Legislature(2001 - 2002)

05/01/2001 09:41 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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                                                               
     ·    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                                                            
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                                                            
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.                                                                 

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