Legislature(2021 - 2022)BUTROVICH 205

02/05/2021 09:00 AM EDUCATION

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Audio Topic
09:02:33 AM Start
09:03:09 AM SB19
10:21:04 AM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
*+ SB 19 EXTEND SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICE AGENCY TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
-- Testimony <Invitation Only> --
**Streamed live on AKL.tv**
         SB  19-EXTEND SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICE AGENCY                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
9:03:09 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  HOLLAND announced  the consideration  of  SENATE BILL  NO.                                                               
19,"An Act  extending the special  education service  agency; and                                                               
providing for an effective date."                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
His stated  his intent  was to introduce  the bill,  hear invited                                                               
testimony, review  the legislative  audit report,  and understand                                                               
the fiscal note. He asked Senator Stevens to introduce the bill.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
9:03:35 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  STEVENS, speaking  as sponsor  of SB  19, said  the bill                                                               
provides for an extension of  SESA, the Special Education Service                                                               
Agency, which provides an impressive  and valuable public service                                                               
to  students   and  families  in   Alaska.  SESA   offers  expert                                                               
assistance to  children with rare  or complex  disabilities. SESA                                                               
is based in  Anchorage and provides services  statewide. The last                                                               
extension  of  SESA  was  in  2013.  As  a  former  school  board                                                               
president, he  knows the value  of the services SESA  provides to                                                               
school districts. In  the last year SESA provided  services to 45                                                               
school districts  and more than  3,000 students across  the state                                                               
and  320   onsite  consultations   with  school   districts.  The                                                               
organization  is of  tremendous  value to  Alaska's children  and                                                               
parents and teachers and school  districts. This bill will extend                                                               
the sunset date eight years to  June 30, 2029. The committee will                                                               
hear  about  the  impressive  work of  SESA  from  its  Executive                                                               
Director  Patrick  Pillai  and will  hear  from  the  legislative                                                               
auditor, Kris Curtis.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
9:05:54 AM                                                                                                                    
TIM   LAMKIN,  Staff,   Senator   Gary   Stevens,  Alaska   State                                                               
Legislature,  Juneau,  Alaska, said  this  is  an opportunity  to                                                               
recognize an  agency that does  a lot with relatively  little. It                                                               
is not just an agency but a  community of people that do a unique                                                               
and  special set  of services  for  severely disadvantaged  youth                                                               
who,  for example,  are  deaf and  blind,  severely autistic,  or                                                               
managing  a spectrum  of other  severe  and unique  disabilities.                                                               
There is  lot of trust  and respect for what  SESA does. It  is a                                                               
sensitive  subject area  that requires  a lot  of passion,  care,                                                               
patience,   grace,    and,   frankly,    love.   The    bill   is                                                               
straightforward. It extends  its operations to 2028.  The year is                                                               
an error. That should be changed  to 2029. SESA responded well to                                                               
the  last audit.  The new  audit illuminates  SESA's success  and                                                               
efficacy.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. LAMKIN  said that  Section 1 extends  the operations  to June                                                               
30,  2028.  That  was  a  typographical  error  in  the  drafting                                                               
process. It was  intended to be 2029. At some  point an amendment                                                               
should  change  that.  Section   2  provides  for  a  retroactive                                                               
effective date  in the  event that it  doesn't pass  this session                                                               
and once it  does pass, would provide for  an immediate effective                                                               
data.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR HOLLAND asked for clarification on the date.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MR.  LAMKIN said  the  bill  currently reads  June  30, 2028.  It                                                               
should be changed  to June 30, 2029, consistent  with statute and                                                               
standard sunset provisions.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
9:08:50 AM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
9:10:25 AM                                                                                                                    
PATRICK  PILLAI, Executive  Director,  Special Education  Service                                                               
Agency (SESA), Anchorage, Alaska, said  he has been the executive                                                               
director of  SESA for the past  nine years. He joined  the agency                                                               
                                                           th                                                                   
in 1994 as a deaf education specialist, making  this his 27  year                                                               
of SESA service.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MR. PILLAI presented  the homepage of SESA's website  on slide 2.                                                               
The  website  provides  online access  to  program  services  and                                                               
resources, a lending library,  online professional development e-                                                               
modules,  and an  easy  process for  school  districts to  submit                                                               
online  referrals   for  SESA   service.  The   agency's  mission                                                               
statement reflects  the agency's  focus on addressing  the unique                                                               
special  education  needs  of  students,  parents,  and  teachers                                                               
across Alaska's  54 school districts,  via year-round  onsite and                                                               
distance delivered consultation and training.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
9:12:00 AM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
9:12:19 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR   HOLLAND  noted   the  committee   was  having   technical                                                               
difficulties with the audio.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR.  PILLAI  moved  on  to  slide 3.  SESA's  legacy  of  special                                                               
education support evolved  from the intent of  Public Law 94-142,                                                               
the Individuals  with Disabilities  Education Act of  1975, which                                                               
was  reauthorized  in 2004  and  amended  in  2015 as  the  Every                                                               
Student Succeeds  Act. The  law mandates  a free  and appropriate                                                               
public  education to  students with  disabilities. SESA  activity                                                               
assists  parents and  school district  staff and  makes tangible,                                                               
through  specialized  educational   interventions,  the  services                                                               
mandated by special education law.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
9:13:47 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HOLLAND recognized the arrival of Senator Hughes.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR.   PILLAI  said,   addressing  slide   4,  that   the  statute                                                               
establishing  SESA  specifically addresses  technical  assistance                                                               
and  service to  students  with low  incidence disabilities.  Low                                                               
incidence disabilities is defined  in the literature as occurring                                                               
in less  than 1 percent of  the total population. Because  of the                                                               
rarity  of the  disability,  the special  education services  are                                                               
therefore not normally  available in a district. An  example is a                                                               
situation  with  one  child  with  deafness  in  a  rural  school                                                               
district, with  no access to  a sign language interpreter,  and a                                                               
special education  teacher with no prior  experience working with                                                               
a  deaf child.  SESA affords  such sites  access to  a specialist                                                               
with   an  endorsement   in  deaf   education.  In   addition  to                                                               
consultation,   support,   and  training,   other   supplementary                                                               
services are  available, e.g.,  assistance with  applications for                                                               
minigrants,  programming  and  setting up  assistive  technology,                                                               
cross district trainings, etc.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR.  PILLAI explained,  speaking  to slide  5,  that although  AS                                                               
14.30.630(b) states  that SESA  shall focus  on provision  of low                                                               
incidence  disability  services,  it does  under  eligibility  of                                                               
service in  AS14.30.350 indicate  that SESA may  provide services                                                               
to disability  categories other than low  incidence disabilities.                                                               
It is through  this qualification that SESA  provides services to                                                               
students  with  autism.  School   district  requests  for  autism                                                               
services currently comprise a SESA  autism caseload exceeding 100                                                               
students. Requests for in-servicing staff  on the topic of autism                                                               
continues  to   increase  each  year.   Many  requests   are  for                                                               
schoolwide  or districtwide  trainings when  numbers of  students                                                               
with  autism  are high.  Larger  districts  have higher  numbers.                                                               
Anchorage has 700,  Fairbanks has 169, Kenai has  110, Juneau has                                                               
78, and  Kodiak has  38 students with  autism. Most  rural remote                                                               
schools have numbers that range from 0 to 23.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR.  PILLAI said,  addressing slide  6, that  SESA's logic  model                                                               
captures the  design of process  to deliver  specialized services                                                               
to  parents, students,  and school  districts. The  intent is  to                                                               
address the gap via solutions  that promote not only availability                                                               
of SESA services, but also  increase, through onsite and distance                                                               
support,  the  local capacity  of  the  individual site  and  the                                                               
school district. This  approach is critical to  meeting the needs                                                               
of rural  schools and of  creating broad participant  training to                                                               
address  staff turnover.  Through  trainings  provided to  school                                                               
districts  via  common  platforms, collaboration  and  networking                                                               
amongst teachers  and paraprofessionals is increased.  This leads                                                               
to  sharing  of  resources,  reduces  isolation,  and  ultimately                                                               
promotes retention of teachers,  especially in rural remote areas                                                               
of the state.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
9:17:18 AM                                                                                                                    
MR.  PILLAI  described   with  slide  7  how,  as   part  of  the                                                               
operational process, SESA created  benchmarks to guide specialist                                                               
delivery of a high standard  of service. The benchmarks provide a                                                               
threshold  of expectation  and  guide  specialist evaluation  for                                                               
continuous improvement. A flow of service delivery includes:                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
     Initial   contact   with   district   staff   to   establish                                                               
     relationship,   identify  site   need,  to   plan  technical                                                               
     assistance.                                                                                                                
     Complete  activities  of  file  maintenance  and  compliance                                                               
     review                                                                                                                     
     Prioritize site  need as targeted  (some local  capacity but                                                               
     site  needs  service),  intensive  (no  local  capacity  and                                                               
     greatest need  for service),  general (capacity  present but                                                               
     needs minimal guidance on how to proceed).                                                                                 
     Create a technical assistance objective  based on review and                                                               
     site communication.                                                                                                        
     Provide technical assistance and training as needed.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR.  PILLAI   explained  that   slide  8   demystifies  technical                                                               
assistance.  The  continuum  of services  includes  observations,                                                               
assessments, educational  interventions, modeling  of strategies,                                                               
in-service  trainings,   assistive  technology,  and   many  more                                                               
pertinent  activities   based  on   requests  from   the  child's                                                               
educational team  members. It also  includes other  services such                                                               
as  assisting  families when  they  visit  Alaska Native  Medical                                                               
Center   for  medical   services,  organizing   and  facilitating                                                               
orientation  and   mobility  training  in  the   larger  city  of                                                               
Anchorage  for students  to learn  to navigate  pavements, street                                                               
lights,  and  traffic.  Specialists  also work  with  vendors  to                                                               
troubleshoot  assistive   technology  when  teachers   call  with                                                               
complaints of device nonfunctionality.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. PILLAI  said, addressing  slide 9,  that using  feedback from                                                               
SESA's annual  public audit and  sunset legislative  audits, SESA                                                               
has designed a  management system to include  metrics for program                                                               
and specialist  evaluation. Postservice satisfaction  surveys are                                                               
emailed  to   service  recipients  and  are   available  on  each                                                               
specialist's I-pad  to make service  feedback easier  to collect.                                                               
Feedback  is shared  and discussed  with individual  specialists,                                                               
and  collective information  is shared  with all  specialists for                                                               
continuous improvement of individual and agencywide performance.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MR. PILLAI said,  continuing on to slide 10, that  in addition to                                                               
specialist evaluation, the SESA  management system is designed to                                                               
collect data on  various aspects of agency  activity. An activity                                                               
is designated as any service contact  that is 15 minutes or more.                                                               
Service   contact   less  than   15   minutes   is  captured   in                                                               
communication logs.  Metrics include activities that  are related                                                               
to travel, creation of educational  materials, or mission centric                                                               
activities  and  writing  of student  service  reports.  Data  is                                                               
analyzed to understand variables  impacting service and variables                                                               
impacting the SESA budget.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
9:20:36 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. PILLAI  explained that slide  11 is  a visual example  of the                                                               
customized management system SESA has designed to ensure data-                                                                  
driven  decision  making.  Individual  reports  provide  data  on                                                               
specialist  activity allowing  for  measurement of  productivity,                                                               
the number  of reports  completed within  agency timeframe  of 10                                                               
working  days  from  date  of   site  visit,  schools  and  sites                                                               
requesting service,  active and  historical student  caseloads by                                                               
district, location and school, etc.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MR.  PILLAI  said, addressing  slide  12,  that both  legislative                                                               
audits  and the  program component  of annual  public audits  run                                                               
tests  of  compliance  with  regard  to  process,  procedure  and                                                               
special  education  laws and  regulations.  This  section of  the                                                               
database  was created  in  response for  specific  data and  with                                                               
feedback from  auditors. Following  a recommendation of  the SESA                                                               
Board  to go  green, SESA  management worked  to eliminate  paper                                                               
files. All  of SESA's student  record keeping is  now electronic.                                                               
The  compliance element  of the  SESA  database drives  quarterly                                                               
compliance  reviews. This  section of  the database  consistently                                                               
earns  praise  from  auditors  for   its  elegant  simplicity  of                                                               
compliance review.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MR. PILLAI described how the graph  on slide 13 captures, in red,                                                               
the number of  students attending Alaska's schools,  in any given                                                               
year  between 2011  and 2020.  The solid  blue line  captures the                                                               
steadily increasing  numbers of students on  SESA's low incidence                                                               
disability (LID)  caseload. Increasing  numbers of  students with                                                               
LID means greater need for  SESA services. High turnover of staff                                                               
in many  districts often drives  the need for  repeated trainings                                                               
for  new  staff,  especially  first  year  teachers  who  may  be                                                               
encountering any given disability for the first time.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR.  PILLAI  explained that  the  graph  on  slide 14  shows  the                                                               
history of  SESA fund  balance from 2013  and projected  to 2023.                                                               
The cycle  captures the low funds,  usually seen at the  end of a                                                               
sunset  cycle (2013),  the  higher  funds at  the  middle of  the                                                               
cycle, and the  trending to lower fund balance at  the end of the                                                               
cycle as  a result of  increasing costs. The typical  scenario is                                                               
slightly different in 2021 due  to two premium holidays of health                                                               
insurance,  two  unfilled  specialist vacancies,  unspent  travel                                                               
funds due  to COVID-19.  In addition,  SESA received  $175,000 in                                                               
discretionary funding from the Department  of Education and Early                                                               
Development (DEED) to  assist SESA to add two  new specialists in                                                               
2019  and to  assist creation  of a  fund balance  beyond sunset,                                                               
without knowing  when a  funding increase  may next  be feasible.                                                               
SESA's last funding  increase was in 2014. At this  time, SESA is                                                               
not requesting an increase of funding.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
9:23:57 AM                                                                                                                    
MR.  PILLAI  said, moving  on  to  slide  15, that  the  recently                                                               
completed legislative audit concurs that  SESA meets the needs of                                                               
students with  low incidence disabilities,  provides professional                                                               
development  opportunities  to  teachers  and  paraprofessionals,                                                               
provides  special  education  resources  to  parents  and  school                                                               
district  staff,  and  concludes  with a  recommendation  for  an                                                               
eight-year legislative reauthorization.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
9:24:26 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HOLLAND recognized the arrival of Senator Micciche.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR.  PILLAI  said  that SESA  is  requesting  reauthorization  to                                                               
continue providing  the key services  identified by the  state of                                                               
Alaska  as  being  important  to the  full  academic  and  social                                                               
development of a  child with a disability. This  includes all the                                                               
activities  of  technical  assistance  reviewed  earlier  in  the                                                               
presentation.  SESA's  customized  database   allows  it  to  run                                                               
reports of  agency productivity. Slide 17  captures activities of                                                               
technical  assistance,  the  number   of  schools  and  districts                                                               
served,  the   number  of  trainings  (customized   and  general)                                                               
conducted onsite  and via distance  delivery, and an  analysis of                                                               
funds saved  with SESA's investment  in technologies  of distance                                                               
delivery.  Savings are  more  than indicated  on  slide 17  since                                                               
savings  are also  realized with  site consultation  provided via                                                               
distance delivery.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BEGICH asked  for the number of students in  Mat-Su to be                                                               
repeated. He  asked Mr. Pillai  about the impact of  the pandemic                                                               
to SESA services,  such as reduction in the travel,  and how that                                                               
was addressed.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. PILLAI  replied that he didn't  have the numbers on  hand but                                                               
would try to find them.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR. LAMKIN answered that the  legislative audit report on page 28                                                               
indicates  that  SESA  serves   three  students  in  the  Mat-Su.                                                               
Statutorily,  when  districts hit  a  threshold  of 10  students,                                                               
districts must  provide those services  themselves. In  this case                                                               
SESA serves three deaf-blind students.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. PILLAI replied that is correct  and added 271 students in the                                                               
Mat-Su have autism.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BEGICH  asked   how  SESA  is  responding   to  the  odd                                                               
circumstances of this pandemic.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. PILLAI  answered that  one of the  most important  things was                                                               
that the number of requests  for services went down. Teachers are                                                               
not working with students who  are in rural locations. That upset                                                               
the  apple  cart with  the  school  situation, followed  by  more                                                               
direct requests for services from  parents. SESA ended up working                                                               
with  more  parents and  tutoring  a  lot  of teachers  with  the                                                               
technology and  creating a lot  of materials for  parents working                                                               
in the  home situation. Services changed  from typical in-service                                                               
and observations  in classrooms  to more immediate  solutions for                                                               
teachers working with students removed from the classroom.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
9:28:48 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  STEVENS said  he  was very  interested  in learning  the                                                               
impact of  COVID on students who  were not in classroom  in front                                                               
of teachers.  He asked Mr. Pillai  if he had given  the number of                                                               
specialists in his  agency and the caseload, and what  he sees as                                                               
future needs for SESA.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. PILLAI  answered that SESA  serves about 350  students across                                                               
the  state. The  highest numbers  occur in  multiple disabilities                                                               
and autism.  The more  challenging need  for school  districts is                                                               
for the  more intensive disabilities, such  as deaf-blindness and                                                               
multiple disabilities. A  lot of SESA's response  depends on what                                                               
is  going on  in the  state in  that particular  year. When  many                                                               
teachers are retiring, there is  a whole new cadre of specialists                                                               
who come into the districts.  Specialists who graduated last year                                                               
did not  have full practicums because  of COVID. They are  in the                                                               
first year  of teaching with theoretical  knowledge but sometimes                                                               
missing the practicum.  That is when they call SESA  for help. On                                                               
other hand, some  special education teachers with 15  to 20 years                                                               
of  experience may  encounter a  deaf-blind child  for the  first                                                               
time  or a  child with  autism  at the  end of  spectrum. At  the                                                               
beginning of  the year, in August  and September, superintendents                                                               
usually call SESA  for in-service training for  the entire staff,                                                               
such as  when there  is a  high number  of students  with autism.                                                               
Services range from one-on-one  technical assistance, small group                                                               
technical assistance,  to full district technical  assistance. In                                                               
the  immediate  future,  he  thinks   SESA  will  be  doing  more                                                               
trainings  for  teachers  because  they  are  new  and  have  not                                                               
encountered the various disabilities in their classrooms.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
9:31:47 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGHES  shared that many  years ago she was  a one-on-one                                                               
aide for  a severely disabled student  in Ft. Yukon. It  was very                                                               
challenging. She appreciates what he  is doing for these children                                                               
and young adults. Her daughter  has severe hearing loss. A number                                                               
of years ago  she received some services through  the school, but                                                               
after she was out of high  school the family had to figure things                                                               
out  on  their  own.  They   went  to  Vocational  Rehabilitation                                                               
services as  she was starting college  to get help with  the some                                                               
of the accommodations she needed.  She asked if SESA provides any                                                               
bridge to  assist high school  students as  they move out  of the                                                               
public school system.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR.  PILLAI  answered that  SESA  follows  the special  education                                                               
handbook. With that  sequence, SESA encourages schools  to put in                                                               
place  transition goals  early on  and then  in high  school work                                                               
closely  with the  Division of  Vocational Rehabilitation  (DVR).                                                               
DVR  is  more  responsible  for the  transition  from  school  to                                                               
college,  but advocacy  skills are  important for  students. Once                                                               
students have an IEP (Individualized  Education Program) they can                                                               
work  with the  disability office  in  colleges and  get some  of                                                               
those same accommodations.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR.  LAMKIN  presented  a   five-minute  video  introducing  SESA                                                               
specialists    for   autism    impairment   services,    multiple                                                               
disabilities, emotional  disturbance, vision and  orientation and                                                               
mobility programs, and deaf and hard of hearing services.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
9:40:53 AM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
9:41:30 AM                                                                                                                    
KRIS CURTIS, Legislative Auditor,  Division of Legislative Audit,                                                               
Alaska State Legislator, Juneau,  Alaska, said that she completed                                                               
a sunset audit of SESA dated  April 2020. The purpose of a sunset                                                               
audit is  to determine whether a  board or agency is  serving the                                                               
public's  interest  and  whether   it  should  be  extended.  The                                                               
background information  section of  the audit  begins on  page 5.                                                               
SESA  was  created  to help  Alaska's  school  districts  provide                                                               
special education  services to individuals  with a  low incidence                                                               
disability. A  low incidence disability  occurs in less  than one                                                               
percent   of  the   national  school-aged   population  and   the                                                               
disabilities are  more severe in  nature and  require specialized                                                               
educational intervention.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MS.  CURTIS  said  that  SESA  was  established  as  a  nonprofit                                                               
corporation whose  governing authority is the  Governor's Council                                                               
on  Disabilities and  Special Education,  which is  housed within                                                               
the  Department of  Health and  Social Services.  However, SESA's                                                               
primary service for the low  incidence disability is budgeted and                                                               
funded  through Department  of Education  and Early  Development.                                                               
This  funding  is  independent of  the  intensive  needs  funding                                                               
school districts  may otherwise receive  as part of  their annual                                                               
education funding.  SESA's funding provides  additional financial                                                               
support  to  help  ensure  students  affected  by  low  incidence                                                               
disabilities  are  receiving  the  free  and  appropriate  public                                                               
education required by  state and federal laws.  SESA services are                                                               
available  to districts  whose  low  incidence special  education                                                               
needs occur  infrequently, making  it difficult for  the district                                                               
to serve  the low  numbers of  students in  need of  a particular                                                               
service.   SESA   recruits,   trains,   and   retains   education                                                               
specialists  to  provide  technical assistance  and  training  to                                                               
parents, students, and district  staff without regard to location                                                               
in  the state.  Page 8  of the  audit has  a map  that shows  the                                                               
number and  location of students  served by SESA. In  total, SESA                                                               
served 355 students as of February 2020.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MS.  CURTIS pointed  out that  Appendix B  on page  28 shows  the                                                               
number of  students served by  SESA by district and  the category                                                               
of disability. Report conclusions begin  on page 11. Overall, the                                                               
audit concludes  that SESA  is serving  the public's  interest by                                                               
assisting  school districts  in  providing  students affected  by                                                               
low-incidence disabilities  an education  to meet  the children's                                                               
unique needs. This is done  by providing opportunities to enhance                                                               
school  district  teachers' and  paraprofessionals'  capabilities                                                               
and  by providing  resources.  Legislative  Audit recommends  the                                                               
legislature  extend  SESA's eight  years,  which  is the  maximum                                                               
allowed in statute.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MS. CURTIS said that  as part of the audit, a  survey was sent to                                                               
all  special education  directors  for the  51 school  districts.                                                               
Fifty-nine percent  responded. In general, the  special education                                                               
directors   viewed  SESA   expertise,  staff   availability,  and                                                               
services   favorably.   Survey   questions  and   responses   are                                                               
summarized in Appendix C of the audit.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MS.  CURTIS stated  that page  13  of the  audit explains  SESA's                                                               
statutory  funding   mechanism.  SESA's   funding  for   its  low                                                               
incidence  disabilities  program  is  calculated  by  multiplying                                                               
$18.65 times the state's student  average daily membership (ADM).                                                               
This rate  of $18.65  was set  in 2013 when  the agency  was last                                                               
extended  and has  not increased.  Given  inflation, the  funding                                                               
will go down as wages go up,  etc., if no inflation is built into                                                               
the formula.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
9:47:16 AM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
9:49:03 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  MICCICHE pointed  out that  Ms. Curtis  spoke about  the                                                               
funding mechanism  on page 13,  yet the Average  Daily Attendance                                                               
has  been  dropping since  2017.  The  attendance, which  is  the                                                               
funding mechanism,  is dropping  but the caseload  is increasing.                                                               
He asked how that could collide as a funding issue.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MS. CURTIS answered that it is  interesting that the ADM has been                                                               
decreasing  because during  the review  it was  staying stagnant.                                                               
The rate  stayed stagnant and  the membership stays  stagnant, so                                                               
the funding stayed stagnant for  the period legislative audit was                                                               
looking at. If  attendance goes down, that  will have significant                                                               
impact given  the calculation formula  for this  funding. Between                                                               
2012 and  2020 SESA's  caseload increased by  66 percent  yet its                                                               
funding level never changed.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR   MICCICHE  responded   that   is   something  that   the                                                               
legislature will  possibly need  to look  at, separate  from this                                                               
sunset bill.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. CURTIS  said that SESA education  specialists serving certain                                                               
student categories  were experiencing  high caseloads.  The audit                                                               
notes  that   the  agency  was   having  trouble   retaining  and                                                               
recruiting.   Their  wages   and  health   benefits  were   below                                                               
Anchorage's.  The  audit  notes  that SESA  increased  wages  and                                                               
improved health  benefits. This will  help the agency  retain and                                                               
recruit individuals and reduce vacancies.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MS. CURTIS disclosed  that the audit has  one recommendation that                                                               
SESA's executive director implement  written procedures to ensure                                                               
the  reclassification  of  a  student's  referred  disability  is                                                               
adequately   supported  and   communicated  to   school  district                                                               
personnel. Auditors  reviewed 42  students' files and  found five                                                               
students'  disabilities, as  identified  in  the school  district                                                               
referral form,  were reclassified by a  SESA education specialist                                                               
with   no   documentation   in    the   file   to   explain   the                                                               
reclassification.  Four  of  these  five  student  files  had  no                                                               
documentation to  show SESA staff had  communicated the students'                                                               
revised disability  category to  school district  personnel. That                                                               
is an easy administrative fix.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MS. CURTIS concluded  by stating that the responses  to the audit                                                               
begin  on  page  35.  The  commissioners  of  the  Department  of                                                               
Education and Early Development and  the Department of Health and                                                               
Social Services and  the chair of SESA concurred  with the report                                                               
conclusions and recommendation.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR HOLLAND asked Ms. Teshner to walk through the fiscal note.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
9:53:07 AM                                                                                                                    
HEIDI   TESHNER,   Director,   Finance  and   Support   Services,                                                               
Department  of Education  and Early  Development (DEED),  Juneau,                                                               
Alaska, said  the committee should  have one fiscal note  for OMB                                                               
component  number  2735.  The   governor's  FY22  budget  request                                                               
includes a  projected grant amount  of $2,404,400 for  SESA based                                                               
on the  statutory calculation.  She will  repeat what  Ms. Curtis                                                               
said. Per  AS 14.30.650,  the funding for  SESA is  determined by                                                               
multiplying  $18.65  by  the  Average  Daily  Membership  in  the                                                               
preceding fiscal  year as determined  in AS 14.17.600.  For FY22,                                                               
the projected  grant of $2,404,400 was  determined by multiplying                                                               
the  FY2021  projected ADM,  which  was  $128,923.91, by  $18.65.                                                               
Because the  extension goes out  June 30, 2028, according  to the                                                               
current version of SB 19,  the department will adjust each budget                                                               
cycle  to reflect  the  accurate amount  based  on the  statutory                                                               
formula.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR HOLLAND called on invited testimony.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
9:55:18 AM                                                                                                                    
JIM SLATER,  Parent, Pelican,  Alaska, said  he lives  in Pelican                                                               
with  his  wife and  three  kids.  The  youngest, Jim,  has  been                                                               
diagnosed with autism  spectrum disorder. Mr. Slater  is also the                                                               
president of  the Pelican School  Board. The Pelican  City School                                                               
District  is one  of the  smaller school  districts in  the state                                                               
with no specialists  trained to educate children  in the spectrum                                                               
or  children with  other disabilities.  Before  SESA entered  the                                                               
picture, they  only dealt with coordinators  who would facilitate                                                               
the development of  an IEP and testers who  would set benchmarks,                                                               
but  they  had  no  regular  input  from  specialists  who  could                                                               
establish, monitor,  and if necessary, modify  actual curriculum.                                                               
This  left a  huge gap  in the  implementation of  the IEP.  SESA                                                               
provided crucial input into the IEP  but also provided to them as                                                               
parents, as well  as the school's teachers, an  ongoing source of                                                               
information  regarding  Jim's  progress, suggestions  of  how  to                                                               
modify  the  curriculum,  and in  several  cases,  even  supplied                                                               
material  from its  lending library.  SESA's help  was especially                                                               
crucial during the  pandemic when school shut down  and they went                                                               
to  an  at-home model.  SESA's  John  Barrowman, along  with  Mr.                                                               
Slater's wife, taught Jim for a  short time every day. After this                                                               
daily appointment  with John, Jim  continued the rest of  the day                                                               
following  SESA's guidance.  The results  were overwhelming.  Jim                                                               
progressed several grade levels in  math in six months. They have                                                               
more recently engaged the SESA  reading specialist and are seeing                                                               
big advancements there. Their school  is back in session and SESA                                                               
continues to engage on a weekly  basis with Jim and his teachers.                                                               
This  model  of  regular  remote   engagement  is  effective  and                                                               
efficient.  The   state  should  fund  and   even  expand  SESA's                                                               
operations.  He cannot  overemphasis the  value SESA  provided to                                                               
his  son's education.  Without SESA,  Jim would  not receive  the                                                               
education  he  needs and  deserves.  This  is  true for  all  the                                                               
students SESA serves.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
9:58:23 AM                                                                                                                    
BEN GRIESE,  Special Education  Teacher, Southwest  Region School                                                               
District, New Stuyahok, Alaska, said  that in 2009 he started his                                                               
first  teaching  job  as  a  special  education  teacher  in  New                                                               
Stuyahok,  serving 140  preK-12  students. A  number of  students                                                               
have low incidence disabilities  this year. Rural Alaska presents                                                               
a  unique  challenge  due  to  limited  access  to  material  and                                                               
services. His  first week  of teaching  was overwhelming.  He was                                                               
unequipped  to  deal the  number  of  disabilities in  his  first                                                               
teaching position.  SESA staff  are vetted  and experts  in their                                                               
fields. They  are willing to  go above and beyond.  They provided                                                               
him  with training,  communication devices,  paperwork help,  and                                                               
connected him  to other  professionals. They  provide connections                                                               
for families. SESA provided support  in and out of school. During                                                               
the pandemic distance  services and support have  helped him meet                                                               
the needs of his students. In  2014 he was the Governor's Council                                                               
for  Exceptional Children  Teacher of  the Year  and in  2018 the                                                               
Governor's Council  Inclusive Practice  award winner. In  2020 he                                                               
was the alternate  Teacher of the Year. The reason  he is able to                                                               
be successful as a special  education teacher is because of SESA.                                                               
He  does not  think  he would  still be  in  Alaska without  SESA                                                               
support.  SESA   is  necessary  and   needed.  SESA   helps  lead                                                               
disability  awareness programs  that  have  helped his  community                                                               
become even more accepting of  students with disabilities. One of                                                               
his students was  able to use his  assistive communication device                                                               
to speak at graduation.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
10:02:28 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR HOLLAND congratulated him on his accomplishments.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR MICCICHE asked  why the bill has an extension  for a year                                                               
less.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEVENS  answered that was  a mistake in drafting  and he                                                               
will ask for an amendment to change that to 2029.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR HOLLAND added that was mentioned earlier.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR MICCICHE observed that looking  at the math and the trend                                                               
of SESA  finances, assuming the  ADM remains  steady, illustrates                                                               
that the legislature  will have to think of some  way to keep the                                                               
funding  for SESA  consistent.  He enjoys  the  presence of  SESA                                                               
students in  his kids' schools.  He is  a great supporter  of the                                                               
program and is amazed at  the effectiveness. The legislature will                                                               
need to  deal with  the funding  issue if the  drop in  ADM trend                                                               
continues.  The impacts  could be  significant much  earlier than                                                               
2029. The legislature will need to think about that.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BEGICH  added that  he  would  need  to check  with  Ms.                                                               
Teshner, but  if the  legislature does  an early  education bill,                                                               
that  will  add to  the  ADM  to  some  degree and  mitigate  the                                                               
precipitous decline  that Senator Micciche has  identified. There                                                               
are a number  of tools in toolbox that the  legislature could use                                                               
to address  it. There  was no  request in the  audit or  from the                                                               
executive director  for an  increase at this  time, but  he asked                                                               
whether   a  SESA   increase   can  be   done   outside  of   the                                                               
reauthorization.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MS. CURTIS  noted that she  does believe that the  last extension                                                               
bill included an  increase to the rate in the  statute. There was                                                               
an amendment to do that, perhaps out of Senate Finance.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BEGICH  asked if  that can  happen without  the extension                                                               
bill.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS. CURTIS answered that changing  a statute can done through any                                                               
mechanism. The  background information  on page  2 of  the report                                                               
notes  that  there  are  other  funding  sources.  SESA  receives                                                               
federal grants  and other pockets of  money, but LID is  its main                                                               
program.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
10:06:49 AM                                                                                                                   
LUCY HOPE,  Special Education Administrator, Mat-Su  Valley, said                                                               
that  she been  working in  special  education in  Alaska for  40                                                               
years and worked  with SESA throughout her  career. Many teachers                                                               
in  the  state  do  not  have training  with  students  with  low                                                               
incidence disabilities.  She was  the Special  Education Director                                                               
of Mat-Su School  District until about a  year-and-a-half ago and                                                               
was the contact  person for SESA. SESA was  always responsive and                                                               
professional and  on-target with what services  it could provide.                                                               
In Mat-Su,  because it is a  large district, that was  limited to                                                               
working  with students  with dual  sensory impairments,  students                                                               
who experience both deafness and  blindness. SESA always provided                                                               
the expertise  so the  staff could work  with those  students and                                                               
provide  a free  and appropriate  education. She  is now  working                                                               
with  Aleutians  East  Borough   School  District  and  SESA  has                                                               
provided expertise  working with students  in that district  in a                                                               
very different  environment. She has been  impressed and grateful                                                               
for the guidance  from SESA specialists over the  past two years.                                                               
They  recommend   and  provide  curriculum   materials  training,                                                               
provide strategies and training for  staff and for parents, which                                                               
is  crucial.  The  distance  support  has  been  a  precursor  to                                                               
teachers  becoming  confident  and  facile  with  teaching  in  a                                                               
distance manner.  SESA was doing  that long before  the pandemic.                                                               
The  past  11 months  SESA  visits  to  districts have  not  been                                                               
possible, but SESA  has not waivered in  providing the meaningful                                                               
and necessary guidance.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEVENS said,  "I am so impressed every time  I hear what                                                               
SESA does. And I know all of us  are. . . It is a very impressive                                                               
agency. I  am only sorry  that others  in the Senate  cannot hear                                                               
this  testimony because  it  is very  moving.  Just imagine  what                                                               
Alaska would be without this agency."                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
10:11:02 AM                                                                                                                   
SAM  CROW, Parent,  Bethel, Alaska,  said that  SESA has  been so                                                               
impactful. He is the father  of a visually impaired sixth grader.                                                               
He  has 25  years in  teaching  and administration  in the  Lower                                                               
Kuskokwim School  District. Since  his son  entered kindergarten,                                                               
SESA has been a partner not  only in his educational life but out                                                               
of-school  life as  well. SESA  and Miss  Angel worked  carefully                                                               
with  his son's  school. The  expertise  to deal  with his  son's                                                               
vision impairment  came from  SESA and Miss  Angel. At  one point                                                               
his son's vision was diagnosed  as degenerative, which meant that                                                               
he would lose most if not all  of his sight. That was a difficult                                                               
time. Angel  and SESA were right  there to help prepare  for that                                                               
possibility.  The  committee has  heard  great  testimony on  the                                                               
educational  impact, but  SESA and  Miss Angel  have had  a great                                                               
social and cultural impact on his  son and family. Miss Angel and                                                               
SESA  sent strategies  and discussed  those with  the school  and                                                               
coaches so  that his son  was able to participate  in basketball.                                                               
Mr.  Crow said  he is  appreciative of  the academic  support but                                                               
that spilled over  to the self-realization that his  son could do                                                               
things  and visual  impairment  did  not have  to  hold him  back                                                               
completely. He credits all that to Miss Angel and SESA.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
10:15:19 AM                                                                                                                   
LISA   VILLANO,  President,   Alaska   Council  for   Exceptional                                                               
Children, Shishmaref, Alaska, said that  on behalf of all members                                                               
of  the council  she supports  full funding  and extending  SESA.                                                               
Anyone would  be hard pressed to  find any member of  the council                                                               
that has not had a  completely beneficial relationship with SESA.                                                               
She  is  a  special  education teacher  in  Shishmaref.  Being  a                                                               
student  with a  disability  in rural  Alaska  can be  isolating.                                                               
There is not a  whole lot of access to resources.  SESA is such a                                                               
light and  beacon of hope.  She would not  be the teacher  she is                                                               
without the resources, training,  and assistance from SESA. There                                                               
is a  financial impact, but  this is a  piece of the  budget well                                                               
worth keeping in place.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR MICCICHE  said that for  the other pools of  funding, the                                                               
FY19 total  was $3.5 million. FY19  was the first year  SESA went                                                               
into deficit. He asked what FY20 looks like.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. CURTIS clarified  that Senator Micciche was  referring to the                                                               
schedule of  revenue expenditures  in Appendix  D. She  could not                                                               
comment  on that  and  suggested that  perhaps  Mr. Pillai  could                                                               
speak to the FY20 balances.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR MICCICHE replied  that he did not need it  now because it                                                               
is not Finance,  but he cannot help going into  numbers. He asked                                                               
why the Appendix B number served  is higher than the total served                                                               
for the  LID programs. He asked  is that because of  duplicity of                                                               
services.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MS. CURTIS  replied that Appendix B  shows 355 in total.  The map                                                               
also shows 355.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  MICCICHE clarified  that  he saw  400  something in  the                                                               
chart earlier in the presentation.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MS. CURTIS  said that  page two talks  about other  programs that                                                               
SESA has  in addition to its  LID programs. She is  guessing that                                                               
it referring to other individuals  served, possibly by the autism                                                               
resource center or other projects.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  MICCICHE replied  that  he  can reach  out  to SESA  for                                                               
additional information.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
10:20:46 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR HOLLAND held SB 19 in committee.                                                                                          

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
01_SB019_SESA_SponsorStatement.pdf SEDC 2/5/2021 9:00:00 AM
SFIN 3/2/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 19
03_SB019_SESA_Sectional_version A.pdf SEDC 2/5/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 19
06_SB019_SESA_Presentation_Pillai_05Feb2021.pdf SEDC 2/5/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 19
08_SB019_SESA_Research_LBA-Audit_Full-Report_03April2020.pdf SEDC 2/5/2021 9:00:00 AM
SFIN 3/2/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 19