need to be appropriate. She emphasized that their needs cannot be met in the classroom and recounted experiences in other states. The bottom line is "dollars". Ms. Garrett stressed that highly creative children would be the first to loose services. She recommended an audit trail. Ms. Garrett felt that the legislation should be killed. ROBERT SEWELL, SELF, DOUGLAS, testified in opposition to the legislation. He noted that 30 years ago, the Legislature showed the wisdom and courage to give legal protection to students with unusual needs. Children with extreme and or unusual intelligence were included in that group. He compared the lack of current services to a 10th grader that is told they must spend a year in 4th grade. He maintained that gifted children are under-served. Mr. Sewell advised that the "fox would be watching the hen house" if the local school districts were given responsibility for the program. A yearly report is not enough. Mr. Sewell expressed concern with what is missing from the current statute. He disagreed that funds would be lost if the legislation were not passed this year and pointed out that a waiver could be sought if federal money is at risk. He maintained that if there were a problem with commingling of funds, it could turn into a serious accounting problem. He added that there must be minimum safe guards. Mr. Sewell recommended that the Legislature take the time to insure that procedural safeguards are retained. He added that if federal money is at risk, a waiver should be sought to provide a time of reconsideration. If the monies are at risk, it is because funding for gifted and talented services was previously removed from a categorical arrangement and placed into a single pot. Additionally, he noted that the federal government spends 1000 times as much on services for traditional speculation education as it does on gifted and talented services. Mr. Sewell spoke in support of the amendment to Section 9, included in member's packets. Representative G. Davis referenced testimony regarding due process and safeguards. He asked if it was a civil right to be provided such services. Mr. Sewell replied that is not a federally mandated issue. He noted that his concern is to "do the right thing" and guarantee that there is a legal structure in place. Without the legal safeguards, it would leave the school district and parents with no where else to go to bring the issue to fairness. In such circumstances, whatever there is for these services will dissolve. Vice Chair Bunde questioned the suggestion that local school boards have an inability to address these circumstances and the need for legal regress to attack them. Mr. Sewell confessed that services would be greatly reduced as a result of the many pressures placed on the local education agencies. If the concern was only that the local agency had the final authority, then the entire IDEA structure would be balanced. However, there is an issue of accountability. He noted that educators work as much as they can. Mr. Sewell acknowledged that his concern was that if the local safeguards are removed for the high achievers, things will get worse. Many children will be skipped without a statewide system in place. He proposed that Alaska should not break what is marginally working. Vice Chair Bunde pointed out that 1/3 of all students are classified as gifted. Mr. Sewell corrected that the combined total of disabled and gifted is 1/3 of the student population. Mr. Sewell guessed that the total percentage of exceptional students would rest between 2% - 5% of all enrolled students. Co-Chair Therriault referenced the bill which addresses parent's rights services. Mr. Johnson stated that Page 3, Line 4, had been debated significantly in previous Committees and the issue being if the parent's have the right to refuse special education services. He noted that the Department's interpretation of the bill is that they do have the right to refuse that their child go through the testing to qualify. Mr. Johnson added that they have veto rights once the initial program is established. Once a child is identified and placed in the special education program, then the district must provide an appropriate public education. In response to Representative Bunde, Mr. Johnson noted that the conversation has been around the Department's commingling of funds for those with disabilities and those in the gifted and talented area. The federal government has clarified that money can not be commingled and that the practice in no longer handled that way. Mr. Johnson indicated that the general fund appropriation for special education for Department's use is $13 thousand dollars. That is the extent of the money available except for funding received from the federal government. This year, that amount is in excess of $13 million dollars. Discussion followed between Mr. Johnson and Vice Chair Bunde regarding how the federal money would be spent. Representative J. Davies inquired how much the Department had spent of the federal money for training and other things related to the due process hearing officers. Mr. Johnson replied that it varies between $250-$400 thousand dollars a year. That amount does not include the four professionals employed at the Department. Representative J. Davies advised that the due process portion can use federal funds only for the disabled component. An additional fiscal note would be needed for the gifted and talented portion. Co-Chair Therriault noted that the public hearing process would be closed. He commented that the bill would be held in Committee. HB 301 was HELD in Committee for further consideration.