Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/15/2003 08:45 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                                                                                                                                
     CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 174(FIN) am                                                                                          
     "An Act relating to  the state centralized correspondence study                                                            
     program,  to  funding  for  educational   programs  that  occur                                                            
     primarily  outside  school  facilities,  and to  the duties  of                                                            
     school  boards  of  borough   and city   school  districts  and                                                            
     regional  educational  attendance areas;  and providing  for an                                                            
     effective date."                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
This  was the first  hearing  for this  bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
Committee.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Wilken stated  this  bill, sponsored  by  the House  Rules                                                            
Committee  by request of  the Governor, "repeals  the summer  school                                                            
funding for  Alyeska Central School  (ACS) beginning in the  2003-04                                                            
school  year. In addition,  HB  174 provides  a one-year  transition                                                            
period in which  the functions performed  by Alyeska Central  School                                                            
can  be assumed  by  another  educational  organization,  such as  a                                                            
charter school, or a school district."                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
EDDY  JEANS,  Manager,   School  Finance  and  Facilities   Section,                                                            
Education  Support  Services,  Department  of  Education  and  Early                                                            
Development  testified this legislation  addresses two issues:  cost                                                            
savings and  policy. He cited the  elimination of the summer  school                                                            
program  would  save  the  State  $1.2  million.   He  listed  other                                                            
potential cost  savings, including over $700,000 for  lease of space                                                            
in the Goldbelt Building  in Juneau, occupied by the Alyeska Central                                                            
School and paid by the Department of Administration.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Jeans  gave a history  of the correspondence  school, which  was                                                            
established  in 1939.  At  this time,  he informed  that  municipal-                                                            
operated  schools addressed  education  in areas  organized under  a                                                            
local  government, and  the State  operated schools  in unorganized                                                             
areas. He  said the State  continued to operate  schools until  1977                                                            
and the  establishment of  the Regional  Education Attendance  Areas                                                            
(REAA). Approximately seven  years ago, he continued, the Department                                                            
allowed  school  districts   to  operate  statewide  correspondence                                                             
programs,  a  decision  supported  by the  Legislature  through  the                                                            
adoption of SB  36, in which the Legislature specified  that funding                                                            
would be  available for these  efforts. He  noted that currently  12                                                            
such programs, including ACS, operate in Alaska.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Mr.  Jeans  commented  that  the  majority  of  students   currently                                                            
enrolled  in ACS  would  attend other  correspondence  schools  upon                                                            
elimination of  ACS. He shared that the Department  has learned that                                                            
many  of  the  other  programs  would  develop  or  modify  existing                                                            
programs  to assist  those  families  currently  served  by ACS.  He                                                            
asserted  that of  the  650 students  enrolled  in the  ACS  regular                                                            
program,  approximately  45 do  not have  daily access  to a  public                                                            
school in their  community. He informed that this  legislation would                                                            
require  other correspondence   programs to  operate  under an  open                                                            
enrollment  policy,  noting  that  currently  some  have  instituted                                                            
"artificial caps" on the number of students allowed to enroll.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Jeans next  spoke to the issue  of accreditation. He  acquiesced                                                            
that ACS is  the only accredited statewide  correspondence  program,                                                            
although  four others  have  applied for  accreditation  and are  in                                                            
"accredited  candidate"  status  for three  years.  He listed  these                                                            
schools  as the PACE  charter school  in Craig,  Delta-Greely  Cyber                                                            
School, Raven  Charter School in the Yukon-Koyukuk  school district,                                                            
and the IDEA  Correspondence program  in Galena. While in  candidate                                                            
status, he assured, any  credits awarded to a student are treated as                                                            
fully  accredited  and  must be  accepted  as  such by  a  receiving                                                            
institution.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Senator   Taylor   asked  why   no   comparison  is   made   between                                                            
accreditation   and  competency  levels.  He  asked   why  the  many                                                            
accredited schools in Alaska  continue to graduate about "37 percent                                                            
of our student population functionally illiterate."                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Jeans understood that  the accreditation process requires school                                                            
districts to meet  certain standards in assigning  a grade or credit                                                            
to a student,  which must subsequently  must be accepted  by another                                                            
accredited school.  He was unable to respond to the  relationship to                                                            
student competency.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Senator Taylor commented  that students enrolled in a correspondence                                                            
program  score  higher  in  general  competency   tests  than  those                                                            
enrolled in regular public schools.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Jeans surmised  this would be  better understood as the  "school                                                            
level designation  system" imposed  at the State and federal  level,                                                            
is implemented.  He indicated a disparity in the number  of students                                                            
participating in assessments.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Taylor opined  that his  "life experience"  indicates  that                                                            
these students  have a "very high  level of competency" obtained  in                                                            
home schools  and correspondence  school programs.  He asserted  the                                                            
issue is how funds would be better spent.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Bunde attributed  the  higher competency  to  the level  of                                                            
parental involvement.  He stated that students of  the Galena school                                                            
district passed at a higher  competency rate last year than students                                                            
enrolled in the district's  IDEA correspondence program. He asked if                                                            
private  schools  in Alaska  are  all accredited  and  through  what                                                            
accreditation organization.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Jeans  replied that those  that are accredited  are through  the                                                            
Northwest Association of Schools Colleges and Universities.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Senator Bunde  asked if the witness was aware of any  student denied                                                            
admission to a college for lack of accreditation.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Mr.  Jeans  was not  aware  of  any and  noted  that  colleges  have                                                            
alternative  assessment  procedures for  students  educated in  non-                                                            
accredited institutions.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Senator Bunde  stated that other than  some junior colleges  and the                                                            
University  of Alaska, most colleges  require some demonstration  of                                                            
competency.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Senator Hoffman  asked if the $700,000 lease expense  is included in                                                            
the estimated $1.2 million savings of this legislation.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Jeans responded that  the $700,000 lease expense is not included                                                            
as  a savings  in any  fiscal  note,  as he  was uncertain  how  the                                                            
Department  of Administration  would proceed  in either terminating                                                             
the lease or locating other State programs in the space.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Hoffman  next  indicated  the  fiscal  note  dated  4/23/03                                                            
references  a savings  of $4,300,000  and  asked if  this amount  is                                                            
cumulative.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Jeans explained  that the ACS operations are funded  through the                                                            
foundation  funding  formula  and  because  the  students  would  be                                                            
expected  to enroll  elsewhere in  the State school  system and  the                                                            
funds would be  allocated to another district, the  fiscal note does                                                            
not report a savings from the discontinuance of ACS operations.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Senator Hoffman suggested  that if the only savings realized by this                                                            
legislation  is  from  the elimination   of the  ACS  summer  school                                                            
program, the regular ACS school program could continue.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Jeans affirmed, but  stressed that the Administration decided to                                                            
"get  of out of  that business  and  out of competition"  since  the                                                            
State has allowed local districts to operate statewide programs.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Senator Hoffman  asserted that competition creates  better services.                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Mr.  Jeans  reiterated   that  11  other  statewide  correspondence                                                             
programs  currently  exist.  He  stated  that  none  of  the  school                                                            
districts  operating these  programs developed  programs similar  to                                                            
ACS because  of existence of ACS.  He shared that several  districts                                                            
have  indicated  they  would  develop programs  similar  to  ACS  to                                                            
attract former ACS students.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Senator Hoffman  expressed support  for continuing the competition,                                                             
given that the costs would not change.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Bunde   noted  school  districts   that  are  experiencing                                                             
decreasing  enrollment and suggested  those districts could  attract                                                            
students  residing  within the  district  who are  currently  taking                                                            
correspondence.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Jeans agreed this was a "fair assumption".                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Hoffman  pointed  out this  would  be assuming  the  school                                                            
districts  in question  have  adequate  space, stressing  that  many                                                            
school buildings  are overcrowded.  He reminded  this was  addressed                                                            
the prior legislative session  with the passage of bonds to fund new                                                            
school  construction,  which  would  not be  completed  for  several                                                            
years. He  stated that  eliminating a correspondence  program  would                                                            
place a burden on the regular public school buildings.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MIKE JEFFERY  testified via  teleconference  from Barrow and  agreed                                                            
with Senator  Hoffman and  Senator Bunde's  comments to the  need to                                                            
continue  the  Alyeska  program.  He  told  of  his  three  children                                                            
enrolled in the  program, one of who would graduate  this spring. He                                                            
spoke of  the "track record"  and the significance  to families.  He                                                            
stressed  the  ACS provides  an  alternative  education  program  in                                                            
accordance  with the  federal  "No Child  Left Behind"  program.  He                                                            
pointed out the  ACS employs qualified teachers in  many fields that                                                            
many  smaller   schools  are  unable   to  obtain.  He  agreed   the                                                            
discontinuance  of the summer program  would save money,  but argued                                                            
this  could  be accomplished  without  eliminating  the  entire  ACS                                                            
program.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
JEANNE  FOY,  Teacher,  Alyeska  Central  School,  representing  the                                                            
Alyeska  Central School  Teachers Association,  testified in  Juneau                                                            
that she has heard reference  to lease payments of both $300,000 and                                                            
$700,000. She  suggested an alternative location with  a lower lease                                                            
cost could be investigated.  She read a statement into the record as                                                            
follows.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
     The Administration has stated that closing the school is a                                                                 
     policy decision. It just doesn't want the State to run a                                                                   
     correspondence program  anymore. The Department representatives                                                            
     have  also   testified  that  the  Department  fully   supports                                                            
     competition   among  school   districts  for  these   statewide                                                            
     distance delivery  programs. Although, I would mention that the                                                            
     fact  that  Galena  has  quite  a  large  home  school  support                                                            
     program,  did not prevent  the other ten  or so districts  from                                                            
     offering  their own home school support programs.  But yet, for                                                            
     them  to offer  a program  like ours,  we must  be eliminated,                                                             
      which creates an interesting definition of competition.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     The  yearlong extension  of the committee  substitute  for this                                                            
     bill,  would  give  the  school  the  ability  to  explore  the                                                            
     possibilities  of  becoming  a charter  school  sponsored by  a                                                            
     school  district.  If  that happens,  that  would  fulfill  the                                                            
     Administration's   goals  of not  wanting  to  operate  Alyeska                                                            
     Central School anymore  and would also continue to give parents                                                            
     another educational choice.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     Parents have been  very vocal about why they value ACS. To have                                                            
     a program  requires a certain economy of scale,  which requires                                                            
     that  the school remain  intact. The No  Child Left Behind  Act                                                            
     poses  a challenge to  the State because  small schools  cannot                                                            
     have  teachers  certified   in  every  subject  they  teach.  A                                                            
     centralized  correspondence  program makes  sense because  then                                                            
     the school has enough  resources to have certified teachers for                                                            
     every subject.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
     I  therefore  urge  the  Committee  to  support  the  committee                                                            
     substitute for HB 174.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Wilken asked  the number  of students  who would  continue                                                            
after July 1, 2003.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Foy  answered that  "quite a  few" students  would finish  their                                                            
course work  later in the  summer. She relayed  discussions  held by                                                            
the ACS  parents' organization  in identifying  the characteristics                                                             
the charter school  should have. She stated that the  first priority                                                            
was a year  round school, due to the  importance of the flexibility                                                             
this would  provide  particularly  to rural students.  She  exampled                                                            
trapping, fishing  seasons and road inaccessibility  as some reasons                                                            
why a standard nine-month program is unfeasible.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Bunde understood  the majority  of ACS  students reside  in                                                            
urban areas. He asked the number of "truly rural" students.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Foy estimated  45 to 50 of 800 full-time students.  She stressed                                                            
that a regular public school  must be of a significant size to offer                                                            
the same caliber of "rigorous" courses to these rural students.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Senator B. Stevens asked the student to teacher ratio.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Foy listed 80 students per one teacher.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CECILIA  MILLER,  Alyeska  Central  School  Education  Association,                                                             
testified   in  Juneau  that  the   teacher  to  student   ratio  is                                                            
approximately  one teacher to every 60 elementary  students, and one                                                            
teacher per subject for  150 to 200 students for secondary students.                                                            
She characterized  the ratio  at the secondary  level as similar  to                                                            
regular public schools.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Senator  B.  Stevens  asked  if  correspondence  is  done  over  the                                                            
Internet and the occurrence of communication with every student.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Miller  responded  she teaches  both on-line  and "paper-based"                                                             
courses and that  the programs are such that teachers  evaluate each                                                            
student's work about every  three weeks. She qualified that students                                                            
call  for   guidance,  noting  that   some  students  require   more                                                            
interaction.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Miller  expressed support  for the committee  substitute,  as an                                                            
additional year is critical  to allow for the program to transition.                                                            
She stressed  the importance of the  program to families  and listed                                                            
reasons for choosing ACS:  the program is accredited; the curriculum                                                            
meets  the   standards  established   for  the  Alaskan   graduation                                                            
competency  examination;  and  the  program is  mediated  by  highly                                                            
qualified teachers.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Miller remarked  that accreditation is important  for acceptance                                                            
into a selective  college. She stated  that students eliminated  for                                                            
lack  of  accreditation  is  not  disclosed   and  that  during  the                                                            
admissions  process "it  is easier to  get flagged  out than  to get                                                            
flagged in"  to a selective  college. She  also pointed out  a major                                                            
component  of accreditation  is  to  assist schools  to continually                                                             
improve.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Miller  shared that many parents  value the choice of  different                                                            
education  programs.  She spoke  to  the differences  between  "home                                                            
support" and  correspondence programs,  primarily that teachers  are                                                            
involved in the correspondence programs.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Miller  noted earlier  claims that the  ACS curriculum  would be                                                            
made available  to other  school districts.  She informed that  this                                                            
was done previously,  but discontinued  due to legal, integrity  and                                                            
educational reasons. She  explained the curriculum is copywrited and                                                            
the Department  is  researching the  legal implications.   She  also                                                            
emphasized  the necessity to ensure  that the students are  actually                                                            
performing  the work and  that a teacher  is evaluating a  student's                                                            
progress.  She  gave an  example  of a  test  designed  to be  taken                                                            
without the use of a calculator  and the compromise that would occur                                                            
if a student  used a calculator.  She then  stressed the value  that                                                            
parents place  on the presence of a qualified teacher  knowledgeable                                                            
about the curriculum.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Senator Bunde asked if  ACS paid for the recent travel of parents of                                                            
ACS students to Juneau.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Miller affirmed  and explained those parents are  members of the                                                            
advisory committee  and gather annually  to assist in making  policy                                                            
and program changes  to better serve the students.  She assured that                                                            
while  testifying before  the Legislature,  these  parents were  not                                                            
compensated by ACS.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Hoffman asked  if the  Association's  preference is  status                                                            
quo.                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Miller responded  this committee substitute represents  the best                                                            
compromise.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
KEVIN  SWEENEY,  Special  Assistant,  Office  of  the Commissioner,                                                             
Department of Education  and Early Development, spoke to the reasons                                                            
behind intent  to eliminate  Alyeska Central  School. He  understood                                                            
that Alaskan  voters want  a "scaled down  government". Although  at                                                            
one time, ACS  offered the only statewide  correspondence  education                                                            
program,  he pointed  out  that  choices  in education  have  "grown                                                            
tremendously"  in the past ten years, exampling charter  schools and                                                            
the expected  addition of  another 20 to 25  charter schools  in the                                                            
State within five years.  He furthered that as well as the statewide                                                            
correspondence  programs operated  by some  school districts  others                                                            
also  offer district-wide  correspondence  programs.  Therefore,  he                                                            
surmised,  many options are  available and  that the elimination  of                                                            
ACS  would  allow districts  to  "take  over  the education  of  our                                                            
children."                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Sweeney  corrected that the annual  lease for ACS facilities  is                                                            
$375,000.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Hoffman  asked if  the Administration's  position  is  that                                                            
Alaskans' intentions for  scaled down government includes education.                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Mr.  Sweeney  remarked  that no  one  wants to  reduce  funding  for                                                            
education;  however,  he opined  that  some programs  could  operate                                                            
without "any sever  interruption to people" and ACS  is one of those                                                            
programs. He disputed  that the State is the only  agency that could                                                            
successfully   operate  a  statewide   correspondence  program.   He                                                            
expressed confidence in the school districts to accomplish this.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
After hearing  no objection, Co-Chair Wilken ordered  CS HB 174(FIN)                                                            
am MOVED from  Committee with fiscal  note #1: ($1,170,300)  for the                                                            
Foundation  Program component;  and fiscal  note #2: $4,339,000  for                                                            
the Alyeska Central School  component. [No motion was made to report                                                            
the bill from Committee.]                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                

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