Education Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-7018

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION.

Vote Date:

3/25/2015

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

3/19/2015

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Representative Rojas

REASONS FOR BILL:

This bill establishes a definition for “alternative education”. Furthermore, it allows for districts to provide alternative education to students within existing boards of education, which provide alternative education within an existing school or establish a new school. It also seeks to provide oversight for alternative schools and define entrance and exit conditions.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Dianna R. Wentzell, State of Connecticut, Department of Education: The Department supports the notion of a proposed development of a definition for alternative schools and guidelines for provisions of these services. The Department has convened an alternative school committee since August 2014 which has met regularly to discuss issues. The committee's report is due to be presented to the State Board of Education in the near future. This bill reflects the work and goals of that committee. However, clarification is needed in Section1 (b) which requires alternative education programs to comply with certain statutory requirements. This may restrict some flexibility for alternative schools to retain certain students.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Edie Joseph & Cyd Oppenheimer, Connecticut Voices for Children: The speakers testified in support of this bill. They stated that this bill addresses an important aspect of our education system that currently lacks sufficient oversight and accountability. This bill takes four important steps to reform alternative schools: (1) defining alternative school programs, (2) defining entrance and exit requirements, (3) students right to access diverse courses and receive adequate time for instruction, and (4) requiring they have their own easily-accessible Strategic School Profile.

JoAnne Wilcox, Parent & Resident of New Haven: The parent testified in support of this bill. She recounts the conditions in which her son was expelled from New Haven public schools for 180 days and subsequently sent to an alternative school in New Haven. The conditions of this alternative school where her son was placed were extremely poor. She supports this bill before the committee because it builds structure where needed and gives teacher support to re-engage these under-served children.

John Tarka, Teacher, New Horizons Alternative High School: He testified in support of this bill because it would expand and solidify the support for alternative schools in Connecticut. He stated that he has been an educator in alternative schools for the past 13 years and has seen teachers struggle with the challenging setting of an alternative school. Alternative schools should be viewed in the same lens as traditional regular educational settings.

Maureen L. Bransfield, Principal, New Horizons Alternative High School: She stated that for decades alternative schools have been the underfunded, understaffed, and unreformed because of the outdated notions communities have regarding alternative environments. Furthermore, she is concerned by sections of this proposed bill that would require alternative schools to show improvement in areas which are not supported. Most students are way below grade level reading level by 3-4 years when they are placed in an alternative program and to measure them again by a peer cohort would be unrealistic.

Ray Rossomando, Connecticut Education Association: The CEA currently serves as a member on the Alternative Schools Task Force. He stated that the CEA supports the ongoing work of this group and thanks Representative Rojas for his work in bringing alternative education programs to the forefront of policy discussion. The CEA supports this bill as a first step in achieving the consistency, accountability, and control communities needed to reform alternative schools.

Leon Smith, Center for Children's Advocacy: He testified in support of this bill. He then stated his support for this bill for the following reasons: (1) it gives a definition for alternative education, (2) requires data and information on alternative education to be made public with the intent of oversight, (3) helps to ensure that alternative education provides quality experience that is comparable to traditional public schools, (4) and ensures that alternative education has defined entrance and exit requirements.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Connecticut Assocation of Boards of Education: The Association expresses its concern that if the bill is passed in its current form it may prevent successful Alternative Programs from being implemented. These programs are flexible because of the differing circumstances in which student needs are met. By specifically imposing the “length of school day provision” as stated in Section 10-16 it would preclude programs with intensive instruction offered in a more individualized manner over shorten periods of time.

Reported by: Joseph Paquette

Date: April 8, 2015