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Panel questions charter student transit

Posted: March 10, 2014 - 11:07pm
Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, center, speaks with House Education Committee Co-Chairs Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, right, and Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, while working on House Bill 278 dealing with education funding on Monday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, center, speaks with House Education Committee Co-Chairs Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, right, and Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, while working on House Bill 278 dealing with education funding on Monday.

JUNEAU — A provision in Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill that provides for transportation for charter school students raised questions Monday in the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage and a committee member, grilled representatives from the state education department on where funds for transporting charter school students would come from.

“I think this opens a can of worms,” Gardner said. “What we are really doing is siphoning funds from the school district’s transportation funds.”

Education Commissioner Mike Hanley said the bill is trying to guarantee some form of transportation for charter school students. He said the provision gives funds to local districts to provide the transit.

“Without some form of transportation funding, schools are not open to all students. I understand that,” Gardner said. “But, there’s a hit here when you take it from somewhere else.”

She noted that Senate Bill 208 doesn’t call for the transportation of alternative school students.

Susan McCauley, director of teaching and learning support for the education department, said charter schools and alternative schools were structured differently.

Gardner said alternative students were still not being transported to their sites by many districts even though the state provides the districts with transportation funds, as it does for charter school students.

Hanley told the committee that transportation funds are provided to local districts through block grants and that his office does not monitor how they are used.

SB 208, among other things, calls for charter schools to have access to transportation, special-needs and vocational funding that the state provides to a local district for each pupil.

The bill allows a charter school to appeal to the education commissioner if its charter is denied by a local school board.

Senate Education Committee Chair Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, questioned the appeals process as written in the governor’s bill.

“It just seems unrealistic to me to force a charter school on a district,” Stevens said.

The bill remains in committee.

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