Legislature(2001 - 2002)
05/01/2001 09:41 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE CS FOR CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 101(HES) "An Act relating to charter schools; and providing for an effective date." REPRESENTATIVE FRED DYSON noted that HB 101 was similar to previous legislation passed from the Senate Finance Committee, however, is accompanied by have a significant fiscal note. He acknowledged that there had been much discussion in the House regarding the fiscal note. HB 101 is intended to extend and strengthen the existing Alaska Charter School Law. The current law is scheduled to sunset on July 1, 2005, which means that any new charter school cannot be approved for the allowable five-year charter. Existing charter schools are having a difficult time securing facility purchase and lease agreements because their remaining contracts are less than 4.5 years and cannot be extended. The legislation would make the following changes to the existing charter school law: · Would eliminate the July, 2005 sunset clause; · Would extend the allowable contract length from 5 to 10 years; · Would eliminate the geographic distribution requirements; · Would double the cap from 30 to 60 charter schools; · Would clarify that charter schools are not exempt from competency testing; · Would allow Charter Schools to be counted as separate a school if the ADM is over 150 (reference AS 14.17.905); · Would provide a one-time "start-up" grant; and · Would allow for charter school use of safe public buildings with District Superintendent approval. Senator Wilken asked about the one-time startup of a $6000 grant scheduled to be given to three cyber schools. WES KELLER, Staff, Representative Fred Dyson, explained that establishing a charter school does cost a lot of money for computers and other start up essentials. Senator Wilken referenced Page 3, Line 13, and the safety standards applicable to public buildings. He suggested that the standards be lowered for the charter schools. Senator Austerman assumed that all the existing charter schools would make the application for the start-up grant. He questioned why the one-time grant continued into the future. Co-Chair Kelly explained that not all of the charter schools qualify for the grant. Senator Austerman would expect to see a balloon payment in the first year for the current schools. Representative Dyson explained that the fiscal note represents the Department's guess of what the costs would be. He believed that the fiscal note was optimistic. Senator Austerman noticed that there were two fiscal notes which would further explain his query. Representative Dyson noted that the on-going $609,000 would be delegated for the schools that receive more money because the threshold was changed. Senator Austerman understood that the grant program was for $170,000 per year. Representative Dyson explained that the Department would use the $170,000 for a position and support staff to take care of the needs associated with the charter schools. EDDY JEANS, Manger, School Finance and Facilities Section, Department of Education and Early Development, stated that the confusion results from the two fiscal notes. The $609,000 note is the reoccurring cost from dropping the threshold from 200 students to 150 students. That is why that costs have been extended. The second fiscal note indicates the fiscal costs for that position, which the Department is requesting in order to adequately address the legislation. The legislation will institutionalize the charter school program. At this time, it is a pilot program slated to sunset in 2005. The grant program is indicated on that note in the amount of $1.4 million dollars. There is no projection for fiscal costs in the out-years because the Department does not know how many new charter schools will be coming-on-board or the size of those schools. AT EASE 9:55 AM/9:57AM Co-Chair Kelly inquired the funding mechanism, which will be used for size determination. Mr. Jeans advised that the section, which the bill affects, is AS 14.17.905, school size adjustment. Section B of that statute states that alternative programs serving less than 200 students would be counted. The legislation does allow for charter schools that serve up to 150 students be counted as a separate school. Co-Chair Kelly questioned if those schools would receive the same amount per student. Mr. Jeans explained that the legislation would allow the schools the funding for the school size adjustment table as an independent school. Mr. Jeans added that there are three break points: · Communities serving less than 100 count as one school; · Communities serving students between 750 counting as two schools; and · Beyond that 750 students, each school in the district counts as an independent school unless it is an alternative school. The Department has classified alternative schools are charter schools. Senator Leman asked about the start-up grants versus the $500 dollars per student that some of the schools would be receiving. Representative Dyson replied that all of the schools are financially "on the ropes". He emphasized that this issue was one of fairness. Senator Leman questioned what he would be able to say to those charter schools that have less than 150 students. He suggested that the bill does not reach far enough. Representative Dyson reminded members that he had requested that the bill be pulled last year from the Senate floor because the extra financial help had been amended out. He understood that the federal government was undertaking measures that would also help the situation. He noted that he had been trying to make some strategic decisions regarding help to the charter schools to keep them alive and still address the fiscal note concerns. Co-Chair Kelly understood that the intention of creating the charter schools would be that they could act as incubators for new methods of educating students and that the larger school districts would be able to then incorporate some of those techniques which work well. However, he commented that it appears that they are producing better students. Any time there is a situation in which there are fewer students and a requirement for a high level of parental participation, it is no surprise that there are better- educated students resulting from these schools. The public schools cannot mandate parental involvement nor can they drop the number of students in each classroom. He questioned if the charter schools were really providing a greater benefit. Senator Green reminded Senator Kelly that the charter schools are public schools. Representative Dyson commented that the passage of the bill would help the charter schools by providing them a little "financial breathing room" so that they could accomplish more than being in survival mode. He stressed that the private and charter schools are not sweeping the "cream" off the top of the student population. Co-Chair Kelly interjected that the bill would be brought before the Committee at a later date. Senator Austerman commented that the discussion had reinforced his concerns that the charter schools would eventually weaken the public school system. He noted that there exists a problem in the public schools that needs fixing and that the State should not be contributing other sources that drain the current public school system. He reiterated his reservations for the legislation. Senator Green emphasized that charter schools are public schools and should be viewed as an adjunct to public education. Senator Olson voiced support of the bill. He encouraged that action be taken sooner rather than later. LARRY SEMMENS, Chairman of the Academic Policy Committee, Aurora Borealis Charter School, testified via teleconference from Soldotna that his school has a successful program and that they have a waiting list of over 200 students. He added that the school's test scores are the highest in the district. Mr. Semmens emphasized that he hoped that the Committee's goals were like his own and that the concern was for better-educated students, and not with only saving money. He testified in complete support for HB 101. The charter schools are separate and yet they are being penalized in their funding by the alternative school limit. GENE PALM, Teacher, Aurora Borealis Charter School, testified via teleconference from Kenai in support for the legislation. He urged that the Legislature feed the programs that are meeting some students with success. He added that his school wants to further develop their programs, which currently is being done on the teachers off time. He reiterated the need for the "extra staff". Co-Chair Kelly reported that HB 101 would be HELD in Committee.