Legislature(1995 - 1996)

02/09/1995 03:03 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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            
 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                         
 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said that in the bill packets, HESS Committee            
 members would find letters from people who are in opposition to the           
 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                 
 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             
 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                 
 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           
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY said there being no further testimony, the bill               
 would be held.                                                                

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