Politics

Effort to tighten restrictions on sex ed in Alaska schools added as amendment to different bill

A contentious bill that would ban Planned Parenthood from teaching sex education in schools died earlier this week in a state House committee, as abortion opponents had feared, with the committee chairman saying the measure violated the Bill of Rights.

But the sex ed bill's sponsor, Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, on Wednesday got a stripped-down version of his legislation into a different education bill, House Bill 156, which deals with federal education mandates and academic performance measures.

A version of HB 156 that passed the Senate Education Committee Wednesday evening included a provision requiring classes on sex education to be taught by a person with a valid teacher license. Dunleavy introduced the amendment and chairs the committee.

"It does not block any group or any subgroup," Dunleavy said. "What it basically says is the teaching of sex ed will be done by a teacher with a Type-A certificate."

The amendment would also require school boards to approve any curriculum, literature or materials related to sex education, human reproduction education or human sexuality education. Another change offered by Dunleavy says parents can opt out of tests, activities and programs, and the amendment would also require schools to give parents two-weeks notice of sex ed courses or activities.

The Senate committee passed the bill 3-1. Dunleavy, Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, voted yes. Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, voted no.

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Northwest, Jessica Cler, said by phone Wednesday night that the organization was still evaluating Dunleavy's amendments.

"It's clear this is a different method, same results," Cler said.

She added: "It certainly looks like it sets up additional barriers and makes it even harder for youth to get access to sexual health education in the state of Alaska."

The amendments to HB 156 reflected a scaled-back version of Dunleavy's original bill, Senate Bill 89, which would have banned "abortion services providers" from teaching anything in public schools, a measure widely perceived as targeting Planned Parenthood. That bill was voted down in a House Health and Social Services Committee Tuesday night.

Chairman Paul Seaton, R-Homer; Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage; Neal Foster, D-Nome; Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak; and Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, voted no on the legislation. Reps. Liz Vazquez, R-Anchorage, and David Talerico, R-Healy, voted yes.

"I think the bill reaches into the problematic area of saying that people that associate on their own time doing something else cannot be in a public school is very problematic," Seaton said before casting his vote, adding that "freedom of speech, freedom of association are broadly implicated."

A legislative attorney had raised similar concerns with the bill in a legal memo.

Seaton also said he was concerned about the public health effects of the bill, based on data reviewed by his committee.

HB 156 is sponsored by Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla. It aims to drop a state Department of Education rule that its system for tracking school and student performance has to meet federal requirements. Keller says the legislation is intended to reject federal mandates — which are often tied to federal funds — and give more local control over schools.

Keller's bill also says the state can't force school districts to conduct statewide testing and would require state education authorities to work directly with school districts on a statewide testing regime. In his sponsor statement, Keller criticized the system as a federal " 'rubber-stamp' of education policy."

Separately, the state Department of Revenue said Keller's bill could have a sizeable financial impact. Removing the state's mandate to meet federal requirements could jeopardize $99.3 million in federal education funding, a fiscal analysis found, though Keller on Wednesday called that estimate "unrealistic."

Keller's bill passed the House in a 22-17 vote on Sunday. Because of Dunleavy's amendments on the Senate side, the legislation will have to go back to the House for another vote.

Tegan Hanlon contributed to this story.

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