Legislature(1999 - 2000)

04/14/2000 02:20 PM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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                                                                             
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                                                                               
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                                                                        
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                                                                    
Mr. Rose noted that he supported the amendment.  He                                                                             
recognized the situation and supported the work of the                                                                          
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                                                                            
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                                                                              
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.                                                                         

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