Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/09/1995 03:03 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HHESS - 02/09/95 HB 94 - PRIVATE MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS REPRESENTATIVE JEANNETTE JAMES read her sponsor statement into the record: Parents, teachers, political leaders, and students are all asking for improvements and changes in our educational system. No governmental attempts at reforming education seem to have slowed the growth of problems in our schools, much less created solutions. This bill would allow Alaska's regional school boards a new option: that of contracting with private agencies for the management of our schools. Articles from New York and Connecticut point to the differences private management can make in public schools, despite initial opposition to the concept. HB 94 would in no way require school boards to employ or even investigate this option. But with revenues declining and an enormous part of Alaska's budget going toward education, it is time we opened the door to all possibilities for spending this money more wisely and efficiently. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said that in the bill packets, HESS Committee members would find letters from people who are in opposition to the bill. Number 2008 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said that one of the most difficult challenges political and nonpolitical arenas face is to look at absolutely every opportunity possible to make things better and less expensive. Representative James doesn't have any answers for problems. She spoke to a number of schoolteachers from all walks of life, young and old. She found they are very frustrated with the way the education system is run. They are classroom teachers and probably know best how to deal with students they have in their classes. Yet by rules and regulations applied to them, and administrative decisions and policies, they are not able to do what they know would work best. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said that if the opportunity was there for private contracting of some of the smaller Alaskan school districts, some teachers could actually teach the way they know is best. The teachers could form their own private organizations and they could implement the systems that would work best. Number 2055 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES has no intention of selling or supporting a private agency. She only believes that every opportunity should be available to get Alaskan children a good education through the most inexpensive methods possible so Alaska can maximize the use of its funds and maximize the ability to educate Alaska in a better way. Representative James thinks to not pass the bill is to get rid of an option. The decision to utilize this option would be the decision of the local school board. The private agency would be represented by those who had put together an educational plan and organization. Number 2093 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY said Page 1, line 13 of HB 94, reads: (A regional school board may) appoint, compensate, and otherwise control all school employees in accordance with this title; these employees are not subject to AS 39.25 (State Personnel Act). CO-CHAIR TOOHEY wanted to know if these employees would be subject to union regulations and if they would have to be part of a union if they chose not to be. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES did not believe that is the case. A legal opinion may be necessary, but it is not the bill's intent to require that the employees of a private agency who contracted with the school board be part of a union. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked if teachers would have to be part of a union. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES responded that would be a decision of the teachers. She continued that if a private organization was implemented, they would not necessarily fall under the same auspices of a public or pseudo-public organization which is ruled by state regulations. The teachers employed by a private agency would be able to decide if they wanted to be in a union or not. That would not be a decision that the state could enforce upon a private agency. Number 2148 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked if the curriculum would be controlled. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES answered that the curriculum would be part of the contract. She visualizes people wishing to operate a school system presenting a curriculum, a cost and a program for operating the system to the school board. Representative James felt the curriculum would be a very important part of that presentation. Presumably, the curriculum would be the selling point. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked the difference between contracting to a private agency and a private school with public funding. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES replied that private schools don't get funding from the public. Private schools and their students pay their own way. HB 94 allows for public funds paying for a private agency that contracts with a public entity. Generally, private schools are not provided with public funds. A school district run by a private agency would be a private school authorized to be given money from public funds. Number 2194 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked if there was something in the laws or the Alaska Constitution that said public funds could not be used without some sort of oversight. She also asked if it was possible to have such an oversight. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES answered that she was not aware of any such laws. In drafting HB 94, such laws were not brought to her attention if they exist. She would think that the legal drafters would bring such a problem to her attention. The only delineation that exists is that public funds cannot be used for private religious education. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said there are times when Alaska does contract for education, with private entities, in specific areas such as special education and speech therapy. Currently, there are contracts with specialized agencies to serve that part of the curriculum. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES explained HB 94 would allow the whole management or sections of management to be contracted out. It may be that a private industry wants only to take over special education. If they offer an ability to do that, they may offer teachers an early-out retirement program. Many teachers have expressed to Representative James that such a program is necessary to get new blood into the school systems. This would be optimal to replace the "burned out" teachers. Number 2266 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES continued that one of the reasons she thinks teachers get burned out is because they are working an uphill battle with the rules and regulations and what they can and cannot do. They do not get to implement what they know these students need. Representative James thinks that teachers are just as frustrated as the public is about how the schools are operated. The teachers cannot do some of the things that would give children a better education. If the opportunity existed for the teachers to put together a private organization and contract with the school districts, Alaska may be able to get some otherwise tired-out teachers doing things they like to do and do very well. We would all be winners if we made those opportunities available. Number 2299 WILLIE ANDERSON, National Education Association (NEA) Alaska UniServ Director, testified against HB 94. He said that HB 94, as he reads it, would allow for private operation of a public school. It does not achieve the objectives that Representative James articulated. In his understanding, this bill would allow for the same kind of situation going on currently in Baltimore, Maryland and Hartford, Connecticut. A private agency will come in, for profit, and run the operation while being subject to the rules and regulations of the state. MR. ANDERSON continued that he did not see where the savings would be to the public if a public school was run for profit. TAPE 95-6, SIDE B Number 000 MR. ANDERSON continued that all the rules that are applicable to other public schools are applicable to the schools run by private agencies. If it is the intent of HB 94 to create a private school voucher system, in which parents apply to the state to receive money to send their children to private schools, Mr. Anderson does not think that is congruent with the Alaska State Constitution. The constitution essentially says that public funds cannot be used to send children to private schools. In addition, the bill does not create that type of system. Number 069 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES responded that her intent is not to second guess or violate any state decisions made concerning educational principles. Her intent is also not to create voucher schools. Her intent is not to have families searching out better schools in which to place their children. Her intent is to give teachers and other qualified individuals the ability and opportunity to put forth an agenda, the curriculum and management in one package. This package would be their own administration. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said that one of the problems in the existing school system is that the Administration is overwhelmed with all the rules and regulations they must follow. She is not saying the private agency would not have to follow the same rules, but they also would not have the other level of Administration, forms and reports to deal with. Basically, it would allow the teachers in the private agency to implement agendas that otherwise could not be implemented. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY said there being no further testimony, the bill would be held.