Legislature(2021 - 2022)BUTROVICH 205

03/10/2021 09:00 AM EDUCATION

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                    ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE                                                                                  
              SENATE EDUCATION STANDING COMMITTEE                                                                             
                         March 10, 2021                                                                                         
                           9:01 a.m.                                                                                            
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                               
Senator Roger Holland, Chair                                                                                                    
Senator Gary Stevens, Vice Chair                                                                                                
Senator Shelley Hughes                                                                                                          
Senator Tom Begich                                                                                                              
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                
Senator Peter Micciche                                                                                                          
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                                                                            
SENATE BILL NO. 80                                                                                                              
"An Act relating to mental health education."                                                                                   
     - HEARD & HELD                                                                                                             
SENATE BILL NO. 72                                                                                                              
"An Act relating to civics education, civics examinations, and                                                                  
secondary school graduation requirements; and providing for an                                                                  
effective date."                                                                                                                
     - HEARD & HELD                                                                                                             
PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION                                                                                                     
BILL: SB  80                                                                                                                  
SHORT TITLE: PUBLIC SCHOOLS: MENTAL HEALTH EDUCATION                                                                            
SPONSOR(s): SENATOR(s) GRAY-JACKSON                                                                                             
02/12/21       (S)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
02/12/21       (S)       EDC, HSS, FIN                                                                                          
03/10/21       (S)       EDC AT 9:00 AM BUTROVICH 205                                                                           
BILL: SB  72                                                                                                                  
SHORT TITLE: SEC. SCHOOL CIVICS EDUCATION                                                                                       
SPONSOR(s): SENATOR(s) STEVENS                                                                                                  
02/05/21       (S)       READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS                                                                        
02/05/21       (S)       EDC, CRA                                                                                               
03/10/21       (S)       EDC AT 9:00 AM BUTROVICH 205                                                                           
WITNESS REGISTER                                                                                                              
SENATOR ELVI GRAY-JACKSON                                                                                                       
Alaska State Legislator                                                                                                         
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Sponsor of SB 80.                                                                                         
DELANEY THIELE, Intern                                                                                                          
Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson                                                                                                       
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Presented the sectional analysis for SB 80.                                                               
SHIRLEY HOLLOWAY, Ph.D., President                                                                                              
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) National Board                                                                       
Vice President                                                                                                                  
NAMI Alaska                                                                                                                     
Anchorage, Alaska                                                                                                               
POSITION STATEMENT: During the hearing on SB 80, testified about                                                              
the importance of mental health curriculum.                                                                                     
TIM LAMKIN, Staff                                                                                                               
Senator Gary Stevens                                                                                                            
Alaska State Legislature                                                                                                        
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Presented SB 72 on behalf of the bill                                                                     
MICHAEL JOHNSON, Ph.D., Commissioner                                                                                            
Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED)                                                                     
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Spoke in support of SB 72.                                                                                
LEM WHEELES, representing self                                                                                                  
Anchorage, Alaska                                                                                                               
POSITION STATEMENT: During the hearing on SB 72, testified about                                                              
the importance of civics education.                                                                                             
ACTION NARRATIVE                                                                                                              
9:01:34 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR ROGER HOLLAND called the Senate Education Standing                                                                      
Committee meeting to order at 9:01 a.m. Present at the call to                                                                  
order were Senators Stevens, Begich, Hughes, and Chair Holland.                                                                 
         SB  80-PUBLIC SCHOOLS: MENTAL HEALTH EDUCATION                                                                     
9:02:09 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HOLLAND announced the consideration of SENATE BILL NO. 80                                                                 
"An Act relating to mental health education."                                                                                   
9:02:39 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR ELVI GRAY-JACKSON, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau,                                                                    
Alaska, sponsor of SB 80, read the sponsor statement:                                                                           
     SB 80  amends the existing health  education curriculum                                                                    
     statute to  include mental health curriculum  in all K-                                                                    
     12 health classrooms to  adequately educate students on                                                                    
     vital   information   pertaining   to   mental   health                                                                    
     symptoms, resources, and treatment.                                                                                        
     Currently,  the  health curriculum  guidelines  include                                                                    
     prevention  and treatment  of diseases;  learning about                                                                    
     "good" health  practices including diet,  exercise, and                                                                    
     personal  hygiene;  and  "bad" health  habits  such  as                                                                    
     substance abuse,  alcoholism, and patterns  of physical                                                                    
     abuse.  But  the  guidelines   do  not  address  mental                                                                    
     Following passage  of SB80, the  Alaska State  Board of                                                                    
     Education   and  Early   Development  and   the  Alaska                                                                    
     Department  of Education  and Early  Development (DEED)                                                                    
     will  develop  guidelines  for  instruction  in  mental                                                                    
     health in  consultation with  the Alaska  Department of                                                                    
     Health and  Social Services (DHSS)  and representatives                                                                    
     of   national,   state,   and  tribal   mental   health                                                                    
     organizations. Such organizations  include, but are not                                                                    
     limited  to,   the  National  Council   for  Behavioral                                                                    
     Health,   Providence   Health  and   Services   Alaska,                                                                    
     Southcentral  Foundation,  Anchorage  Community  Mental                                                                    
     Health  Services, Inc.,  North  Star Behavioral  Health                                                                    
     System,  and the  National  Alliance  on Mental  Health                                                                    
     Illness  Alaska. The  standards  will  be developed  in                                                                    
     consultation  with   counselors,  educators,  students,                                                                    
     administrators, and  other mental  health organizations                                                                    
     to  form   effective  guidelines  for   school  boards,                                                                    
     teachers, and students.                                                                                                    
     After standards  have been developed, the  Alaska State                                                                    
     Board of Education and Early  Development and DEED will                                                                    
     be  responsible   for  implementation   throughout  the                                                                    
     Alaska   school  system.   As   with  existing   health                                                                    
     education  curriculum,  the  DEED, the  DHSS,  and  the                                                                    
     Council on  Domestic Violence  and Sexual  Assault will                                                                    
     provide  technical assistance  to  school districts  in                                                                    
     the  development  of   personal  safety  curricula.  An                                                                    
     existing  school health  education specialist  position                                                                    
     will assist in coordinating the program statewide.                                                                         
     The  State has  a responsibility  to treat  the current                                                                    
     mental  health crisis  in Alaska  as  a serious  public                                                                    
     health  issue.  By  creating  mental  health  education                                                                    
     standards  and encouraging  schools to  teach a  mental                                                                    
     health  curriculum, SB80  aims to  decrease the  stigma                                                                    
     surrounding  mental  illnesses and  increase  students'                                                                    
     knowledge  of mental  health, encouraging  conversation                                                                    
     around and understanding of the issue.                                                                                     
9:05:22 AM                                                                                                                    
DELANEY THIELE, Intern, Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson, Juneau,                                                                      
Alaska, presented the sectional analysis for SB 80:                                                                             
     Section 1: This  section adds intent language  stating it is                                                             
     the intent  of the Legislature  that the Board  of Education                                                               
     and Early Development develop  guidelines for instruction in                                                               
     mental  health  in   consultation  with  representatives  of                                                               
     mental  health  organizations  and  regional  tribal  health                                                               
     organizations,   including   the    National   Council   for                                                               
     Behavioral  Health, Providence  Health and  Services Alaska,                                                               
     Southcentral Foundation,  Anchorage Community  Mental Health                                                               
     Services,  Inc., North  Star Behavioral  Health System,  and                                                               
     the National Alliance on Mental Health Illness Alaska.                                                                     
     Section 2: This section amends  AS 14.30.360 by removing the                                                             
     word  "physical"  when  referencing instruction  for  health                                                               
     education  and  adding  "mental   health"  to  the  list  of                                                               
     curriculum  items each  district  includes  in their  health                                                               
     education programs.                                                                                                        
     Section  3: Amends  AS 14.30.360  by clarifying  that health                                                             
     guidelines  developed by  the Board  of Education  and Early                                                               
     Development  must  provide   standards  for  instruction  in                                                               
     mental  health and  be developed  in  consultation with  the                                                               
     Department    of   Health    and    Social   Services    and                                                               
     representatives   of  national   and  state   mental  health                                                               
     Section 4: Amends the uncodified  law of the State of Alaska                                                             
     by  adding  a  new  section  to read  "the  state  Board  of                                                               
     Education  and Early  Development shall  develop the  mental                                                               
     health guidelines  required by  AS 14.30.360(b),  as amended                                                               
     by sec. 3 of this Act,  within two years after the effective                                                               
     date of this Act."                                                                                                         
SENATOR  GRAY-JACKSON  presented  a  video about  the  issues  of                                                               
mental health for young people in Alaska.                                                                                       
SENATOR GRAY-JACKSON advised that the  companion bill to SB 80 is                                                               
HB 60, sponsored by Representative Claman.                                                                                      
9:11:44 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  HOLLAND  commented  that COVID-19  has  not  improved  the                                                               
situation,  and  some  schools are  back  to  in-person  learning                                                               
because of the high incidence of depression among students.                                                                     
SENATOR  STEVENS shared  that on  the news  last night  he saw  a                                                               
fascinating story about suicide. He  said people don't talk about                                                               
suicide because  they are afraid  it may increase  the likelihood                                                               
of suicide,  but that is not  true. He said he  assumes that this                                                               
program will talk about childhood  suicide because it is becoming                                                               
more and more  of a problem because of COVID.  He hopes that will                                                               
be addressed in this program.                                                                                                   
SENATOR  GRAY-JACKSON  confirmed  that  suicide  will  be  talked                                                               
about. She noted that her office  has a letter of support from an                                                               
organization that deals with suicide prevention.                                                                                
9:13:57 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGHES referenced  Section 2,  and said  it sounds  like                                                               
districts  are not  mandated  to have  health  classes. They  are                                                               
simply encouraged  to initiate  and conduct  such a  program. She                                                               
asked  if  all  districts  are conducting  some  sort  of  health                                                               
program  and if  any are  already weaving  this type  of material                                                               
into their programs.                                                                                                            
SENATOR  GRAY-JACKSON answered  that mental  health education  is                                                               
not  being addressed,  and that  is the  reason for  bringing the                                                               
bill forward.  She said she  would follow  up with a  response to                                                               
the first question.                                                                                                             
SENATOR HUGHES said that she  agreed with Senator Stevens that it                                                               
is in an  important discussion, but she would  be concerned about                                                               
the  curriculum for  younger kids.  She would  want to  know what                                                               
that curriculum  might look like. She  asked Senator Gray-Jackson                                                               
if she had any examples of what other states have done.                                                                         
SENATOR   GRAY-JACKSON  responded   that  she   would  get   that                                                               
9:15:26 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BEGICH  noted   that  he  is  one   of  the  legislative                                                               
representatives on  the Suicide Prevention Council  as. He shared                                                               
that during the  meeting last month he learned that  rates of the                                                               
flu and  other communicable  diseases have  gone down  during the                                                               
pandemic  but not  rates  of  suicide in  young  people, so  this                                                               
legislation  is  timely. He  has  seen  that the  curriculum  for                                                               
suicide prevention  generally focuses on developmental  assets in                                                               
early  ages. It  is more  a positive  curriculum rather  than one                                                               
talking about suicide.  Then it shifts as students  get older. As                                                               
in when  the legislature  dealt with the  teen dating  issue, the                                                               
Bree  Moore case,  the whole  nature  of the  curriculum must  be                                                               
designed to  meet the developmental  needs of the  students. That                                                               
is why the  Department of Education and  Early Development (DEED)                                                               
is   involved  in   curriculum   development,  so   that  it   is                                                               
developmentally  appropriate. That  is  what he  would hope  DEED                                                               
would do, using the best material from other states.                                                                            
CHAIR HOLLAND moved to invited testimony.                                                                                       
9:17:13 AM                                                                                                                    
SHIRLEY HOLLOWAY,  Ph.D., President, National Alliance  on Mental                                                               
Illness  (NAMI)  National  Board, Vice  President,  NAMI  Alaska,                                                               
Anchorage, Alaska, Anchorage,  Alaska, said that she  is a former                                                               
commissioner   of  the   Department   of   Education  and   Early                                                               
Development.  She found  NAMI after  she lost  her daughter,  who                                                               
lived  with  mental illness,  to  suicide.  NAMI is  the  largest                                                               
grassroots mental  health organization in the  nation. NAMI helps                                                               
families  build   better  lives.   Its  signature   programs  are                                                               
evidence-based. She  thanked Senator Gray-Jackson  for sponsoring                                                               
SB  80.  Education,  early   recognition,  and  intervention  and                                                               
prevention are  key to minimizing  mental health issues  that are                                                               
common in youth and adolescents  and hopefully in eradicating the                                                               
long-term disabilities caused  by mental illness. It  is so vital                                                               
that  Alaska's education  system  create  a comprehensive  mental                                                               
health  curriculum. Proper  mental health  is crucial  to overall                                                               
well-being,  which is  why mental  health should  be incorporated                                                               
into   existing  health   education  curriculum,   programs,  and                                                               
courses.  Incorporating mental  health  education and  addressing                                                               
the  myths  that  surround  mental   illness  creates  a  broader                                                               
understanding  of  psychiatric   diseases,  which  will  decrease                                                               
stigma  for  those  living  with  mental  illness.  Disseminating                                                               
accurate  information to  schools and  communities will  increase                                                               
the likelihood  that children and teens  struggling with symptoms                                                               
are not  viewed negatively by their  peers. If that can  be done,                                                               
it increases the odds that  youth will accept treatment, and lead                                                               
to improved outcomes generated by early intervention.                                                                           
9:20:24 AM                                                                                                                    
DR. HOLLOWAY  said that she  applauded the young  people speaking                                                               
on the video. Fifty percent of  mental illness develop by age 14;                                                               
75 percent  by age 24. Seventy  to 80 percent of  children living                                                               
with  mental illness  do  not receive  treatment.  This leads  to                                                               
decreased performance in  schools. Twenty-two million adolescents                                                               
aged 12-17 have  experienced a major depressive  episode, and the                                                               
estimate  is  that  60  percent  did  not  receive  any  help  or                                                               
treatment. The  dropout rate for  children with  severe emotional                                                               
and  mental  health issues  was  twice  that of  other  students.                                                               
According to  the 2017 Youth  Risk Behavior Survey, one  in three                                                               
Alaskan students  reported feeling  sad or hopeless  almost every                                                               
day  for  two weeks  in  the  past  year  and 22.8  percent  have                                                               
seriously  considered suicide.  This was  all pre-pandemic.  This                                                               
last   year,   with   the  isolation   and   associated   issues,                                                               
significantly  more children  were seen  in emergency  rooms with                                                               
mental  health issues.  The Centers  for Disease  Control reports                                                               
that beginning in April 2020  that the rates of children's mental                                                               
health  emergency room  visits  increased  and remained  elevated                                                               
through October.                                                                                                                
DR.  HOLLOWAY said  that strengthening  Alaska's existing  public                                                               
health  curriculum   to  include  mental  health   education  and                                                               
awareness will teach  students to recognize the  warning signs of                                                               
mental distress and provide them  with the language and resources                                                               
to  connect to  help.  This legislation  expands existing  health                                                               
education  requirements  to include  mental  health  in all  K-12                                                               
health classroom.  She thanked the committee  for considering the                                                               
importance of this legislation. In  these challenging times it is                                                               
more important than ever to  take action to address mental health                                                               
and  to provide  guidance  and  hope to  all  impacted by  mental                                                               
health  issues.  There  is  no  physical  health  without  mental                                                               
SENATOR  STEVENS  asked if  she  had  any reflection  on  whether                                                               
discussing suicide  with a  child might  be dangerous  because it                                                               
could plant the idea in their  mind. He noted that Senator Hughes                                                               
asked at what age the conversation would be appropriate.                                                                        
9:23:39 AM                                                                                                                    
DR.  HOLLOWAY replied  that she  learned  so much  from the  NAMI                                                               
National  chief  medical  officer.  He made  it  clear  that  the                                                               
evidence shows that  not talking about it is  dangerous. It needs                                                               
to  be brought  out of  the dark  and into  the open.  As Senator                                                               
Begich said,  the curriculum is developmentally  appropriate. The                                                               
ones  she  has  seen  start  in  kindergarten  and  it  is  about                                                               
feelings. Later suicide  ideation starts to be  broached. It must                                                               
be carefully developed and  developmentally appropriate. It could                                                               
begin  in middle  school. It  has to  begin early  but has  to be                                                               
appropriate.  There  is lots  of  good  material that  she  could                                                               
SENATOR  HUGHES said  that she  would  like to  hear from  school                                                               
districts.   She    just   read   [Anchorage    School   District                                                               
Superintendent]  Dr.   Bishop's  letter   and  is   wondering  if                                                               
districts are already planning  to incorporate something. Nothing                                                               
prohibits  that.  She  asked  if  the  committee  could  see  any                                                               
curriculum that districts have adopted.                                                                                         
SENATOR GRAY-JACKSON said she will  look into that and speak with                                                               
Dr. Bishop.                                                                                                                     
9:27:11 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  HOLLAND thanked  Senator  Gray-Jackson  for bringing  this                                                               
important topic up.                                                                                                             
He held SB 80 in committee.                                                                                                     
9:27:24 AM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
              SB  72-SEC. SCHOOL CIVICS EDUCATION                                                                           
9:28:37 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR   HOLLAND  reconvened   the  meeting   and  announced   the                                                               
consideration of  SENATE BILL NO.  72 "An Act relating  to civics                                                               
education, civics  examinations, and secondary  school graduation                                                               
requirements; and providing for an effective date."                                                                             
He called on  bill sponsor Senator Gary Stevens  to introduce the                                                               
9:28:49 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR GARY STEVENS, speaking as sponsor  of SB 72, said that as                                                               
a  retired history  professor, this  is  a shocking  time in  the                                                               
nation's history. He  cited the examples of  the Capitol invasion                                                               
and tearing down  statues related to American history.  This is a                                                               
challenge  to civics  education  in this  country.  He wishes  he                                                               
could have gotten  some of the people who invaded  the Capitol in                                                               
a classroom  to talk  about the  importance of  civics education.                                                               
One of his  favorite parts of American history is  the writing of                                                               
the Constitution in 1787. After  hours had been spent writing the                                                               
Constitution in Independence Hall  in Philadelphia, the delegates                                                               
walked  out.  A  lady  asked  Benjamin Franklin  if  this  was  a                                                               
republic or a monarchy and his  response was, "A republic, if you                                                               
can keep it."                                                                                                                   
9:30:15 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR STEVENS said  the country is having  trouble keeping that                                                               
republic. Many  Americans have trouble  passing the  civics test,                                                               
which  has  128  questions. Immigrants,  incoming  citizens,  are                                                               
expected  to  pass  it  at  a  certain  level.  They  are  simple                                                               
questions. What is  the First Amendment? How  many amendments are                                                               
there?  What are  the branches  of government?  What do  they do?                                                               
What is  the purpose  of the  Declaration of  Independence? These                                                               
are  simple  questions  that  every citizen  should  be  able  to                                                               
answer.  It  is  important  to   help  students  become  American                                                               
9:31:32 AM                                                                                                                    
TIM   LAMKIN,  Staff,   Senator   Gary   Stevens,  Alaska   State                                                               
Legislature, Juneau, Alaska,  said there is a  volume of evidence                                                               
to support  the bill, research,  articles, commentary,  and data.                                                               
This bill sets  an exit exam on civics  competency for graduating                                                               
seniors. There  is a 128-question  test administered by  the U.S.                                                               
Citizenship  and  Immigration  Services, Department  of  Homeland                                                               
Security that  has been used  for quite  some time. Of  those 128                                                               
questions, 20  questions are randomly  selected and  an applicant                                                               
must  answer 12,  or 60  percent,  correctly. The  last time  the                                                               
legislature visited  this subject was  in 2017. At that  time, 92                                                               
percent of  those taking the test  passed it. At that  same time,                                                               
in Arizona only 3 percent  of graduating seniors were passing the                                                               
test and 4  percent in Oklahoma. At that time,  nine other states                                                               
had passed  a law just like  this and 26 other  states had active                                                               
legislation proposing it. He is  researching how many states have                                                               
passed similar  laws to  date. A  substantial amount  of research                                                               
and  commentary  supports this.  There  are  other components  of                                                               
civics education,  but at the end  of the day, the  purpose is to                                                               
include this test or at the  least have a component in the annual                                                               
report from the Department of  Education and Early Development to                                                               
keep  it on  the  radar.  Teacher Lem  Wheeles  will testify.  He                                                               
participated in a civics taskforce  in 2016-2017 that resulted in                                                               
this proposal.                                                                                                                  
9:34:19 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGHES asked  if he knew the passing rates  on the civics                                                               
tests in the nine states that  require it. She would hope that it                                                               
is better than 3 or 4 percent.                                                                                                  
MR.  LAMKIN answered  that he  did not  have that  information in                                                               
front of him, but  he can say that as a result  of that test, the                                                               
passing rate and knowledge of civics substantially improved.                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH noted he mentioned  that the federal test requires                                                               
a random selection  of 20 questions and a 60  percent score. This                                                               
bill on page  one, lines 7-9, reads receives a  score of at least                                                               
60 percent on  an examination consisting of at a  minimum the 128                                                               
questions. Those  are very different  standards. He asked  if the                                                               
intent is 60  percent on 128 or more questions  or 60 percent for                                                               
20 randomly-selected questions.                                                                                                 
MR. LAMKIN answered that the intent  of the bill is to align with                                                               
the  federal  standards,   which  is  60  percent   of  those  20                                                               
SENATOR BEGICH  said he believes that  is the intent. The  way it                                                               
is worded would perhaps send the  message that a student must get                                                               
60 percent  of the  128 questions.  It says of  the test  used by                                                               
United State  Citizenship. There could be  a simple clarification                                                               
in a technical amendment.                                                                                                       
MR. LAMKIN replied that is a  policy call. He would shoot for the                                                               
higher target of 60 percent of the 128.                                                                                         
CHAIR HOLLAND asked Mr. Lamkin to present the sectional.                                                                        
9:37:27 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. LAMKIN presented the sectional analysis for SB 72:                                                                          
     Section 1:                                                                                                                 
     AS  14.03.076,  relating  to  public  schools,  adds  a  new                                                               
     section  requiring  high school  seniors  to  pass a  civics                                                               
     competency exam in  order to receive a diploma.  This is the                                                               
     same  examination administered  by  the  U.S. Department  of                                                               
     Homeland Security for immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship.                                                                 
     Section 2:                                                                                                                 
     AS 14.07.168,  relating to reporting requirements  of the AK                                                               
     State Board  of Education and Early  Development, to include                                                               
     in their  biennial report a description  of civics education                                                               
     curriculum  in the  state, and  of the  success rate  of the                                                               
     exam described in section 1.                                                                                               
     Section 3:                                                                                                                 
     Provides for an effective date of July 1, 2022.                                                                            
CHAIR HOLLAND called on Commissioner Johnson.                                                                                   
9:38:38 AM                                                                                                                    
MICHAEL JOHNSON, Ph.D., Commissioner, Alaska Department of                                                                      
Education and Early Development, Juneau, Alaska, gave the                                                                       
following speech:                                                                                                               
     I  want to  especially  thank Senator  Stevens  who has  not                                                               
     waivered,  for  years,  in  making   sure  that  our  public                                                               
     education  system  is  built  upon  the  purpose  of  civics                                                               
     education. We can all regret  that more policy makers in our                                                               
     country have not shared in his efforts.                                                                                    
     Civics education  is not  a new  innovation, it  is timeless                                                               
     wisdom that we have forgotten.                                                                                             
     Plato said, schools  should create good men  [and women] who                                                               
     act nobly.                                                                                                                 
     If  we have  an education  system  that does  less, all  our                                                               
     other  efforts  for  life,  liberty,   and  the  pursuit  of                                                               
     happiness will be thwarted.                                                                                                
     According  to  a  study from  the  Woodrow  Wilson  National                                                               
     Fellowship Foundation,  only 36 percent of  Americans passed                                                               
     a multiple-choice US citizenship test.                                                                                     
     Less than 25 percent know why we fought the British.                                                                       
     Only 24 percent could name  a single thing Benjamin Franklin                                                               
     was famous  for. Thirty-seven percent think  he invented the                                                               
     Here's  the proof  in the  pudding that  Senator Stevens  is                                                               
     right to  introduce this bill:  74 percent of  people sixty-                                                               
     five and older  scored the best, answering at  least six out                                                               
     of every  ten questions correctly.  Only 19 of  those forty-                                                               
     five  and younger  passed  - that's  81  percent scoring  59                                                               
     percent or lower on the exam.                                                                                              
     9:41:00 AM                                                                                                               
     This  bill  is  not  a  new coat  of  paint  on  our  public                                                               
     education system - it is  a much-needed effort to repair the                                                               
     Civics  education  is  about  purpose.  A  public  education                                                               
     system   without   clear    purpose   is   more   expensive,                                                               
     ineffective,  and  corrosive  to   our  society.   A  public                                                               
     education  system  with  purpose  is  more  efficient,  more                                                               
     effective, and improves our society.                                                                                       
     The Legislature's purpose statement is clear: AS.14.03.015                                                                 
     It  is  the  policy  of  this  state  that  the  purpose  of                                                               
     education is to  help ensure that all  students will succeed                                                               
     in   their  education   and  work,   shape  worthwhile   and                                                               
     satisfying lives  for themselves, exemplify the  best values                                                               
     of society, and be effective  in improving the character and                                                               
     quality of the world about them.                                                                                           
     That's a  great description of  the outcome of  an education                                                               
     purposed with  civics. It is  also the State  Board's Vision                                                               
     We spend  over 160 billion  pennies each year on  our public                                                               
     education  system, every  single one  should have  a purpose                                                               
     related to civics education.                                                                                               
     In closing, let  me say that I realize  expectations are low                                                               
     this session.  There are  some that say  we can't  do policy                                                               
     work because of the pandemic and our budget situation.                                                                     
     But this  committee is proving  otherwise. You have  a suite                                                               
     of bills  before you, including reading  (which is essential                                                               
     for  any  kind  of  civics  education),  virtual  education,                                                               
     innovative  funding  increases,   and  middle  college.  Any                                                               
     single one of those bills  would be impactful, but together,                                                               
     they reveal our priorities.                                                                                                
     9:43:04 AM                                                                                                               
     These past months,  my fear has been that we  will lower the                                                               
     bar, that  we will settle for  less. We all want  schools to                                                               
     be open, but I sure hope  that's not our new benchmark. Open                                                               
     is good - purposeful and effective is essential.                                                                           
     Mr. Chair, and  members of this committee. I  know the hours                                                               
     you are all spending working  on these bills. Thank You, Mr.                                                               
     Chair  for working  closely with  each committee  member and                                                               
     their staffs. This committee can  buck the trend and produce                                                               
     a   package  of   bills  that,   even  during   a  year   of                                                               
     unprecedented difficulty, can restore,  build, and excel our                                                               
     public education system.                                                                                                   
     A few  months after giving his  go to the moon  speech, John                                                               
     Kennedy addressed a growing public  questioning of why - why                                                               
     spend all that  money. He said at a speech  later that year,                                                               
     "We choose  to go to  the moon in  this decade and  do other                                                               
     things,  NOT because  they are  easy, but  because they  are                                                               
     hard, because that  goal will serve to  organize and measure                                                               
     the best  of our  energies and skills."  Going to  the moon,                                                               
     was  about making  America better,  not about  improving the                                                               
     9:44:43 AM                                                                                                               
     Let's  not storm  the  capitol, let's  teach  kids to  read.                                                               
     Let's inspire them  to run for school board,  run for mayor,                                                               
     and run  for the  legislature. Let's show  them how  to work                                                               
     together to  create good policy.  Let's teach them  to value                                                               
     liberty and never  take it for granted. Let's  show them how                                                               
     to embrace what is difficult  BECAUSE it makes us better and                                                               
     more thankful.                                                                                                             
     In his  original moon speech  he said, "For while  we cannot                                                               
     guarantee that we  shall one day be first,  we can guarantee                                                               
     that any failure to make this effort will make us last."                                                                   
     How can I help you make this effort on all of these bills?                                                                 
9:45:43 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  STEVENS  thanked  the  commissioner  for  his  inspiring                                                               
thoughts and said he wished more  people could hear what he said.                                                               
He said the  legislators are inspired and  have high expectations                                                               
with no  intention of  lowering the  bar. Legislators  are always                                                               
accused  whenever they  meddle in  education  of passing  another                                                               
unfunded  mandate.  He  asked  him to  reflect  on  the  unfunded                                                               
mandate issue.                                                                                                                  
COMMISSIONER  JOHNSON  responded that  it  often  comes up,  even                                                               
about  reading.  He rejects  that  notion  but would  invite  the                                                               
conversation.  If  folks  want   to  have  a  conversation  about                                                               
unfunded mandates, there  should be a conversation  about what is                                                               
being  funded that  is unmandated.  Then there  could be  clarity                                                               
about the purpose of the public education system.                                                                               
CHAIR HOLLAND called on Lem Wheeles.                                                                                            
9:46:55 AM                                                                                                                    
LEM WHEELES,  representing self, Anchorage, Alaska,  stated he is                                                               
a social studies  teacher at Dimond High School  in Anchorage. He                                                               
has taught U.S. Government to seniors  for all of his 17 years of                                                               
teaching. He also teaches Advanced  Placement U.S. Government. He                                                               
is  a  proponent  of civics  education  and  appreciates  Senator                                                               
Stevens' long-standing  commitment to expanding  civics education                                                               
in  the state.  To address  Senator Begich's  comments about  the                                                               
number  of questions  and  passing percentage,  he  has used  the                                                               
citizenship  exam  with  his  seniors   as  a  preassessment  and                                                               
summative assessment  to measure progress. He  has struggled with                                                               
the  number of  questions he  should be  giving. He  reviewed the                                                               
U.S.  Citizenship and  Immigration  Services  website before  his                                                               
testimony,  and it  has changed  the  set of  questions. In  2008                                                               
there was a  set of 100 questions and the  required score was six                                                               
of 10. In 2020, the agency  went to the 128-questions set and the                                                               
score was 12  out of 20 questions. As of  the beginning of March,                                                               
the agency  is returning to  the 100  questions and the  score of                                                               
six out of 10. The committee  should review that to make sure the                                                               
bill matches the federal test as it changes.                                                                                    
9:49:08 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. WHEELES stated that his mission  as an educator is to prepare                                                               
his students  to be engaged citizens  in the U.S. republic.  In a                                                               
normal schoolyear, he asks his  government students to complete a                                                               
project in experiencing government  firsthand. When he introduces                                                               
this "citizen  project," he tells  students about  his experience                                                               
studying French. He  was never fluent in  French despite studying                                                               
it  for 10  years  because  he never  went  to a  French-speaking                                                               
county.  Similarly,  he  can  teach  all  sorts  of  facts  about                                                               
government to students, but until  they experience it first-hand,                                                               
they will not  develop fluency. The students choose  a variety of                                                               
way to  engage in government,  including registering to  vote and                                                               
voting  if  there  is  an  election,  registering  for  selective                                                               
service,  filing   for  their   PFD  check,   attending  assembly                                                               
meetings, or  writing a  letter to a  public official.  The final                                                               
piece of  the project is  to write  a reflection about  what they                                                               
learned. In  addition to teaching  the content prescribed  by the                                                               
Alaska  content  standards  for government  and  citizenship,  he                                                               
strives  to offer  authentic opportunities  for  his students  to                                                               
engage with  government. He  has hosted  a variety  of government                                                               
officials in his classrooms. They  experience the powerful lesson                                                               
that government is made up of human beings.                                                                                     
9:51:15 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. WHEELES  said the  Constitution begins  with "we  the people"                                                               
and government  only functions well  when the  people participate                                                               
in  it.  He  applauded  Senator  Stevens'  efforts  with  SB  72,                                                               
although he has  some points to ponder on its  approach. The bill                                                               
calls  for students  to answer  all 128  questions from  the U.S.                                                               
citizenship exam  with a score  of 60  percent. That is  fine for                                                               
ensuring  subject  knowledge,  but  the  logistics  of  the  bill                                                               
probably need development. First,  the U.S. citizenship test will                                                               
be the one used prior to 2020.  The language in the bill will not                                                               
match  the citizenship  test. Second,  prospective citizens  only                                                               
have to answer  six of the 10  questions correctly. Instructional                                                               
time  is  scarce,  and  administering  an  exam  of  100  or  128                                                               
questions will  take at least two  hours of class time,  plus the                                                               
scoring time.  The bill doesn't  indicate if students  can retake                                                               
the  exam if  they don't  pass the  first time.  If so,  how many                                                               
times  and when.  Most districts  offer  government class  senior                                                               
year. Some students  won't be ready to take this  exam until late                                                               
in senior year.  The margin for error with graduation  on line is                                                               
thin. Before  mandating students  complete the  citizenship exam,                                                               
consider requiring  a semester-long  government or  civics course                                                               
to  graduate.  Regulation  4  AAC  06.075  outlines  the  state's                                                               
graduation  requirements. A  government or  civics course  is not                                                               
required  by the  state. Probably  many school  districts require                                                               
it, but not the state.                                                                                                          
MR. WHEELES  said if the  legislature is serious  about improving                                                               
the  level  of  civics  education, then  he  would  urge  greater                                                               
investment  in  the public  education  system.  The Base  Student                                                               
Allocation has  been flat for several  years, and it is  a losing                                                               
battle to attract and retain  quality educators. He loves what he                                                               
does,  but  it is  becoming  increasingly  difficult to  continue                                                               
teaching in  Alaska as budgets  shrink relative to  inflation, as                                                               
real income decreases for teachers,  as classroom size increases.                                                               
Teachers like  him are the  solution the legislature  is seeking.                                                               
He wants  to continue to  help young people  see their role  in a                                                               
democratic republic. He urged the  committee to amend the bill to                                                               
require a  government or  civics course before  an exam  and then                                                               
provide  public  schools  with  the resources  to  get  the  best                                                               
possible teachers for those courses.  That is what makes the most                                                               
9:54:55 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BEGICH  commented on  the  consequences  of requiring  a                                                               
civics exam for graduation versus  the consequences of not having                                                               
a civics exam.  He related that his schooling  included two years                                                               
of government and two years of  U.S. History. It imbued a respect                                                               
for  the  Constitution, civil  discourse,  and  civic values.  He                                                               
acknowledged that  the bill would  impose an increased  burden on                                                               
teachers  if  U.S.  government  and  U.S.  History  classes  were                                                               
mandated,  but  said  he supports  that.  He  expressed  profound                                                               
concern about what people have  spouted since January about their                                                               
views  of  the Constitution,  because  many  of those  views  are                                                               
irreconcilable  with  what  the Constitution  actually  says  and                                                               
does.  They  demonstrate  an  alarming   lack  of  education.  He                                                               
mentioned the Texas Board of  Education that selects textbooks in                                                               
such large  quantities that it  skews the market. For  example, a                                                               
major  political party  criticized critical  thinking as  part of                                                               
its platform. Given  the current situation, he asked  what has to                                                               
be done to  ensure that citizens can be citizens  in this country                                                               
when the state has finite resources.                                                                                            
9:58:05 AM                                                                                                                    
MR. WHEELES replied  that he has noticed over  nearly two decades                                                               
a  heavy  emphasis  on STEM  [Science,  Technology,  Engineering,                                                               
Mathematics] topics. The perception is  that the United States is                                                               
falling behind  in those areas and  they need to be  beefed up. A                                                               
lot of times  that comes at the expense of  social sciences. Even                                                               
in  the Anchorage  School District,  which requires  a government                                                               
class  to   graduate,  the  offerings   of  his   social  studies                                                               
department  at Dimond  have shrunk  50 percent  over the  last 17                                                               
years. There are  now very few social  sciences electives because                                                               
STEM is such a district  priority. He fears that government could                                                               
be on  the chopping  block if  not required  by state  statute or                                                               
regulation. There  is a tendency  in society to be  suspicious of                                                               
people teaching about government.  There is a wrong-headed belief                                                               
that all  teachers are liberal  and anything related  to politics                                                               
in the classroom means students  are being indoctrinated. He is a                                                               
conservative and  registered Republican, but he  doesn't push his                                                               
beliefs on his students.                                                                                                        
10:00:29 AM                                                                                                                   
MR.  WHEELES said  he tells  his students  to start  thinking for                                                               
themselves. That  critical piece  is important and  not something                                                               
that  can be  tested. He  doesn't oppose  the notion  of ensuring                                                               
students  have  mastered  government  and  citizenship.  That  is                                                               
critical.  The content  and performance  standards that  may have                                                               
been written in  1997 are quality standards.  He understands that                                                               
DEED will look  at those this summer. For the  final exam for his                                                               
students, he gives them the  government and citizenship standards                                                               
and asks  them to  write to  prove that they  meet some  of them.                                                               
That gives him  a better understanding of what  they have learned                                                               
than  questions  with  straightforward  answers,  as  opposed  to                                                               
questions like  what it means to  live in a republic  and what is                                                               
your role in a democratic society.  He doesn't know that there is                                                               
a  legislative  solution  for  that.  It  is  easy  to  test  for                                                               
knowledge, but more difficult to  find what students have grasped                                                               
and their  critical thinking.  To achieve  that, the  state needs                                                               
the best  teachers possible in  classrooms. The state  needs good                                                               
teachers  with  manageable numbers  of  students  to set  up  the                                                               
opportunities to engage students in a variety of activities.                                                                    
SENATOR  BEGICH shared  that  Marjorie  Menzies helped  establish                                                               
those standards in the '90s and  he served on that committee that                                                               
wrote  the standards.  He asked  what  good is  STEM without  the                                                               
ability to have a democratic government.                                                                                        
10:04:19 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR STEVENS  commented that public education  was established                                                               
to create  citizens and Mr.  Wheeles is doing that.  The question                                                               
for students about their role in  a republic is crucial. He would                                                               
appreciate  any of  Mr. Wheeles'  students letting  the committee                                                               
know how they feel.                                                                                                             
CHAIR HOLLAND asked if any of his students are listening.                                                                       
MR. WHEELES  answered that it  is spring  break, but he  plans to                                                               
share the recording with them.                                                                                                  
SENATOR HUGHES  asked how many  districts require  government for                                                               
MR. LAMKIN said he is actively polling for that information.                                                                    
SENATOR   STEVENS  said   the   National   Conference  of   State                                                               
Legislators  had  a  wonderful  program  many  years  ago  called                                                               
Legislators in  the Classroom. He  encouraged all  legislators to                                                               
SENATOR BEGICH  suggested that Mr.  Wheeles invite  the committee                                                               
members to his classrooms.                                                                                                      
CHAIR  HOLLAND  added  that  the important  thing  is  that  they                                                               
understand that they are just people.                                                                                           
10:06:59 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR HOLLAND held SB 72 in committee.                                                                                          
10:07:45 AM                                                                                                                   
There being no further business to come before the committee,                                                                   
Chair Holland adjourned the Senate Education Standing Committee                                                                 
meeting at 10:07 a.m.                                                                                                           

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SB 80 NAMI Alaska letter of support.jpeg SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 80
SB80 Sponsor Statment.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 80
SB80 Suppoting Documents.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 80
SB80 Written Testimonies.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 80
Sectional Anaylsis FOR SB80.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 80
SB 72 Fiscal Note.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 72
SB072_Civics_Sectional_version A.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 72
SB072_Civics_Research_RAND_Focus-on-Civic-Ed_08Dec2020.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 72
SB072_Civics_Research_Links-to-Resources.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 72
SB072_Civics_Research_128-Test-Questions.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 72
SB072_Civics_Research_WSJ_02March2021.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 72
SB80 Letter of Support.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 80
SB072_Civics_Sponsor-Statement_10Feb2021.pdf SEDC 3/10/2021 9:00:00 AM
SB 72