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Parnell education bill critiqued in joint hearing

Posted: February 4, 2014 - 2:40am

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill drew bipartisan criticism during a joint hearing of the House and Senate Education committees Monday.

Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, and Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, both questioned the bill’s section on charter schools.

Among the concerns was whether school districts would be forced to fund a charter school if they chose not to open it but the Alaska State Board of Education approved the school.

They also questioned the bill’s funding, asking if a properly funded charter school would mean less funding for a traditional school in the district. “This will take funds away from traditional schools,” Wilson said, speaking to Alaska’s education commissioner, Mike Hanley.

Hanley acknowledged both concerns as legitimate, though he said he couldn’t envision circumstance where a charter school would be forced on a district.

He said some districts had been using only the basic student allocation, or per-pupil funding formula, in calculating charter school funding. The governor’s bill would require districts to also take into the calculation state aid for special needs students, construction, vocational instruction and transportation.

Hanley said many of the 27 charter schools in Alaska have been treated unfairly by being denied these extra funds which are then used for a district’s traditional schools.

“So if you take it that way, it is a shifting of funds,” Hanley said.

As to the issue of the education commissioner approving a charter over a local district’s denial, Drummond asked if the state would handle funding for such a charter school or would a local district which did not approve the creation of a charter school in the first place.

Under the Parnell bill, a school district must state in written form why a charter was denied and cite state and or federal law for the denial.

“I can’t see myself denying a decision by a school board,” Hanley said. He added he could not see himself or the state forcing a charter school upon a district if that district has a legitimate reason for denying a charter.

Drummond pressed the question noting that a district may not approve a charter due to budget concerns rather than legal concerns.

The district “would still have to fund it” under that circumstance, Hanley said.

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