New education bills unveiled by Gov. Dunleavy

New education bills unveiled by Gov. Dunleavy
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 2:04 PM AKST|Updated: Mar. 7, 2023 at 2:11 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced education-focused legislation Tuesday that he hopes will find new solutions to problems facing Alaska’s public education system.

The Teacher Retention and Recruitment Incentive bill aims to offer cash payments — ranging in increments from $5,000 to $15,000 — to qualified and high-performing educators to keep them in Alaska classrooms.

A tier-based system will determine how much cash a teacher will get, prioritizing rural and remote communities by offering them higher payouts. Dunleavy said he drew on his experience working in rural schools to address a “long overdue challenge of teacher shortages in the state.”

“The highest tier payments are directed to Alaska’s remote and rural schools,” a press release from the governor’s office said. “The $10,000 tier is targeted toward rural schools that, despite their remoteness, are sufficiently linked to Alaska’s urban networks to allow for more regular access to goods and services. The $5,000 tier is focused on incentivizing teachers in Alaska’s most urbanized areas.”

A Parental Rights bill was also announced, codifying the rights of parents to receive information from their children’s schools.

According to the governor, this is to allow parents to be informed about complicated topics taught in the classroom such as sex education. The bill also aims to reduce barriers preventing parents from accessing some student records.

It is unknown how this differs from a parent’s current rights to withdraw their student from classroom activities or access records.

According to a press release, schools cannot “selectively withhold information regarding a child’s physical, medical, or mental health from a parent, foster parent, or guardian unless a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure of the information would result in child abuse or neglect.”

An email from the House Coalition calls the bills a distraction.

“The House Coalition views the Governor’s gender identity bill as a distraction that will do nothing to fix overcrowded classrooms while removing local control and adding another layer of bureaucracy,” the email said.

“Teacher hiring and retention bonuses are a positive complement to a BSA increase and restoring defined benefits,” minority leader Calvin Schrage of Anchorage said. “The House Coalition is looking forward to working with the administration to tackle all three items this year.”

Following the governor’s announcement, Fairbanks educator and Representative Maxine Dibert remained concerned about possible changes to the base student allocation funding.

“As a teacher I am committed to passing a meaningful BSA increase this year,” Rep. Maxine Dibert said. “We must bring class sizes down to a manageable level where students can receive the attention they need to reach their full potential.”

When asked how the bill compared to legislation in Florida known colloquially as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Gov. Dunleavy said the two pieces of legislation were different.

“A Florida bill, a Florida approach for example may prohibit certain things from being taught in the classrooms regardless of what a parent wants. What we’re saying here is ... it’s a different approach,” Dunleavy said. “We believe in local control, but we believe in parental control, so nobody knows their kids better than a parent. As a parent of three girls, I can tell you I know my girls better than anyone else, and so any idea that this is a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill or that this is anti-anything, it’s not — it’s pro-parent.”

Vincent Feuilles is a social work intern with Identity Alaska, a group that describes itself as “an Alaskan based nonprofit community center and health clinic that provides resources, programs, and health care for the LGBTQIA2S+ and allied community.” Feuilles says the proposed bill could be harmful to the transgender community.

“Unfortunately, I think we’re moving backwards,” Feuilles said. “It takes away from the progress that trans youth have made and that the transgender community has made. But it also takes away from the cisgender community, which is what people don’t understand.”

Feuilles said this bill could hamper the socialization of children in the process of learning how to accept others.

“For example, a trans male being around other males. It gives the cisgender kids a chance to go, ‘Okay, this person’s a little different,’ and to learn how to interact with people who are different from them. We’re taking away a skill from these other kids, we’re denying them the chance to learn about other people and to accept other peoples’ differences, and go ‘Okay you’re different, but you’re still cool. So let’s go hang out’, you know. This is what kids do,” Feuilles said.