Legislature(1999 - 2000)
02/24/2000 03:06 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 257 - BOARDING SCHOOL FUNDING Number 1898 CHAIRMAN DYSON announced the next order of business as House Bill No. 257, "An Act relating to funding for school districts operating secondary school boarding programs; and providing for an effective date." Number 1877 REPRESENTATIVE JEANNETTE JAMES, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor, came forward to present HB 257. She prefaced her remarks with the fact that she has supported regional boarding schools for 15-20 years. When Nenana was in her district, she tried to get some support for a boarding school which was unsuccessful. Now things are in place for a dormitory for the boarding school in Nenana; the school could have twice the population without additional teachers or funding. She principally filed this bill for them. However, she knew there would be other beneficiaries if this bill passed. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES explained that under the current law, boarding students who don't have the opportunity to go to school in their own district can go to a boarding school and get stipend rates for their room and board. This bill would allow students who don't qualify because there is a school in their district to attend boarding school. She found out Bethel has a boarding school that is operating on a very low budget; the school leases a four-plex for the students to live in. The 30 students at the Bethel Alternative Boarding School are students that wouldn't be going to school otherwise; the Bethel Alternative Boarding School is a safety net for students. The school has been getting some grants but is at the "bottom of the barrel" as far as getting grants. If it doesn't get some assistance some way, this school may not be able to continue. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES has consistently said that the goal of the legislature and the state should be to determine what is the best way to deliver education to the many different students in different parts of the state with different needs and different kinds of learning abilities. The boarding school wouldn't be for everyone. Not everyone can make it in a regular classroom, and those students need to have this opportunity. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES indicated that the fiscal note for the first year would be about $600,000, which is a small price to pay for these students have this opportunity. She urged the committee to consider this legislation. Number 1666 REPRESENTATIVE KEMPLEN asked Representative James if she had any letters of support from school districts that would use this option. He didn't see any backup information in the packet. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES answered she doesn't; she hasn't solicited any. Most of the support she has been given has been verbal. She could get that if it were required. CHAIRMAN DYSON asked Representative James if this bill passes, the existing boarding schools will gain more resources. Number 1567 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES answered for the most part, yes. Galena does have five students who qualify under existing law, but the rest of the boarding schools will get resources to assist with room and board. CHAIRMAN DYSON said when SB 36 was discussed two years ago, the legislature was told that SB 36 would force the closure of some schools and would force Native students to go to boarding schools. He asked Representative James if she has gotten feedback from the Native community to see if there is going to be resistance to this bill. Number 1519 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES commented that there would always be that concern, but she has heard more that it is an opportunity for students. She's heard of places that wish there were more of those opportunities for their children. It is a mixed bag out there. The Native communities really want the best education for their children. She believes there is big support out there for this school system as a way to deliver education. CHAIRMAN DYSON asked her if this bill affects Mt. Edgecumbe High School. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES answered no, unless some of the students who currently attend Mt. Edgecumbe go somewhere else closer to home. She further explained that this bill gives the other boarding schools approximately half of what Mt. Edgecumbe gets. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked Representative James about the additional cost of room and board for the other boarding schools. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES indicated that the boarding schools would have to find that funding elsewhere; the parents might have to pay something. The stipend is not enough to cover the whole cost; it just assists with the cost. Without the stipend, the schools might not be able to do it. She further explained that the stipend is paid monthly based on the actual count of who is at the school. The stipend does not fall into the count taken in the fall. She went on the answer Chairman Dyson that the Department of Education & Early Development has not submitted a fiscal note because the proposed committee substitute has not been adopted. Number 1251 REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL made a motion to adopt the proposed committee substitute (CS) for HB 257, version 1-LS1055\I, Ford, 2/2/00, as a work draft. There being no objection, that proposed CS was before the committee. CHAIRMAN DYSON asked what committee referrals HB 257 has. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES answered the HES committee and the Finance Committee. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL asked if there is a wait list at Mt. Edgecumbe. REPRESENTATIVE JAMES replied yes. Number 1138 JOHN ANGAIAK testified via teleconference from Bethel. He expressed his support for HB 257. He explained his reasons for support which included the school districts being reimbursed for some expenses in running these schools which often offer a second chance to some students. The Bethel Alternative Boarding School serves 30 students whose lives have been changed. Room and board is a costly item. He believes if this becomes law, the state will save money in the long run because students will be turned around and will become productive adults. REPRESENTATIVE KEMPLEN asked Mr. Angaiak what his connection is to the educational system in Bethel. MR. ANGAIAK answered he is speaking as a committed parent. He was on the school board last year. His commitment is unending to improve the educational situation for the students whether or not he is on the board. Number 0865 BOB KNIGHT, Mayor, City of Nenana, testified via teleconference from Nenana. He expressed his support for HB 257. He believes this will be an opportunity for students in the state to increase their potential for their education, and it will give the students in Nenana a chance to intermingle with the rest of the state. Number 0767 TERRY BENTLEY, Superintendent, Nenana City Schools, testified via teleconference from Nenana. He expressed support for HB 257. Nenana is trying to get a boarding school going, and the stipend will allow Nenana, Bethel, Galena and Takotna a chance to recoup some money for the student's room and board. Each boarding school runs a different style of program. These boarding schools give the students choices about where they want to go. He believes that Nenana can offer a good program by offering the students a choice. Number 0624 EDDY JEANS, Manager, School Finance and Facilities Section, Education Support Services, Department of Education & Early Development (EED), came forward to testify. He referred to the spreadsheet that was handed out to committee members. He told the committee that since the proposed CS has been adopted, he will prepare and submit a fiscal note immediately. He reviewed the five different residential programs around the state that are shown on the spreadsheet. The five schools are located in Bethel, Nenana, Galena, Takotna [Iditarod REAA District] and St. Paul. MR. JEANS pointed out that 123 students are being served by these five schools, and if they receive the current stipend rate for boarding homes, it will cost approximately $540,000. When an average figure of $500 is figured in for airfare, the cost goes up to $601,671. When the enrollment projections are figured, the total cost in FY 2002 could be approximately $1.4 million. He explained other districts could start other programs, but the figures on the spreadsheet are the ones out there right now. Number 0430 REPRESENTATIVE KEMPLEN asked Mr. Jeans if the EED has a position on HB 257. MR. JEANS said that the EED supports choice; but the department has not had the legislative meeting to establish a policy on this. That meeting will be this week, and he could report back after the meeting. REPRESENTATIVE KEMPLEN stated he felt the EED's comments would be relevant especially since concern was expressed several years ago on SB 36 about schools closing in villages and the students having to attend boarding schools. He would like to allay any concerns about those issues. He asked Mr. Jeans how the stipend rate is determined. Number 0336 MR. JEANS explained that the stipend rate was established by the department years ago, and it is set out in regulation. The rates are not included in regulation but are included in the boarding home application packet. He didn't know the actual origination of the rates. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL asked if schools are shutting down, would this allow more latitude to open a high school in a REAA [Rural Education Attendance Area]; could this be a cost saving in that area that has to be done. MR. JEANS explained that SB 36 changed the funding mechanism for schools serving less than ten children, which basically did not give the schools enough money to operate. The local school board makes the decision to continue to operate using resources generated by other schools or whether the school needs to be closed. He said since SB 36 passed, a number of schools closed, but a number have convinced their school boards to remain open to show that the student population would come back and get back the funding. The communities have to work through the school boards to make the ultimate decision. This bill allows parents and students more choice. The choice is already happening, but HB 257 will provide some additional revenue to those districts to defray the residential component of their program. REPRESENTATIVE BRICE asked Mr. Jeans if SB 36 didn't give the school districts enough to operate, why did the EED support it. MR. JEANS replied the legislature made a decision that it didn't want to provide the same level of funding to schools that served less than ten students. It was the legislature that made the decision that the threshold would be ten students. It still provides the school with revenue, just not enough to operate an independent school at the level the school was accustomed to. TAPE 00-22, SIDE A Number 0001 JOHN CYR, President, National Education Association (NEA)-Alaska, came forward to testify. He indicated that the NEA-Alaska has not taken a formal position on HB 257, but NEA-Alaska does support more boarding schools, more flexibility and more choice within the public school system. If this bill is going to be used in the future to close local schools, obviously NEA-Alaska is not in favor of local schools closing. The NEA-Alaska does believe HB 257 is a good idea. It gives added potential to help students who need help. Number 0173 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE asked Mr. Jeans if a school with less than ten students brought in a number of boarding students to raise the enrollment number, how would the stipend and funding be affected. MR. JEANS noted that would be dealt with through regulation and may have to be addressed. He gave a brief explanation of the foundation funding formula. REPRESENTATIVE WHITAKER asked why small schools would be discouraged from attracting more students. Number 0583 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES pointed out that the stipend is for room and board, not the cost of running the school. She sees that as mixing apples and oranges. REPRESENTATIVE BRICE said that was the point he was trying to have clarified. Number 0629 BOB MEDINGER, Principal, Bethel Alternative Boarding School, testified via teleconference from Fairbanks. He told the committee that the Bethel Alternative Boarding School has been in operation since August 1998, and the program is meeting student needs that weren't addressed in regular programs. The Bethel Alternative Boarding School is having difficulty with the funding formula because it is treated as a classroom on the biggest school in its community. By not having the site allocation, the school board has had to subsidize the boarding school for the boarding portion. There aren't grants available to fund residential programs under state school districts. The boarding school has had to come up with about $150,000-$165,000 a year to operate the boarding portion. The need is greater than anticipated, and the school could serve more students if there were an avenue to fund this program. Mr. Medinger stated that the Bethel Alternative Boarding School is desperate for funding. He expressed strong support for HB 257. Number 0776 CHAIRMAN DYSON closed the public hearing on HB 257. The committee took an at-ease from 4:51 p.m. to 4:52 p.m. REPRESENTATIVE BRICE made a motion to move CSHB 257, version 1- LS1055\I, Ford, 2/2/00, out of committee with individual recommendations with accompanying fiscal note. There being no objection, CSHB 257(HES) moved from the House Health, Education and Social Services Committee.