A controversial sex education “opt-in” bill is on its way to the House floor.
On a party-line vote, the House Education Committee endorsed House Bill 120 — over the objections of two prominent education groups, and in the face of public testimony largely in opposition to the bill.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, has said Idaho sex education courses do not align with Idaho values. But in arguing for her bill Friday morning, she took a somewhat different tack. She said she is not opposed to teaching sex education in the schools, but she said state law gives parents the power of consent.
And Ehardt said she was troubled by the opposition to her bill — the prevailing tone from a public hearing Tuesday.
“Parents were so disparaged,” she said. “Parents were pitted against the state.”
Eighteen of the 21 speakers at Tuesday’s hearing opposed HB 120. Several students testified against the bill, saying they and their classmates needed access to information about their bodies and their health.
Friday’s testimony was limited to a single speaker, Idaho Education Association President Kari Overall. She said the bill did not specifically define sex education, so it could have a spillover effect on literature and humanities courses.
On Tuesday, Quinn Perry of the Idaho School Boards Association raised similar objections.
Friday’s committee debate centered largely on the mechanics of an opt-in policy.
Ehardt said three Western states — Arizona, Nevada and Utah — have opt-in laws. And she said Idaho schools already require parents to opt-in for sports, extracurriculars and field trips.
“This is not the problem that it is being made out to be,” she said.
Fellow Idaho Falls Republican Gary Marshall echoed this sentiment.
Marshall said the state should recognize the fact that, in the eyes of many Idahoans, sex is appropriate only within the bounds of a marriage between one man and one woman. Respecting this viewpoint, by allowing parents to opt in, would not be burdensome to teachers or administrators.
“I’ve been there,” said Marshall, a retired teacher and professor. “I know.”
Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, led the opposition in committee and focused on the mechanics.
Berch said he checked with staff at Centennial High School, located in his West Boise legislative district. He was told that only six parents opted their children out of health classes, as existing state law allows. The remaining 194 students enrolled in class. Expecting schools to process 194 opt-in forms would create an unnecessary burden, he said.
HB 120 now goes to the House floor, where a vote could occur next week.
House Education plans funding formula roundtable
There’s no date for a formal hearing — yet. But House Education will resume its discussion of the K-12 funding formula Monday morning.
The committee will meet at 8:30 a.m. to continue talking about the formula, and a possible funding formula rewrite.
Legislators, representatives of education groups and staffers for Gov. Brad Little have been meeting behind closed doors to tweak the draft of the bill, released Jan. 31. During House Education’s discussion Wednesday, Marshall openly criticized the process, saying he felt cut out of the loop.
While the draft bill has been out for a month, no bill has been formally introduced, in either the House or Senate education committee.
School board executive sessions
In other action Friday, the House quickly and unanimously passed a bill that would change executive session rules for school boards experiencing vacancies.
Pushed by Rep. Bill Goesling, R-Moscow, House Bill 150 would make it so that school boards with vacancies could enter an closed-door executive session with a simple majority vote instead of the current threshold, which is a two-thirds supermajority vote.
The bill would apply to school boards with vacancies, which could result through a death, a recall, a resignation or the inability to find candidates to run for the school board in rural communities. The bill would not apply to school boards that are simply experiencing an absence of school board members, only permanent vacancies.
Goesling, a former member of the Moscow school board, said the bill is necessary so that school boards with vacancies can still enter closed door executive session to conduct business such as personnel issues and disciplinary matters.
HB 150 next heads to the Senate, where it will likely be assigned to the Senate Education Committee.
Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this report.