A bill requiring schools to teach comprehensive sex ed, which was requested by state superintendent Chris Reykdal, is dead.
Though Wednesday is the cutoff day for the House to consider bills passed by the Senate, today is the last of the House Education Committee meetings, and there are no bills scheduled for votes. That means it's dead.
If he thought it was worth the political risk, House Speaker Frank Chopp could use a parliamentary procedure to bypass the committee and bring the bill to the floor, but he likely will not do that. Democrats could also essentially write the bill into the budget by arguing that it's an expansion of current sex ed policy, which requires schools that teach sex ed to follow certain rules, but if Democrats can't even get this thing through committee, then it's also unlikely they'll do that.
Rep. Monica Stonier, a Democrat representing Vancouver, says she's still running around the Capitol and having meetings with "stakeholders" in an attempt to save the bill this session in some way. Stonier sponsored the House version of the bill—along with all but one of the Democrats on the House Education Committee—and has worked as a middle school teacher and an instructional coach at Pacific Middle School in Vancouver.
Over the phone, Stonier says she has "concerns" about mandating sex ed in a way that might undermine the goal of the bill. She's worried that districts don't have enough staff and training resources to teach the material, and she's also worried that the districts who claim to be teaching comprehensive sex ed might not actually be doing so. She also wonders whether districts really have "enough curriculum options...that might be more varied than current options."
Stonier admits those concerns "could be addressed with an amendment," but says the discussion among lawmakers right now is between "people who want to see implementation fixed, and people who don't want to see the bill touched." She characterizes these discussions as "collaborative" rather than contentious.
But why is the bill having a harder time getting passed in the House, which has a 16-seat Democratic majority, than in the Senate, which has a much smaller majority? "We have a deep bench of people who focus on implementation in the House," Stonier said. "Folks in the Senate have fewer years of experience on that education committee than House members have." You hear that, Senator Clare Wilson, vice chair of Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee? Your 25 years at the Puget Sound Educational Services District don't mean squat when it comes to implementation!
Right. So. Though Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, who chairs the House Education Committee, said she was delaying the bill because she didn't like "the politics and the process"—not the policy—we're supposed to believe that the real issue all along has just been Democrats having earnest policy discussions that in no way had anything to do with Santos feeling left out, Republican Vicki Kraft screaming about sex ed promoting "the transsexual lifestyle," and Chopp allegedly telling Santos he wasn't going to put the bill on the floor even if it passed through committee.
Over the phone, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said news of the bill's probable death is "extremely disappointing in the face of this data." Right now, 40 percent of districts in Washington state don't teach sex ed at all. Sexually transmitted infections are "surging" among adolescents, and, according to the most recent Healthy Youth Survey, over 30 percent of Washington's girls were sexually assaulted by the time they graduated high school. Reykdal calls this "a public health crisis."
Reykdal does not share Stonier's concerns about implementation. "You don't kill an entire bill over those issues, you solve for them," he said.
The bill only requires districts to teach sex ed once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school, so this mandate isn't a huge lift, according to Reykdal. Reykdal argues that the instruction will "primarily be done with existing health educators in middle and high school," and he points out a provision in the bill that gives more time for elementary schools to train and hire appropriate teachers.
In 2018, the legislature passed a law requiring high schools to teach an extra one-half credit civics course. "That requirement shifted resources substantially more than this ever would, so, no, I don't buy those as real worries. They're legitimate, but they're solvable. It's not a reason to deny kids this education," Reykdal said.