Legislature(2001 - 2002)
04/10/2001 02:00 PM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 involvement. 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 affected. 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 legislation. 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 consideration.