Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/01/2003 03:14 PM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL NO. 174 "An Act relating to the state centralized correspondence study program, to funding for educational programs that occur primarily outside school facilities, and to the duties of school boards of borough and city school districts and regional educational attendance areas; and providing for an effective date." EDDY JEANS, MANAGER, SCHOOL FINANCE AND FACILITIES SECTION, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT provided information about the legislation. He compared the House State Affairs Committee version and the Governor's Bill as introduced. He noted that the Governor's bill would eliminate the program beginning July 1, 2003 whereas the House State Affairs' Committee Substitute would eliminate the current summer program with a one-year delay in the effective date eliminating the statewide correspondence program. Both bills contain a provision under 14.70.430, which deals with state funding of correspondence study programs in the foundation program. These and similar programs are funded at 80 percent. Some charter schools, which are home-based programs, have challenged the Department because they do not see themselves as correspondence programs. The Department has taken the position that, for foundation formula purposes, programs outside of a brick and mortar school are correspondence programs. The legislation would bring clarity by expanding the definition to include home-based programs. Mr. Jeans discussed two central issues: first, cost savings. He noted the argument that eliminating the program would not save the state of Alaska money, but rather cost money as students seek accredited programs in brick and mortar schools. He suggested that the Department believes that many of the students will find correspondence services elsewhere in the state. He added that there is a potential savings through space lease reductions, but noted that the Department might have other uses for the space. He discussed the second issue: policy. He gave a brief history of the Alyeska Central School (ACS or Alyeska), which was initiated in 1939 and has provided valuable services. He pointed out that at that time there were only two options, municipal school districts and state operated schools. He stated that in 1977, Regional Education Attendance Areas (REAA) were initiated, so that every area of Alaska was covered by a school district. Each school district has the responsibility of educating students within their boundaries. Approximately seven years ago, the State began allowing students to take advantage of correspondence programs. He referenced SB 36, which supports correspondence programs. Today there are 12 [correspondence] programs including ACS. He suggested that [ACS] students would attend another program. He addressed statewide enrollments, and observed that the bill addressed open enrollments. He noted that Alyeska would allow certain exceptions to enrollment, such as disability, but that these were case by case. He suggested that they had other rules for closing enrollment. Mr. Jeans addressed accreditation and noted that Craig, Delta, Galena, and Yukon schools districts had applied for accreditation and been awarded conditional accreditation. He explained that conditional accreditation provides transferable credit for students. TAPE HFC 03 - 73, Side B AYIARE VOORHEES, STUDENT, testified via teleconference in support of the amended bill. She stated that, although they would prefer for the school to remain mandated, she appreciated the response of the State to requests to allow the school to remain open for the year. NANCY ROCHAR, PARENT, testified in support of the Alyeska Central School. She suggested that it was the only school that upheld the no child left behind regulations currently. She pointed out that all teachers were certified in the subjects that they teach. She maintained that services are not duplicated, and suggested that it was the only program with direct teacher involvement. She acknowledged that other programs, which offer cash inducements might be more popular, but maintained that other programs were deficient in teacher involvement. She suggested that this cut produced no cost savings to the state of Alaska. She pointed out that not every student had Internet access, and that Alyeska also utilized regular mail correspondence. She commended the success and quality of the program. JANET WALKER, PARENT, testified via teleconference in support of the Alyeska Central School. She noted that her family lived in the wilderness of Alaska. Therefore, Alyeska was essential since it offered programs that were not on the Internet. She acknowledged that while there were other correspondence schools, Alyeska was the only one that was fully accredited and provided online adult education. She suggested that to close the school would cost the state of Alaska up to $300 thousand. She urged members to keep Alyeska open. GREG MILLER, CHARTER SCHOOLS, ANCHORAGE testified via teleconference. He stated his experience as an attorney in representing charter schools. He addressed Section 5 to the Committee Substitute, which pertained to AS 14.70.430, which set the level of 80 percent for charter schools. He noted that the change expands the definition of correspondence schools, and suggested that it raised a much larger issue. He stated that it would in essence treat any school not in a regular facility as a correspondence school. He suggested that this was not an appropriate definition and should rather relate to the mailing of materials between the school and students. He noted three potential impacts of the language change: first, that charter schools that were outside of a "school facility" as a correspondence school; second, home school study programs would now be considered correspondence schools; and third, alternative school district programs would now be affected. He concluded that this sentence raised a larger issue. KYM WOLCOTT, ANCHORAGE, parent of Alyeska Central School students testified via teleconference in support of Alyeska Central School. She suggested that ACS had no parallel in service in the state. She discussed the services provided by ACS, and questioned how students may be absorbed into districts that are already overcrowded and under-funded. She challenged the Administration to support quality education and not close ACS. RYAN WOLCOTT, student, Anchorage, testified via teleconference in support of the Alyeska Central Schools. He said that the teachers at Alyeska provided him with the support he needed to achieve an education. He suggested that there was not a cost savings and requested that the members consider saving the school. VICTORIA MARTIN, PARENT, ANCHORAGE testified via teleconference in support of the Alyeska Central School. She pointed out that Alyeska was currently accredited and had been a part of the state since 1938. She suggested that every child could be supported by the Alyeska Central School and expressed the negative impact on her family of closing the school. She noted that she had testified on numerous occasions. SEAN RUDDELL, STUDENT, ANCHORAGE testified via teleconference in opposition to the bill. He stated that the amendment was not acceptable. DEBBY CHALMERS, ALYESKA CENTRAL SCHOOL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION (ACSEA) testified in support of the Committee Substitute. The teachers and parents support a one-year transition period. She observed that the school has a very complex program and infrastructure, which has been developed over many years. CECILIA MILLER, ACSEA, testified in support of keeping the Alyeska Central School open for all the children that need to be served. She asked that there be at least a year for transition. It would benefit the State for the best. This will impact kids that are off to college. JOHN PADEN, COUNSELOR, ALYESKA CENTRAL SCHOOL, spoke in opposition to the proposed legislation. He noted that when the bill was first heard, the idea of saving of money was the major consideration. He observed that the elimination of the program might not reduce the lease costs of the Department. He noted that the two main issues were money and duplication of services. Parents and students with Alyeska recognize that it is unique. The real issue is a policy one. He maintained that the legislation is an affront to those children and families. Extending Alyeska th would be better than closing it on June 30. Allowing Alyeska to continue would be the best solution. KEVIN SWEENEY, LEGISLATIVE LIAISON, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT, summed up the Administration's arguments in support of the bill. He realized that this was an emotional issue, but observed that the educational system has changed since the implementation of ACS. At its peak ACS served more than 2,000 students. It now educates just over one-quarter of that amount. He pointed out that other districts now offer the same type of service, which could accommodate the program. There are currently over 8,000 students registered in statewide correspondence programs. The State has encouraged these school districts to expand their correspondence program. Mr. Sweeney stated that the intent is to see the programs continue to grow and attract students. He observed that the primary argument against the closure of ACS is that the program is unique and is the only program that offers accreditation. He disagreed with those arguments. He stressed that programs, which are run outside of Juneau, have shown great promise. These programs have assured the Department that they will adapt to the needs of the students and they want to attract students. He asserted that school districts are ready to provide teacher interaction and "snail mail" service. Mr. Sweeney pointed out that the temporary accreditation is not an issue that is unique to correspondence programs. All the credits that students earn [under temporary accreditation] are counted as accounted credits. The Governor's approach is to avoid duplication and support competition among school districts. Discussion on HB 174 was HELD until later in the meeting. HOUSE BILL NO. 174 "An Act relating to the state centralized correspondence study program, to funding for educational programs that occur primarily outside school facilities, and to the duties of school boards of borough and city school districts and regional educational attendance areas; and providing for an effective date." MICHEAL JEFFREY, PARENT, BARROW, testified in support of the Alyeska Central School. He commended the school's reputation and accreditation. He maintained that temporary accreditation did not reflect well with prestigious colleges. He referred to the Committee Substitute and suggested that it would provide a compromise and allow parents to attempt to keep the school going in some form. He suggested that Alyeska's certified teachers presented a cost savings to the state of Alaska. He urged the Committee to pass the Committee Substitute for HB 174. HB 174 was heard and HELD in Committee for further consideration.