Education

Alaska’s New School Law Has Planned Parenthood Furious

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Blake Neff Reporter
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Alaska implemented a broad new education law that has Planned Parenthood hopping mad while making Common Core foes happy.

HB 156 was passed back in May, but sat on the desk of independent Gov. Bill Walker while he considered whether to veto it. Finally, on Thursday, Walker allowed the bill to become law without signing it, saying the bill was a “very close call” for him.

The law influences several different aspects of schooling in Alaska, but of particular note is its provisions on sex education and standardized tests. The law states that sex education may only be taught by a certified teacher, or by an outside instructor approved by the local school board. One major goal of the provision is to keep teachers from bringing in representatives of Planned Parenthood to provide sex education lessons.

The provision was backed by Alaska Sen. Mike Dunleavy, who previously pushed a bill that would have explicitly banned any abortion provider from providing sex education in public schools. That bill failed to pass, but Dunleavy managed to insert the provision into HB 156 as an amendment, where it was then modified into the form that became law this week.

Dunleavy says the law empowers parents by giving elected school boards greater influence on sex ed.

The law has made Planned Parenthood furious.

“HB 156 is a crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education in Alaska, and [Gov. Walker’s] lack of action today has … elevated sex ed to the most scrutinized subject in the state, ” Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands spokeswoman Katie Rogers told Juneau Empire. In a separate statement, Planned Parenthood described the law as a “crushing blow” to comprehensive sex education.

A totally separate component of the bill is intended to appease foes of Common Core. Alaska never officially adopted Common Core, but it’s used by the Anchorage School District, the state’s largest by far, and critics claim the official Alaska State Standards contain almost identical content.

HB 156 doesn’t do anything to change the state’s academic standards, but it does allow parents to opt their children out of state standardized tests without penalty, which has been a recurring form of protest against Common Core around the country. The bill also restricts the state from mandating the use of a new statewide standardized test through 2018, unless the state is compelled to administer it by a threatened loss of federal funding. Current federal law requires states to administer standardized tests in certain subjects and certain grades, but the government has sent mixed signals about how aggressively it would enforce such a requirement.

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