JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed what he calls a parental rights bill that would require written permission from a parent when a child asks to change the name or pronoun they use at school as part of a package he says is aimed at broadening the conversation around public education.
The Republican also proposed cash payments for teachers as a way to address recruitment and retention concerns, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
The Democratic chair of the Senate Education Committee and members of the House’s largely Democratic minority said the parental rights measure is divisive and a distraction from their priorities: school funding and finding ways to attract and keep teachers. The bill in the Senate was not referred to the education committee.
Other elements of Dunleavy’s bill include prohibiting teaching sex education before fourth grade, requiring written parental permission for children to participate in sex education after fourth grade and requiring policies by local districts that would have children use locker rooms and restrooms according to their “biological sex” or provide for single-occupant facilities.
“There should never be a case where a parent sends their kid to school, and the child comes back having discussions about things they learned in school that may be a sensitive issue or an affront to a parent’s values,” Dunleavy told a news conference Tuesday in Anchorage.
House Education Committee Co-Chair Jamie Allard, a Republican, called Dunleavy’s education proposals “outstanding.”
An existing state law lets parents opt their children out of sex education classes — a measure Dunleavy championed when he was a state senator. Allard said that’s not enough.
Members of the Anchorage School Board, who represent Alaska’s largest district, said the parental rights proposal goes against the existing district policy, which lets students determine the name and pronouns by which they would like to be addressed without parental involvement. District policy also says students “are not required to use sex-segregated facilities that are inconsistent with their gender identity.”
Officials in the state’s second-largest school district, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough district, last year banned transgender students from restrooms that match their gender identity.
Some lawmakers suggested the teacher bonuses proposed by Dunleavy could lessen the urgency for a school funding increase. But it doesn’t address a broader problem, said Tom Klaameyer, president of NEA-Alaska, a major teachers union.
“Yes, we have a teacher recruitment and retention problem, but we have a bus driver recruitment and retention problem, we have a superintendent recruitment and retention problem. Principals, administrators, clerical, classroom aides, paraprofessionals, nutrition specialists,” he said. He is advocating for an increase in the school funding formula.
Dunleavy is proposing bonuses ranging from $5,000 per teacher for the state’s urban districts to $15,000 for the state’s most rural districts, which would be distributed once a year, at the end of the coming three school years. Dunleavy said the goal would be to study the impacts of the bonuses at the end of that period.