House Finance takes up charter school education bill

JUNEAU — The House Finance Committee on Tuesday continued its discussion of Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill, focusing on the charter schools.

Many committee members worried that HB 278 may unintentionally create new school districts operated by the state if a charter is denied by a local school district.

Co-chairman Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said it was a very unlikely scenario that his committee plans changing into an impossible scenario.

“It’s being overblown. But if it needs to be tightened down, we can do that,” Stoltze said.

Both he and Education Commissioner Mike Hanley said it was a situation local school districts would want to avoid because it would mean fewer students on their rolls.

Fewer students would equate to less funding for school districts from both state and federal sources.

Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, reminded Hanley he had said Monday that if the appeal process led to a new school district, it would need significant financial backing.

“What exactly would a charter school need to become its own school district?” Munoz said.

Hanley replied: “They would be required to meet all the needs of the students by themselves.”

Small districts are vulnerable in this regard, and some have to contract with larger districts for services, he said.

A possible point of further discussion for the committee will be looking at what happens when a local school district denies a charter to a school, but the school wins the charter on appeal from the state Board of Education.

The committee became bogged down on the issue of transporting charter school students.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said the state is paying for the transportation of all public school students, yet some districts are not transporting all their school children.

She said she had concerns about equity, but said the terms of the bill allow districts equity if it “fits into their plan.”

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