Opt Out Bill Could Cost Alaska $97 Million in Federal School Funding

Senate Bill 89 would eliminate sanctions on parents removing their children from school if they object to standardized testing or programming related to sexual health.
Senate Bill 89 would eliminate sanctions on parents removing their children from school if they object to standardized testing or programming related to sexual health.

The Legislature has advanced a contentious education bill that would allow parents to opt out of standardized tests and certain school curricula.

Download Audio

Senate Bill 89 aims to increase the authority of parents in directing a child’s education within Alaska schools. The measure allows parents to opt their children out of standardized tests, and educational programming dealing with sexual health.

“Any type of questionnaire, we believe, the school district should get permission from parents before they survey their child,” said Wasilla Republican Mike Dunleavy, the bill’s main sponsor. “It’s our contention that parents should be informed so that they make informed decisions.”

The measure also includes provisions limiting what kinds of health-care providers can work with school districts. In response to criticisms raised by the State Affairs Committee’s lone Democrat, Senator Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage, Dunleavy explained that under the bill if a person has “a direct line to an abortion provider” they would not be allowed on a school campus to educate them on matters related to sexual or reproductive health.

Opt out provisions put federal school funding in jeopardy when standardized testing falls below a 95% threshold. That is already starting to happen in some parts of Alaska where local school districts have enacted opt out rules of their own. This year, the Haines School District had 12 students whose families objected to standardized tests, putting it below the Federal level. The district is currently waiting to hear what this could mean for its funding.

While the state’s 54 school districts currently have local provisions on opting out, SB 89 could result in a massive funding loss for the state as a whole.

“The US Department [of Education] concern is that that may mask underperformance of students, therefore not meeting the stated purpose of those title funds,” said Susan McCauley with the state’s Department of Education. If Title requirements are not fulfilled then schools across Alaska stand to lose federal dollars.

“The total funding for those programs is $96, 758,000,” McCauley added.

SB 89 now moves on to the Senate Rules Committee.

KHNS’s Emily Files contributed reporting from Haines.