Alaska Passes Bill Allowing Parents to Withdraw Kids from Standardized Tests, Sex Ed

Published September 20, 2016

A bill allowing parents to opt their children out of standardized testing and other public school programs they object to has become law in Alaska.

House Bill 156 states it is “a parent’s right to direct the education of the parent’s child.” The bill recognizes “the authority of a parent” to withdraw his or her child from a standards-based assessment or test required by the state, and it allows “a parent to object to and withdraw the child from an activity, class, or program.”

HB 156 also requires local school boards to notify parents “not less than two weeks before any activity, class, or program that includes content involving human reproduction or sexual matters is provided to a child” and to enable parents to review material before it is taught to their children.

The bill requires a person teaching sex education to have a teacher certificate or be supervised by someone who does, and any teaching materials they use must have been previously approved by the school board.

In April, the Alaska House passed HB 156 in a 22–17 vote, and the Senate passed it by a vote of 15–5. Gov. Bill Walker (I) neither signed nor vetoed the bill, and HB 156 became law without his signature on July 28. It will go into effect on October 28.

‘Intense Opposition by Planned Parenthood’

State Rep. Wes Keller (R-Wasilla) first introduced HB 156 in March 2015, and he reintroduced it in March 2016. Keller says Planned Parenthood made it very difficult for him to get support for his bill.

“I had to work very hard, harder than any bill I’ve ever worked on,” Keller said. “The reason is because of the intense opposition by Planned Parenthood. The Planned Parenthood group is claiming they got 4,800 people to call the governor to encourage him to veto the bill, and that kind of opposition has an impact.”

Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization that provides free and reduced cost reproductive health services, including abortions, and receives approximately $500 million per year in government funding. The organization also provides sex education curricula and sometimes contracts with school districts to teach sex ed. Planned Parenthood teaches sex education to more than 2,000 Alaska children, reports.

“The bill died a total death three times on the floor because we lost by one vote,” Keller said. “And then I was able to get another vote each time, and we’d do another reconsideration, and then we’d lose somebody else, and so it was the fourth and final last chance we had that we finally got the one vote we needed to pull it across the line. It was a very, very difficult bill, and it was largely due to the Planned Parenthood resistance.”

Standardized Testing Moratorium

The law also cancels standardized testing in Alaska schools until 2020, at which time students will take a new test developed with input from parents, teachers, and education experts.

Keller says some people were concerned the federal government would take away funding if Alaska didn’t participate in standardized testing.

“As far as the testing element is concerned, and this is a generalization, we never got any real pushback on that,” Keller said. “There was resistance from our own Department of Education, who didn’t want to lose the federal money, but because the federal government would not get specific and say, ‘You’re going to lose it if you do this,’ we went ahead and did it anyway and put a caveat in there that if they specifically say they’re going to take the money, then the bill won’t have an effect. We’re betting on the fact that they will give the break in the high-stakes testing like they did in California.”

Though the law cancels standardized testing until local districts develop a new, statewide testing system, Keller says the provision allowing parents to opt their kids out of standardized tests “is there forever.”

Protecting Parents’ Rights

Shane Vander Hart, editor of Truth in American Education, says more lawmakers should protect parents’ rights. 

“Legislators can’t assume parental rights will be respected,” Vander Hart said. “They need to take action now to ensure parental rights will be protected, and that will probably mean working to amend state constitutions with language that recognizes the state doesn’t grant parental rights [and that] they need to be protected.”

David Boyle, executive director of the Alaska Policy Forum, says HB 156 grants parents more control over education.

“The legislation actually gives parents a lot more rights,” Boyle said. “It really empowers parents to do what they basically want to do as far as opting out of anything—any classes, any standardized instruction—and without students being penalized for being absent. The parent can withdraw the child from any activity or classroom program they don’t agree with.”

Keller says he’s “always been a champion for parental control.”

“[This bill] comes from my drive to have parental rights and freedom for family, of wanting parental responsibility for their own kids,” Keller said.

Michael McGrady ([email protected]) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.