Legislature(2001 - 2002)

02/22/2001 03:02 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 101-CHARTER SCHOOLS                                                                                                        
CHAIR  DYSON  announced  the committee  would  hear  testimony  on                                                              
HOUSE  BILL NO.  101, "An  Act relating  to  charter schools;  and                                                              
providing for an effective date."                                                                                               
Number 1020                                                                                                                     
WESLEY KELLER,  Staff to Representative  Fred Dyson,  Alaska State                                                              
Legislature, came  forth to address proposed  committee substitute                                                              
(CS), version 22-LS0254\O,  Ford, 2/22/01.  He  stated that Alaska                                                              
is in  its fourth year  of charter schools.   In 1995  the charter                                                              
school Act  was passed, and  in the fall  of '97 schools  began to                                                              
put in applications.   Since 1997, 19 schools have  opened and two                                                              
have closed.   There  are currently 17  operating, with  a student                                                              
population  of  1,271 this  past  fall.    According to  a  recent                                                              
Northwest Regional  Educational Laboratory federally  funded study                                                              
of  Alaskan   charter  schools,  dated  4/14/2000,   most  charter                                                              
schools have  a very  high level  of parental participation;  half                                                              
of the schools require it.  There is an overall average pupil-                                                                  
to-teacher ratio  of 17-to-1, which  is approximately the  same as                                                              
the state  average.   Many of the  schools utilize classroom  aids                                                              
and  parents in  the  classroom,  which brings  the  student-adult                                                              
ratio down to about 9-to-1.                                                                                                     
MR.  KELLER  stated  that  11  schools   have  acquired  permanent                                                              
facilities,  and  5  are in  temporary  buildings,  which  include                                                              
schools, community  centers, portables, spaces in  shopping malls,                                                              
and  buildings on  military bases.   Several  school districts  do                                                              
not  provide  anything  by  way  of  facilities.    He  continued,                                                              
stating that  charter schools  employ 87  full-time and  178 part-                                                              
time teachers, with  an average of seven years'  experience.  Nine                                                              
of  the sixteen  schools that  reported have  a special  education                                                              
teacher on staff.   He stated that the estimated  cost per student                                                              
ranges  between  $3,813  and  $7,736, with  an  average  of  about                                                              
$5,236.  He added that the statewide average is about $7,500.                                                                   
Number 1150                                                                                                                     
MR. KELLER  stated that  there is  a group  called the  Center for                                                              
Education Reform  that has evaluated  all the charter  school laws                                                              
in  the United  States.   Alaska  is rated  26th of  the 39  laws.                                                              
Other  states have  done things  for charter  schools that  Alaska                                                              
has   not,   including:      multiple    chartering   authorities;                                                              
legal/operational  autonomy; guaranteed  full  funding, where  the                                                              
money just  follows the  student to  wherever the student  chooses                                                              
to go;  exemption  from collective  bargaining agreements,  fiscal                                                              
autonomy, where  Alaska is  rated 1 out  5; and automatic  waivers                                                              
from school and district regulations.                                                                                           
Number 1210                                                                                                                     
MR. KELLER  remarked that  HB 101  is just a  small step  and does                                                              
none  of  these  things.    He   reviewed  the  sections  for  the                                                              
committee in  order to clarify what  the bill does.  He  said that                                                              
Section  1 doubles  the  allowable number  of  charter schools  in                                                              
Alaska, from 30 to 60.                                                                                                          
Number 1240                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  DYSON added  that Section  1  also eliminates  geographical                                                              
MR.  KELLER  continued,  stating  that Section  2  specifies  that                                                              
charter schools be  subject to the benchmark and  qualifying exam,                                                              
like all public  schools.  Section  3 deals with a section  of law                                                              
that explains what  must be in the contract.  He  added that these                                                              
changes are  mostly grammatical; one  change just conforms  to the                                                              
change made  in Section 5.   Section 4 adds  a new section  of law                                                              
that allows  for a  one-time charter school  grant, in  the amount                                                              
of  $500 per  student, to  be used  in  the year  that the  school                                                              
CHAIR DYSON  stated that the  original Alaska charter  school laws                                                              
were set up as  a pilot [program] because there  was federal money                                                              
available  to  get the  schools  going.    He asked  whether  that                                                              
[federal money] would be going away.                                                                                            
ME. KELLER answered that [the money] is dribbling away.                                                                         
CHAIR DYSON asked  if the $500 mentioned is really  significant in                                                              
helping the charter schools get going.                                                                                          
Number 1324                                                                                                                     
MR.  KELLER replied  that  the  state board  recommended,  several                                                              
years  ago,  that  startup  money   for  the  charter  schools  be                                                              
available, and this  complies with that.  He  continued describing                                                              
the bill,  stating that  Section 5  changes the allowable  charter                                                              
school contract length  from a maximum of five years  to a maximum                                                              
of  ten  years.    This  is  a  significant  change  because  some                                                              
landlords have been  hesitant for charter schools  to make changes                                                              
if they  only have a  five-year commitment.   He stated  that this                                                              
ties in  with Section  7, which  gets rid of  the sunset  date for                                                              
the charter  schools.  Section 6  specifies that a  charter school                                                              
would  need at  least 150  students to  be counted  as a  separate                                                              
school for  the purposes of  the foundation formula  calculations.                                                              
He noted  that existing law  states that alternative  schools need                                                              
at  least 200  students.   He  added  that a  lot  of the  charter                                                              
schools, even though  they are small, receive the  same funding as                                                              
that  for  students   who  attend  the  largest   schools  in  the                                                              
Number 1430                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  STEVENS  asked  whether  any  of  the  17  charter                                                              
schools are approaching this 150 figure.                                                                                        
MR. KELLER  replied that, from memory,  about 25 percent  are, and                                                              
maybe five  or six  are at the  100/125 range.   He remarked  that                                                              
this is a matter  of interest to the charter  schools because they                                                              
would like that number as low as possible.                                                                                      
Number 1640                                                                                                                     
DEBBIE  OSSIANDER,  Legislative  Chair,  Anchorage  School  Board,                                                              
Anchorage  School District,  testified  via  teleconference.   She                                                              
said that  charter schools  are a  wonderful experiment;  they are                                                              
proving  to have  a real  value  for education  across the  state.                                                              
They  offer   an  innovative  way   to  try  different   types  of                                                              
curriculum  and  instruction.   She  said that  [charter  schools]                                                              
offer more  choices to  families, who  can basically design  their                                                              
schools  with the  district's  cooperation.   However,  they  have                                                              
faced  major  challenges,  particularly with  the  startup  costs.                                                              
She remarked  that the Anchorage  School Board is  very supportive                                                              
of this bill  and committee substitute.   She added that  they are                                                              
especially   pleased  that   expensive  administrative   reporting                                                              
requirements are  being avoided, and  that the startup  funds will                                                              
be  available as  new  dollars, instead  of  coming from  existing                                                              
schools' programs.                                                                                                              
Number 1684                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  STEVENS asked  if Ms. Ossiander  would comment  on                                                              
how the charter school [students] did on the exit exam testing.                                                                 
MS.  OSSIANDER   replied  that   she  didn't  have   the  specific                                                              
information  with  her,  but,  in  general,  the  charter  schools                                                              
performed  very  well.    She added  that  there  is  one  family-                                                              
partnership  charter   school  that  is  consistently   above  the                                                              
district average in terms of test scores.                                                                                       
Number 1723                                                                                                                     
BILL  SYVERSON,  Head Teacher,  Aurora  Borealis  Charter  School,                                                              
testified  via  teleconference.    He said  that  Aurora  Borealis                                                              
Charter School  has a student population  of 100, is  expanding to                                                              
120 for next year,  and in four years will be up to  200.  He read                                                              
a  letter  that  was  submitted  to Chair  Dyson  from  the  board                                                              
     This letter  is in support  of HB 101 regarding  charter                                                                   
     schools.    The  academic  policy  committee  at  Aurora                                                                   
     Borealis   Charter   School  is   in   support  of   the                                                                   
     provisions of  HB 101.  We particularly urge  passage of                                                                   
     the  provisions  in the  bill  to eliminate  the  sunset                                                                   
     clause,  and  to extend  the  term  of contract  to  ten                                                                   
MR. SYVERSON continued to read:                                                                                                 
     Aurora Borealis  Charter School is providing  a valuable                                                                   
     alternative  to regular public  school.  Our  enrollment                                                                   
     has  increased  annually,  our  students  have  received                                                                   
     benchmark  test results  that are among  the highest  in                                                                   
     the  district, and parents  are happy  with our  school.                                                                   
     We have a  waiting list of 200 students,  which is twice                                                                   
     our current  enrollment.  Removing  the sunset  date and                                                                   
     extending  the contract  term  will  be advantageous  to                                                                   
     all  charter  schools,  especially   in  retracting  and                                                                   
     retaining  qualified teachers.    Longer contract  terms                                                                   
     will   help    charter   schools   that    were   having                                                                   
     difficulties  securing facilities.   Additional  funding                                                                   
     to  charter schools  would  be advantageous,  especially                                                                   
     since the current  law does not give  specific direction                                                                   
     to school districts on how to fund charter schools.                                                                        
MR. SYVERSON concluded reading:                                                                                                 
     We are  also very much in  favor of the  provision which                                                                   
     establish  alternative schools  as separate schools  for                                                                   
     funding  purposes.    Kenai   Peninsula  Borough  School                                                                   
     District  apparently  has   been  penalized  with  lower                                                                   
     funding because  our enrollment  is added to  the larger                                                                   
     school district.   This inequity in the  funding formula                                                                   
     needs to be corrected.                                                                                                     
Number 1823                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  STEVENS  asked  how  the students  at  the  Aurora                                                              
Borealis Charter School did on the exit exam.                                                                                   
MR.  SYVERSEN  said they  did  very  well  and that  the  school's                                                              
[scores]  are among  the highest  in  the district.   Test  scores                                                              
have continually risen  each year.  He stated that  every grade is                                                              
tested with  the CAT 5 each year,  so there has been  an excellent                                                              
track record since year one.                                                                                                    
CHAIR  DYSON  stated:   "We  sometimes  hear  the  criticism  that                                                              
charter  schools  sweep the  cream  of  the  students out  of  the                                                              
district, and  have the best and  most active parents."   He asked                                                              
if that was true at Aurora Borealis Charter School.                                                                             
MR.  SYVERSEN  replied  that they  do  generally  have  supportive                                                              
parents.    He  added  that, by  law,  every  student  that  comes                                                              
through the  door is accepted.   He said  the tracking  has proved                                                              
that  there  are  students who  have  improved  dramatically  with                                                              
their test  scores.  One contracted  administrator, with  30 years                                                              
of district  experience, has  stated that  several kids  who would                                                              
probably qualify for special education are doing quite well.                                                                    
CHAIR DYSON  asked Mr.  Syversen if  there were  any kids  who had                                                              
been expelled from other schools in the school system                                                                           
Number 1895                                                                                                                     
MR. SYVERSEN  answered that  there haven't  been any students  who                                                              
have been  expelled, but there have  been some who have  gone from                                                              
school to  school in the  first year or two.   He stated  that two                                                              
or three had left  the school because things were  not working out                                                              
well for  them; however, that is  the case with the  other schools                                                              
as well.                                                                                                                        
CHAIR DYSON  asked if  there were  any foster  or adopted  kids at                                                              
the Aurora Borealis Charter School.                                                                                             
MR. SYVERSEN  replied that  he is not sure  about foster  kids but                                                              
said there are some adopted kids.                                                                                               
Number 1950                                                                                                                     
CARL  ROSE,  Executive  Director,  Association  of  Alaska  School                                                              
Boards  (AASB), came  forth and  stated the AASB's  concern  is to                                                              
maintain authority  to govern charter schools with  local control.                                                              
Another  concern, which  has  been  addressed in  HB  101, is  the                                                              
startup  cost.  He  added that  these schools  were struggling  in                                                              
their  early  years without  assistance  from  a district  pot  of                                                              
money.   He stated  that there  had also  been some concerns  with                                                              
the  earlier  [bill]  version's   language,  counting  alternative                                                              
schools  as charter  schools, but  that  has been  clarified.   He                                                              
added  that  he  thinks  it is  appropriate  that  the  number  of                                                              
students has been increased to 150.                                                                                             
MR.  ROSE  remarked  that  the   AASB  looks  at  this  bill  very                                                              
favorably.   He  expressed  that  as the  charter  school date  is                                                              
removed, there's  a sense  of permanency.   He concluded  that one                                                              
worry would be how  to provide oversight in terms  of the progress                                                              
of the charter school effort throughout the state.                                                                              
Number 2034                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  DYSON called  an  at-ease at  3:39 p.m.    The meeting  was                                                              
called back to order at 3:40 p.m.                                                                                               
Number 2045                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  DYSON  stated  that  the  following  was  omitted  from  an                                                              
earlier version:                                                                                                                
     A charter school  may be operated in an  existing school                                                                   
     district  facility or  in a facility  within the  school                                                                   
     district that  is not currently  being used as  a public                                                                   
     school,  if the  chief school  administrator  determines                                                                   
     the facility  meets requirements  for health and  safety                                                                   
     applicable to  public buildings or other  public schools                                                               
     in the district.                                                                                                           
CHAIR  DYSON explained  that this  allows the  charter schools  to                                                              
operate  in   a  facility  that   meets  public   facility  safety                                                              
standards but  not necessarily  public school  standards.   It can                                                              
only  do so  if school  administrators,  in  conjunction with  the                                                              
local  building safety  experts,  determine that  the building  is                                                              
safe for  kids.  It allows  the school to  operate in a  church or                                                              
any   other  public   building   that's   acceptable  for   public                                                              
Number 2141                                                                                                                     
CHAIR DYSON made  a motion to adopt a conceptual  amendment to the                                                              
proposed CS for  HB 101, version 22-LS0245\O, Ford,  2/22/01, that                                                              
will add new Section  7, taken from Section 3 of  the 1-LS0598\T.a                                                              
version [SCS CSHB 191(FIN), from 2000], to state as follows:                                                                    
     A charter school  may be operated in an  existing school                                                                   
     district  facility or  in a facility  within the  school                                                                   
     district that  is not currently  being used as  a public                                                                   
     school,  if the  chief school  administrator  determines                                                                   
     the facility  meets requirements  for health and  safety                                                                   
     applicable to  public buildings or other  public schools                                                               
     in the district.                                                                                                           
CHAIR  DYSON clarified  that existing  Sections  7 and  8 will  be                                                              
renumbered  consecutively.     There   being  no  objection,   the                                                              
conceptual amendment was adopted.                                                                                               
Number 2252                                                                                                                     
Representative Wilson  asked why the number is changed  from 30 to                                                              
60  [allowable number  of charter  schools] when  there are  only,                                                              
presently, 17 schools.                                                                                                          
MR. KELLER  replied  that he assumes  it will  be more  attractive                                                              
for charter schools to open because of the startup money.                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE WILSON  asked what the  reason would be  for people                                                              
to pull out of a public school and start a charter school.                                                                      
CHAIR DYSON  responded that  charter schools  are public  schools;                                                              
they are  just an alternative that  allows people to  rally around                                                              
particular ideas.                                                                                                               
Number 2314                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE WILSON asked how the funding process works.                                                                      
CHAIR  DYSON replied  that all the  funding comes  from the  local                                                              
school districts,  which distribute  the funds according  to their                                                              
own  understanding, rules,  policies  and accounting,  as they  do                                                              
for all schools in the district.                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  WILSON asked  if teachers  would have to  transfer                                                              
to the charter schools from the public schools.                                                                                 
TAPE 01-18, SIDE B                                                                                                              
CHAIR DYSON  answered that  the charter schools  are free  to hire                                                              
their own  teachers, as long as  those teachers sign  the contract                                                              
that the district has.                                                                                                          
Number 2319                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  WILSON asked  if there  is enough  funding in  the                                                              
district to do this.                                                                                                            
CHAIR  DYSON answered  that  most  school districts  are  allowing                                                              
several  kinds  of  alternative  schools  to  operate  within  the                                                              
district,  and  the  charter  school   is  just  another  kind  of                                                              
alternative school.   He stated that  he doesn't think  it is fair                                                              
to  think  of  these  students as  being  taken  away  from  other                                                              
schools.   He added that many  charter schools have  a significant                                                              
amount of students  who were being home-schooled;  therefore, they                                                              
should be considered additions to the public school system.                                                                     
Number 2266                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE WILSON  asked if any of these  charter schools have                                                              
special education students that require extra help.                                                                             
CHAIR  DYSON replied  yes, and  the  districts will  use the  same                                                              
resources used  to serve  the special education  kids in  the rest                                                              
of the district.                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WILSON  asked, if this bill passes,  what the rules                                                              
and regulations are for a charter school to get started.                                                                        
MR.  KELLER answered  that  each charter  school  has an  academic                                                              
policy committee  that goes to the  school board with  a proposal.                                                              
The school  board considers  the request  and gives  a "yea"  or a                                                              
"nay" based on that plan.                                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE WILSON  said she is  wondering how easy  this would                                                              
be  for   school  systems.     She   asked  if   there  would   be                                                              
ramifications  across the state  if school  systems, all  at once,                                                              
started  charter  schools because  they  could  get $500  extra  a                                                              
Number 2176                                                                                                                     
CHAIR DYSON  stated that  there has been  a struggle,  when making                                                              
these  alternatives  available,  not  to build  an  incentive  for                                                              
existing schools  to divide in half.   The foundation  formula, as                                                              
it  presently exists,  mitigates  against  this because  a  school                                                              
loses  funding if  it  starts another  small  school.   A  charter                                                              
school  can only  start if  the  local district  and local  school                                                              
board approve it.                                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE  CISSNA  remarked  that from  knowing  many  people                                                              
involved in  the charter school  program, she feels  that [charter                                                              
schools]  really  afford a  unique  opportunity for  parents  with                                                              
like views,  in terms  of the  kind of  education they  would like                                                              
for their kids,  to be able to  put in a lot of effort  and create                                                              
something special.   She added  that it is  really tough to  get a                                                              
group  of people  together  and raise  the  funds needed,  because                                                              
[the school] has to adhere to the public school regulations.                                                                    
Number 2070                                                                                                                     
CHAIR DYSON  noted that  there are more  students involved  in the                                                              
public  school system  as  a result  of  charter schools,  because                                                              
they offer the environment that their parents wanted.                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE  WILSON asked  whether  charter  schools get  extra                                                              
CHAIR  DYSON  answered no,  that  there  has been  help  available                                                              
through some  federal money,  but that is  going away.   He stated                                                              
that several of  the districts have been good at  working with the                                                              
charter schools to  make sure that funding available  to the other                                                              
public  schools in  the  area is  also  available  to the  charter                                                              
Number 1993                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL  made a motion  to move the CS for  HB 101,                                                              
version  22-LS0245\O, Ford,  2/22/01,  as  amended from  committee                                                              
with  individual recommendations  and  accompanying fiscal  notes.                                                              
There being no objection, CSHB 101(HES) moved out of the House                                                                  
Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee.                                                                       

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