Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205
03/01/2006 01:30 PM HEALTH, EDUCATION & SOCIAL SERVICES
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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SB 281-SCHOOL DIST. ENROLLMENT SHARING/CORRESPONDENCE CHAIR DYSON announced SB 281 to be up for consideration. As the sponsor, he invited Mr. Keller to present the bill. 1:44:11 PM WES KELLER, Staff to Senator Fred Dyson, Alaska State Legislature, explained that SB 281 authorizes school districts to design, promote and administer statewide distance-learning programs; it makes explicit what is implied, since no existing law prohibits a school district from enrolling students from any area of Alaska; it allows contractual agreements - already allowed in statute - between school districts; and it adds a new definition of correspondence programs, currently defined in regulation only, by defining a program in terms of whether it takes on the daily, routine care of children. He requested that the Senate Finance Committee deal with financial implications, noting he'd asked the Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) to assist with wording. Mr. Keller said state funding would follow the student to the new district, as would federal impact aid; however, local contributions would not, maintaining the status quo. CHAIR DYSON moved to adopt the proposed CS, Version F[24- LS1430\F, Mischel, 2/15/06] as the working document. Without objection, Version F was before the committee. MR. KELLER pointed out that SB 281 presses one question: How will district costs be factored into the funding formula for non-correspondence students that enroll in another district if it happens more often because of this legislation? Suggesting it's an issue for the Senate Finance Committee, he added, "I think answering this question in open discussion will clarify things and be helpful to us as far as legislative intent." He said SB 281 doesn't propose or promote any particular program, doesn't impose mandates and introduces no new legislative intent. He asserted that it elevates the importance of district boundary lines because it's a statement of confidence in local school districts. He informed members that technology - which makes the impacts of distance disappear - drives SB 281. Relating personal background, Mr. Keller said he has new hope for Alaska's K-12 education. He discussed a "virtual box" designed for a child, based on the child's needs and current level, an individual learning plan, state standards and so forth; this would facilitate personal teacher-student and teacher-teacher communication never before available. Mr. Keller elaborated, suggesting security measures already exist, for example, and saying small communities can take advantage of expertise from people outside the community. He expressed enthusiasm for education technology and highlighted the following myths: technology removes teachers from the equation; technology usage only occurs between teachers and students, not among students; distance technology is primarily for correspondence schools or home schooling; teachers need deep technological knowledge to be effective; kids don't have the ability to take care of technological hardware such as laptops; technology for education is expensive, with no cost savings; and accurate predictions can not be made about future technology and software. Mr. Keller concluded by citing a 2003 census that found three out of four Alaskan families have computers - which puts Alaska near the top - and that 68.5 percent of Alaskans use the Internet. 2:00:11 PM SENATOR ELTON asked whether protections should be included to keep one school district from losing students to another, causing the school to fall below the minimum number of students. MR. KELLER suggested that was for legislators to answer. He offered his opinion, however, that if a local school district had the best situation to attract its own students with its own programs, then nothing had to be done. SENATOR ELTON asked whether Section 1 allowed something new to happen so one district could create a charter school in another district. MR. KELLER agreed it wasn't happening already, but said he wasn't sure it was illegal. SENATOR ELTON expressed interest in having the committee discuss it, since it would be a significant shift and he didn't understand all the ramifications. SENATOR OLSON asked about the difference between Version G, the original bill, and Version F. 2:02:32 PM MR. KELLER explained that the first version didn't specify that districts could make contractual agreements with each other. In many remote locations, the school building is the center for culture in the community. A school that wasn't happy with its teachers that come and go from the community might be eager to participate in a program offered by another district and yet still use the building. This would allow such agreements. CHAIR DYSON added an example: Hope, a small community south of his district, has just 10 students, but a nice school built for 60. If the number fell below the threshold of 10, the local district or school could contract with the Anchorage or Kenai school district to have a distance-delivery charter school there, using the building and providing a teacher's aide as a monitor and proctor in the classroom and/or providing support for students with disabilities. Some districts conduct their administration from Anchorage already, and Chair Dyson suggested this would allow small schools and districts to take advantage of another district's economies of scale or to work collaboratively. He highlighted the problem of a small high school trying to provide a variety of classes and experiences to students. A virtual school could combine three students in one village who wanted to learn Russian, aviation or medical technology, for example, with dozens of other students in schools throughout the area or the state; it would be taught by highly qualified teachers from another locale. Chair Dyson related his understanding that all the bill's language is permissive. MR. KELLER requested that the legislation be moved forward unless some questions couldn't be answered. Regarding Senator Elton's earlier question, he said charter schools have another "layer": the state board, which can approve or disapprove a decision that has been made at the local district level. CHAIR DYSON opened public testimony. 2:07:57 PM EDDY JEANS, Director, School Finance, Department of Education and Early Development, informed members that DEED hadn't taken a position on the bill yet, mainly because of lack of opportunity for feedback from the state Board of Education and Early Development. Concurring that many items in the bill are in statute, he noted, for example, that AS 14.14.110 has the title "Cooperation with other districts." He conjectured that some concerns of the state board might relate to Section 1, which allows a district to create a charter school to operate in another school district, and to Section 3, which allows a local school board to establish a school in another district. Mr. Jeans pointed out that children cross boundaries now, with funding going to the district where the children actually attend school. He gave examples. In response to Chair Dyson, he clarified that under Section 1, subsection (d), it appears a local school board could establish a charter school outside the district boundaries with approval of the state board, but without consent of the other school board - a substantial change. He surmised, at minimum, that the state board would want both local school boards to be a party to such a charter. 2:12:20 PM MR. JEANS, in further response, said he believes the state board will meet March 17; he covers current legislation during such meetings and will ensure this is before the board. In response to Senator Olson regarding the bill's necessity, Mr. Jeans mentioned that at least the existing cooperation component between districts is clearly allowed by statute. In further response, he explained that he would present the bill to the state board to receive feedback, but would also point out that, for this particular section, current statute already addresses the cooperative nature between districts. 2:14:41 PM CHAIR DYSON asked Mr. Jeans whether he believes the present law allows a district "on invitation, with agreement" to establish a new charter school in another district. MR. JEANS answered that it hadn't happened yet, other than with the Delta Cyber School, which was approved as a charter school, serves students statewide via the Internet and is funded as a correspondence program. CHAIR DYSON indicated Version F differs from current law in allowing a charter school to operate specifically within another district. He proposed getting a legal opinion as to whether additional authorization is needed beyond existing statute. MR. JEANS, in response to Senator Elton, said he reads Section 3, paragraph (1), to say a district can establish a brick-and-mortar school in another district without the second district's approval. CHAIR DYSON surmised the drafter thought the approval of the state board provided a safeguard. He asked about options if a recalcitrant school district at some point isn't doing what is necessary. SENATOR ELTON remarked that it's an interesting point, but said he reads Section 1 as being different from Section 3. Section 1 provides that the state board would be involved in decisions, but Section 3 is just a local response. MR. JEANS noted that Section 1 amends the charter school legislation, which already has a state board approval component. Section 3 amends AS 14.14, adding a new subsection that deals with operations of districts. MR. KELLER added that he couldn't imagine a school district going out and building a school in a rural area. He reported that one big concern he has heard from districts is administration. Although he could see safeguards so students aren't viewed as revenue sources, he suggested this is more of an opportunity to "put sizes and needs together, rather than trying to take over another district." 2:21:49 PM CHAIR DYSON asked about financial implications. MR. JEANS answered that DEED hadn't analyzed it for financial impact. Regarding the issue raised by Mr. Keller about cost differentials and the dollars following the students, Mr. Jeans offered the belief that it's being achieved already by providing funding to the schools and districts that are serving the children. In further response, he said there may not be any cost implications. 2:23:56 PM CARL ROSE, Executive Director, Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB), testified that AASB has no formal position on the bill because all the implications aren't known. Addressing possibilities, he pointed out that those wanting to do a charter school might seek other sponsors; thus the bill could be far- reaching. Mr. Rose offered his understanding that the bill intends to restate the latitude already possessed by districts. As for financial implications, he pondered whether going to a district with another cost differential might affect costs. 2:27:08 PM LEE YOUNG, Principal, Connections, Kenai Peninsula Borough Schools, informed members that Connections is a home school program. He requested clarification as to whether the bill's focus is distance delivery, for remote students especially, or is to perhaps shape core school districts. He predicted financial benefits if school districts can go outside their boundaries; he also believes his program is better off because of the competition. Mr. Young suggested if there were a way to rate districts for doing a good job, then perhaps charter schools wouldn't be allowed to set up new brick-and-mortar schools. He asked about ways to craft the legislation to avoid having new brick-and-mortar schools draw students from the old school programs, thereby watering them down. He asked members to continue to analyze this and do good work. CHAIR DYSON asked whether anyone else wished to testify. 2:30:23 PM CHAIR DYSON announced SB 281 would be held over.