Legislature(2001 - 2002)

04/10/2001 02:00 PM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 101                                                                                                            
     "An Act relating to charter schools; and providing for                                                                     
     an effective date."                                                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE FRED  DYSON, SPONSOR, testified  in support of                                                                   
HB 101. He noted that the legislation  is nearly identical to                                                                   
a bill, which  nearly made it through the legislation  in the                                                                   
past  year. He  maintained  that  state of  Alaska's  charter                                                                   
school law is among the weakest in the nation.                                                                                  
Representative  Dyson  discussed   changes  to  the  existing                                                                   
charter  school law  in HB  101.  He observed  that the  bill                                                                   
eliminates  the  2005  sunset  clause. It  also  extends  the                                                                   
allowable contract  length from 5 to 10 years  and eliminates                                                                   
the  geographic distribution  requirements.  The  legislation                                                                   
clarifies   that  charter   schools  are   not  exempt   from                                                                   
competency testing.                                                                                                             
Representative Dyson  observed that the previous  legislation                                                                   
mandated   that  school  districts   provide  an   accounting                                                                   
statement  for  student allotment  and  local  contributions.                                                                   
This has been  eliminated. The new legislation  also abandons                                                                   
the attempt to  mandate distribution of a pro-rated  share of                                                                   
local contributions to charter schools.                                                                                         
Representative  Dyson explained  that  the legislation  would                                                                   
allow charter schools  to be counted as a separate  school if                                                                   
the  ADM is  over  150  (AS 14.17.905).  He  emphasized  that                                                                   
charter schools  tend to be small  and that this  would allow                                                                   
them  to receive  the  same funds  as  other  schools in  the                                                                   
district per  student. The legislation  also provides  a one-                                                                   
time 'start-up" grant  of $500 dollars per person  and allows                                                                   
for  charter  school  use  of   safe  public  buildings  with                                                                   
district superintendent approval.                                                                                               
Vice-Chair  Bunde observed  that charter  schools funds  come                                                                   
from  the district's  total  state support.  The  legislation                                                                   
would free funds for the district.                                                                                              
Representative Croft questioned  if the legislation is a cost                                                                   
shifting measure. Representative  Dyson acknowledged that the                                                                   
fiscal note  would provide an  additional $2 million  dollars                                                                   
to education.                                                                                                                   
REPRESESNTATIVE   GRETCHEN   GUESS    emphasized   that   the                                                                   
legislation would  provide additional funds; funds  would not                                                                   
be shifted from one district to another.                                                                                        
Co-Chair Williams  observed that the  sunset would be  in the                                                                   
year 2005. He questioned if charters  have to be for 5 years.                                                                   
WESS  KELLER,  STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE  FRED  DYSON,  explained                                                                   
that current contracts  could not exceed 2005.  New contracts                                                                   
would not exceed the sunset date.                                                                                               
Vice-Chair  Bunde  asked  if  the  money  would  only  go  to                                                                   
districts that have charter schools.                                                                                            
Representative  Guess replied  that the  fiscal note  has two                                                                   
parts:  the startup  grant  and a  change  to the  foundation                                                                   
formula. The  funds would go  to the school district.  School                                                                   
districts without a charter school would not receive funds.                                                                     
Vice-Chair  Bunde pointed  out that a  school district  would                                                                   
not be  legally bond to provide  the additional funds  to the                                                                   
charter school, but acknowledged the moral obligation.                                                                          
Representative  Dyson  maintained  that  the State  Board  of                                                                   
Education and  Department of Education and  Early Development                                                                   
would  track  the funding.  Vice-Chair  Bunde  observed  that                                                                   
accountability   would   come    through   parent   feedback.                                                                   
Representative Dyson  acknowledged that there  is no specific                                                                   
report   to   the   legislature,    but   emphasized   parent                                                                   
Representative  John  Davies  asked what  the  fiscal  impact                                                                   
would  be if  the  number for  full funding  eligibility  was                                                                   
dropped  from  150  to  100  students.  Representative  Dyson                                                                   
understood  that  there would  be  three more  schools  added                                                                   
under  the change  to 150  students. He  estimated that  this                                                                   
would be  increased by a multiple  of 2 or  3. Representative                                                                   
Guess interjected  that it would result in a  decrease in the                                                                   
foundation formula.                                                                                                             
Representative  John Davies assumed  that if the  fiscal note                                                                   
were approved,  there would not  be an objection  to lowering                                                                   
the number.  Representative  Dyson stated  that he would  not                                                                   
object if the  charter school legislation were  not adversely                                                                   
Representative  Lancaster  asked  if  there were  a  need  to                                                                   
double the  number of charter  schools to 60.  Representative                                                                   
Dyson  maintained that  the change  is  needed. He  estimated                                                                   
that there  would be 45 or 50  schools in the next  two years                                                                   
if  the   legislation  is  passed.   He  observed   that  the                                                                   
University of Alaska would like  to start three schools to be                                                                   
used  as  laboratory   schools.  He  reviewed   a  number  of                                                                   
proposals with  different emphasis  such as preserving  local                                                                   
languages and addressing deaf students.                                                                                         
Representative Hudson  referenced correspondence  schools. He                                                                   
asked  if   the  legislation   would  affect   correspondence                                                                   
schools. Representative  Dyson stated  that there  is concern                                                                   
that students not "double dip".                                                                                                 
Co-Chair  Mulder referenced  SB 36  and noted  that the  hard                                                                   
count  provides a  name with a  number, which  makes it  more                                                                   
difficult to cheat.                                                                                                             
Co-Chair Williams observed that  charter schools have closed.                                                                   
Representative  Dyson noted that  his daughter worked  in the                                                                   
Anchorage   charter  school,   which   recently  closed.   He                                                                   
maintained that the school would  have been successful with a                                                                   
lower student count. Funding killed the school.                                                                                 
BRUCE JOHNSON,  DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT  OF EDUCATION                                                                   
AND  EARLY   DEVELOPMENT,  observed  that  the   State  Board                                                                   
supports the mission  of charter schools in  assisting in the                                                                   
general improvement of education.  The Board supports efforts                                                                   
to  assure  that charter  schools  receive  a fair  share  of                                                                   
funding, including reasonable  startup funding and urges that                                                                   
the  startup funding  be new  money. The  Board supports  the                                                                   
elimination of  geographical restrictions and  the designated                                                                   
number  of charter schools  in urban  communities. The  Board                                                                   
observed  that it  has taken  5  years to  reach the  current                                                                   
number of  17 schools  and does not  believe that  the number                                                                   
needs to be expanded  at this time. The Board  noted that the                                                                   
number could be expanded at a future time.                                                                                      
Vice-Chair Bunde referred to the fiscal note.                                                                                   
EDDY JEANS,  MANGER, SCHOOL  FINANCE AND FACILITIES  SECTION,                                                                   
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND EARLY  DEVELOPMENT, affirmed that                                                                   
funding  would  go  directly to  the  school  district.  Each                                                                   
charter  school   negotiates  a  contract  with   the  school                                                                   
district   for  administrative   overhead.   The   Department                                                                   
calculates basic  need for each  charter school based  on the                                                                   
number students.                                                                                                                
Vice-Chair Bunde  clarified that a school district  without a                                                                   
charter   school  would   not   receive   funding  from   the                                                                   
Representative  John  Davies  agreed, but  pointed  out  that                                                                   
school districts  would receive the same amount  of funds per                                                                   
student. Mr.  Jeans pointed out  that some of  these students                                                                   
would  be home  schooled  without  a charter  school  option.                                                                   
Home-schooled students  do not generate money  for the school                                                                   
district through  the foundation formula. Funding  depends on                                                                   
school size. If  a student were enrolled in  a charter school                                                                   
the funding  would go to the  district. The district  and the                                                                   
charter school  would negotiate a contract to  distribute the                                                                   
funds. The  statute, as it  is currently written,  allows the                                                                   
school  district to  take indirect  costs for  administrative                                                                   
expenses from  the funding generated  by the charter  school.                                                                   
Through the negotiation  of the contract, the  charter school                                                                   
may elect to give the district  additional money for services                                                                   
such as special education and library services.                                                                                 
Representative  John   Davies  questioned  the   fiscal  cost                                                                   
associated with  a school size  change of 100 students.   Mr.                                                                   
Jeans emphasized  that he could  only make a rough  guess and                                                                   
replied  that  the  cost  for  the  additional  four  schools                                                                   
identified would  be $2 - $2.7 million dollars.  He explained                                                                   
that  the students  are already  in the  charter school,  but                                                                   
because  they are under  the 200-student  threshold  they are                                                                   
being counted  in the largest  school in the  district, which                                                                   
is  the high  school,  which generates  the  least amount  of                                                                   
money. Below 100, the adjustment would be substantial.                                                                          
Representative Hudson asked the  positive and negative impact                                                                   
of the  charter schools. He  observed that the  funding flows                                                                   
to  the school  district.  He asked  if  the school  district                                                                   
would have responsibility  for oversight to make  certain the                                                                   
educational  program  is  qualified   and  performing  as  it                                                                   
should.  Mr. Jeans emphasized  that the  charter schools  are                                                                   
still  public  schools  and school  districts  have  juristic                                                                   
diction over those schools.  He  added that the same students                                                                   
would generate  less money if  they were added to  the larger                                                                   
school where they  receive less per student.  Charter schools                                                                   
can generate  more money  per student if  they meet  the 200-                                                                   
student level.                                                                                                                  
Mr. Johnson stressed  that children are better  educated when                                                                   
their  parents are  involved in  their  education. There  are                                                                   
distinct educational advantages to having a choice.                                                                             
Representative Hudson questioned  if there is any requirement                                                                   
for  additional  parental  economic  involvement  in  charter                                                                   
schools.   Mr. Johnson  emphasized that  charter schools  are                                                                   
still public schools and all students  are entitled to a free                                                                   
public education.  Charter school students are  not currently                                                                   
provided    with    transportation    through    the    state                                                                   
transportation   system.  The   State  Board  believes   that                                                                   
transportation  should  be provided  so  that  the option  is                                                                   
available  to every family  regardless  of their capacity  to                                                                   
get  their  child   to  the  charter  school.   The  lack  of                                                                   
transportation may result in a more select population.                                                                          
In response to  a question by Co-Chair Williams,  Mr. Johnson                                                                   
observed   that   parents   are   choosing   charter   school                                                                   
opportunities for  an entire host of reasons,  such as school                                                                   
size or special needs.  All of  the schools are "starved" for                                                                   
money. He observed that the "dreamers"  that start the school                                                                   
become weary  because they cannot  buy relief from  the seven                                                                   
day a week commitment that they  were willing to make for the                                                                   
first  three years.  As the  founders leave  and others  take                                                                   
over the schools go into crisis  if they do not have adequate                                                                   
financial resources to buy services.                                                                                            
Co-Chair  Williams  noted  the   cost  of  providing  charter                                                                   
schools with  a $500 dollar per  person start up grant.   Mr.                                                                   
Jeans  replied  that  startup  cost  would  be  $1.2  million                                                                   
dollars for one-time  grants. Grants could be  used for rent,                                                                   
books, desks and  other costs.  Mr. Johnson  interjected that                                                                   
some  school districts  can  afford  to assist  with  startup                                                                   
costs  and others  cannot. The  intent is  to assist  schools                                                                   
with  basic needs.  Mr.  Jeans  clarified that  every  school                                                                   
would be  entitled to the  one-time startup funds,  including                                                                   
those that are currently operating.                                                                                             
DEBBIE OSSINANDER,  ANCHORAGE SCHOOL BOARD,  ANCHORAGE, spoke                                                                   
in support for the proposed legislation.  Charter schools are                                                                   
an  important new  direction that  allows  greater choice  to                                                                   
families and helps facilitate  parent directed education. She                                                                   
noted that charter  schools have many challenges.  She stated                                                                   
that the  bill would  bring greater  flexibility for  housing                                                                   
children. She  stressed the challenges in  providing starting                                                                   
up costs. She  noted that it is the Anchorage  School Board's                                                                   
intent to financially support charter schools.                                                                                  
DARROLL HARGRAVES,  ALASKA COUNCIL OF SCHOOL  ADMINISTRATORS,                                                                   
testified that  superintendents do not  oppose the bill.   He                                                                   
spoke in  support of the  extension to 60 schools  statewide.                                                                   
Charter schools would be subject  to the same competency test                                                                   
as the  rest of  the public  school system.  He testified  in                                                                   
support of the charter extension  and noted that the original                                                                   
five-year  deadline was  about up. The  five-year sunset  was                                                                   
originally put in place to judge  the success of the schools.                                                                   
LARRY SEMMENS,  AURORA BOREALIS  SCHOOL, KENAI testified  via                                                                   
teleconference in  support of the legislation.  He noted that                                                                   
their students perform well on  tests. There is a 200-student                                                                   
waiting list. The  school plan is to expand  to 200-students,                                                                   
but classroom  space is not  immediately available.  He noted                                                                   
support for the  contract term extension, elimination  of the                                                                   
sunset  date and  additional funding  per  student. He  spoke                                                                   
against the penalty for schools  under 200 students. The 200-                                                                   
student penalty adversely affects  district funding; it costs                                                                   
the  Kenai Peninsula  Borough  School District  up to  $7,000                                                                   
dollars  a student.  He  maintained that  parent  involvement                                                                   
results in success in education  and that charter schools can                                                                   
make a difference for education in Alaska.                                                                                      
Representative  Lancaster referred  to pupil  transportation.                                                                   
Mr.  Semmens noted  that  parents transport  their  students,                                                                   
some at great distances.                                                                                                        
HB  101  was   heard  and  HELD  in  Committee   for  further                                                                   

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