Legislature(2015 - 2016)

2016-11-07 House Journal

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2016-11-07                     House Journal                      Page 3212
HB 156                                                                                                                        
The following letter dated July 28, 2016, was received:                                                                         
"Dear Speaker Chenault:                                                                                                         
Under the authority of Article II, Section 17, Constitution of the State                                                        
of Alaska, I have let the following bill become law without signature:                                                          

2016-11-07                     House Journal                      Page 3213
     SENATE CS FOR CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO.                                                                                        
     156(FIN)(efd fld H)                                                                                                        
     "An Act relating to a parent's right to direct the education of a                                                          
     child; relating to the duties of the state Board of Education and                                                          
     Early Development, the Department of Education and Early                                                                   
     Development, school boards, and school districts; relating to                                                              
     public school curriculum and assessments; relating to compliance                                                           
     with federal education laws; relating to public school                                                                     
     accountability; relating to a statewide assessment plan and review                                                         
     of education laws and regulations; repealing the minimum                                                                   
     expenditure for instruction for school districts; relating to sex                                                          
     education, human reproduction education, and human sexuality                                                               
     education; relating to suicide awareness and prevention training;                                                          
     relating to contracts for student assessments; relating to                                                                 
     questionnaires and surveys administered in public schools;                                                                 
     relating to physical examinations for teachers."                                                                           
     Chapter No. 54, SLA 2016                                                                                                   
     Effective Date:  October 26, 2016                                                                                          
After much thought and input from many perspectives, I have decided                                                             
to allow SCS CSHB 156(FIN)(EFD FLD H) to become law without                                                                     
signature. I thank all for their valuable input. In making my decision, I                                                       
believe some of the bill's provisions have been the subject of                                                                  
misunderstanding and confusion. This is understandable for a complex                                                            
subject, but I must focus on the actual effect of the bill in making my                                                         
The bill addresses a number of education issues, including district                                                             
responsibilities as to budgets, required training, assessments, and                                                             
parental rights with regard to a child's education. The bill may not be                                                         
perfect, but as a whole, I believe the potential advantages to school                                                           
districts due to the bill should be given the chance to work. Some of                                                           
the bill's provisions may have uncertain impacts, but the                                                                       
Administration and the Legislature are committed to education and                                                               
will monitor the bill's effectiveness in practice. Further, my                                                                  
Administration will work with the federal government towards                                                                    
flexibility in testing requirements within the bounds of the law.                                                               

2016-11-07                     House Journal                      Page 3214
Let me highlight some areas of the bill that have been the subject of                                                           
much discussion.                                                                                                                
This bill repeals AS 14.17.520, a statute that is commonly referred to                                                          
as the "70/30 requirement." In short, this statute requires each school                                                         
district to spend a minimum of 70 percent of its school operating                                                               
expenditures on the "instructional component" of its budget. A school                                                           
district that fails to meet this goal must apply to the state Board of                                                          
Education and Early Development for a waiver. I have no doubt this                                                              
provision was enacted with the best of intentions, but in practice it has                                                       
become burdensome, particularly for rural school districts whose high                                                           
maintenance and operations costs have historically exceeded the 70                                                              
percent threshold. Waivers are routinely granted, yet the process adds                                                          
an unnecessary burden for school districts and the State Board of                                                               
Education and Early Development. Additionally, the mechanical focus                                                             
on the ratio spending has not been proven to improve our educational                                                            
outcomes and detracts from what our schools do best - educating                                                                 
Further, the bill would modify some training requirements for school                                                            
staff, including training on sexual abuse and assault, crisis response,                                                         
alcohol or drug-related disabilities and recognition and reporting of                                                           
child abuse and neglect. Adjusting the training schedule requirements                                                           
from individual schools to the district as a whole would allow each                                                             
district to better focus its training where needed. This change would                                                           
lessen the logistical challenges of tracking training at a school level,                                                        
yet would keep in place important training in areas critical to our                                                             
children's health and safety. As a further benefit of the bill and in light                                                     
of the importance of this issue in the state, more students will get the                                                        
benefit of suicide awareness and prevention training. Under sec. 20,                                                            
teachers, administrators, counselors, and specialists providing services                                                        
to students in any grade (not just in grades 7 through 12) will be                                                              
required to receive the training.                                                                                               
Next, I will address two particularly controversial provisions in the                                                           
First, the bill would appear to limit the ability of the Department of                                                          
Education and Early Development (Department) to require a school or                                                             

2016-11-07                     House Journal                      Page 3215
district to administer a statewide standards-based assessment for the                                                           
next two school years. Further, the Department would be required to                                                             
review and report to the Legislature on a final plan for developing and                                                         
creating statewide assessments and for recommended law changes.                                                                 
Some have claimed that these provisions would result in a loss of                                                               
federal funds. However, that outcome is not certain and would be                                                                
preceded by notice from the United States Department of Education                                                               
(USED). The bill also deletes some references to federal law in the                                                             
school and district accountability statutes, but the Department of Law                                                          
has noted that removal of those references does not lead to the                                                                 
conclusion that noncompliance with federal law would be intended or                                                             
required by the bill. I am optimistic that the bill's assessment                                                                
provisions will encourage cooperation with the USED in order to                                                                 
streamline and focus statewide assessments.                                                                                     
The bill also would ease procurement requirements for statewide                                                                 
testing by exempting assessment contracts of the Department from the                                                            
State procurement code. While I fully support the financial protections                                                         
of our State procurement code, I recognize that in some circumstances                                                           
more flexibility is required to allow a timely and responsible                                                                  
procurement best suited to the agency's needs.                                                                                  
Next, I turn to the provisions on parental rights. The bill expands a                                                           
parent's right to withdraw a child from standards-based testing or an                                                           
activity, class, or program. Yet the bill also puts some sidebars on                                                            
these provisions to assure that a child is not absent from activities                                                           
categorically. This policy may increase parental involvement in a                                                               
child's education. Most controversial, and in my view misunderstood,                                                            
are provisions related to the teaching of a class or program in sex                                                             
education, human reproduction, or human sexuality. The attention on                                                             
these provisions highlights their importance and sensitivity. The bill                                                          
would not prevent the teaching of these subjects, but it would require                                                          
that those who do so be approved by the district's school board and                                                             
have credentials available for review. Further, curriculum, literature,                                                         
or materials on sex education, human reproduction, or human                                                                     
sexuality would need to be approved by the district school board and                                                            
be available for parental review. Some feel these provisions will                                                               
encourage parental involvement and foster helpful discussions                                                                   
between parents and their children. I, too, believe that the transparency                                                       
and involvement offered by the bill will be beneficial. I have heard                                                            

2016-11-07                     House Journal                      Page 3216
concerns that important information on these sensitive topics will be                                                           
withheld, but the bill does not compel that result. Instead, the bill's                                                         
provisions recognize the need for thoughtful and knowledgeable                                                                  
instruction on these subjects. Indeed, these provisions appear not to be                                                        
a significant departure from current school district practice.                                                                  
Last, I note that the failure of the immediate effective date provisions                                                        
causes a number of technical issues with the bill, but that those issues                                                        
would not appear to have a significant legal effect.                                                                            
For the reasons described above, I have not signed SCS CSHB
156(FIN)(EFD FLD H) but have allowed it to become law without my                                                                
Bill Walker