Day 101: A confetti cannon of unnecessary paperwork
The House Education Committee heard the complaint that the "parents' rights" bill didn't have enough education in it and introduced a new version that makes all classes opt-in.
Good morning, Alaska! It’s Day 101.
In this edition: The House Education Committee’s conservative majority brushed off some 11 hours of near-unanimous negative testimony on the governor’s “parents’ rights” bill with several superficial changes and one major one: That every single lesson in the classroom be first approved by a parent. It’d turn the entirety of the state’s public education system into an opt-in system, saddling schools with an administrative nightmare that seems designed at making it so the most amount of kids get the least amount of education. Meanwhile, the Senate is finalizing its budget with several big-ticket increases around education, child care and senior care.
Current mood: 🤬
Programming note: That “little something extra” I picked up from Press Club weekend has knocked me out, but it seems like I might be on the upswing. Either that or the House Education Committee is so maddening that I found the energy to write.
A confetti cannon of unnecessary paperwork
After closing public testimony on Monday without ever hearing the support for the governor’s “parents’ rights” bill they swore was out there, the House Education Committee’s conservative majority pushed ahead with a revised version of HB105 on Wednesday. It makes some superficial changes to the provisions opponents said will make the lives of LGBTQ students more difficult than they already are and goes a step further by making the lives of every single person involved in the public school system—teachers, administrators, students and parents—a whole lot more complicated.
Instead of only requiring parents’ written permission for teachers to mention sex and gender identity in the classroom, the new version of HB 105 would require written parental permission for every single lesson taught in the classroom. Yep, every bit of schooling would become opt-in and without that permission, students would be held out of basic lessons on algebra, biology and history.
It seems the one bit of criticism the committee heard was that the gender identity and sex education-focused legislation had very little education in it.
If the bill somehow becomes law, schools would be saddled with an administrative nightmare—a “confetti cannon of unnecessary paperwork,” as an observer put it so well in a late-night text to me. It also ought to raise questions about families who might simply miss the permission slips—I was definitely guilty of letting a permission slip or three languish in the bottom of my backpack—or face language barriers.
“It’s just not practical,” Lon Garrison, director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, told the Alaska Beacon about the new bill. “Right now, the curriculum is approved by the school board; it’s available for everybody to review. But there’s also additional materials that teachers can bring in as long as it’s aligned with the curriculum. And so every time that would happen, theoretically, if you read this bill, you’d have to get permission to do that.”
As for the superficial changes, the new version no longer dictates who can use what bathrooms but, instead, requires every school to provide single-person bathrooms. Instead of requiring parental permission to change a student’s pronouns, parents would provide a list of acceptable pronouns (a distinction without a difference).
Bethel Democratic Rep. CJ McCormick, the Legislature’s youngest lawmaker, didn’t mince his words when assessing the bill, calling the bill an “incredibly dark contrast” to the positive legislation heard earlier in the day. He said much of the concerns about the bill focused on what it’d do to the high rate of suicide among Alaska’s youth.
“I do not believe enough has been changed with this bill to make me feel we are not still continuing down that pathway. Moreover, I feel like this bill strips our state’s young people of the ability to make choices for themselves and define them who they are, and therefore denies them the ability to live with dignity,” he said. “The breadth of testimony we heard was in opposition to this bill. They outlined exactly what their issues were, and those issues still remain in this bill. … This bill makes lives harder for people, and I can tell you as a kid who graduated in 2015 from rural Alaska life is very hard. I ran to make life easier for those kids. This bill does not do that. I can never support something like this.”
It frankly didn’t seem like many of the conservatives were particularly thrilled with how the legislation landed, either, with many saying the usual platitudes about it not being perfect—conceding that they really didn’t know if it’d make things better or worse—or it just being a conversation starter.
Rep. Mike Prax, R-North Pole, commented that the “original mistake” was states mandating schooling in the first place, a practice that started in Massachusetts in 1853. While also calling out the state’s mandatory reporting laws that require teachers and other officials who suspect child abuse or neglect to report it, Prax talked about the importance of returning to the “morality” of parents having control over how a child is raised “even if they make mistakes” and said this legislation returns to that “subservient attitude to parents.”
The bill was approved and advanced on a 4-3 vote. Republican Reps. Ruffridge, Prax, Jamie Allard and Tom “My Children Belong to Me” McKay voted in favor of the legislation. Non-Republican Reps. McCormick, Andi Story and Rebecca Himschoot voted against the legislation. It heads next to the deeply conservative House Judiciary Committee.
Why it matters: If you wanted to design a system where the greatest number of kids get the least amount of education, you couldn’t do much better than this bill.
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