Call it a philosophical difference.
Wednesday state lawmakers played out the fundamental distinction between the political parties that govern Arizona. Republicans hold a slim majority in both chambers of the Legislature, which resulted in Senate Bill 1456 being passed on to Gov. Ducey for his signature to turn the initiative into state law.
In the House of Representatives all 31 Republicans voted in favor and all 28 of the Democrats who were present voted against. The same majority carried the day for Republicans in the Senate, 16-14.
SB 1456 requires schools to obtain written consent from parents before teaching sex education to students and prohibits classroom presentation of the subject prior to the fifth grade, when most children are 10 or 11 years old.
The most significant change from existing state law is the requirement that parents “opt-in” to the curriculum. Previously, parents were offered the option of “opting-out” if they didn’t want their child participating in a classroom presentation of the topic.
Republicans view this issue in simple, straight-forward terms. They believe parents, not schools, should be the ultimate authority on teaching their kids about sex.
Democrats see gray, where Republicans see black-and-white. Democrats believe in the effectiveness of schools teaching the subject and they identify existing social issues — including abuse and teen pregnancy — as reasons that children need a common understanding of sex education. The best opportunity to accomplish that goal is through public schools, in their view.
In the current divisive political environment, compromise isn’t possible. The best legislation should include principles that incorporate both party philosophies. Republicans should be able to claim SB 1456 protects the rights of parents while Democrats should be able to point to the initiative as a progressive step toward addressing social issues that plague communities across Arizona.
Instead, the legislation has angered the Arizona School Boards Association — a nonpartisan organization that serves the needs of local school boards — for its “overreach.” The bill infringes on the authority of local boards “ …t o establish curriculum it deems appropriate for the school community,” according to a tweet issued Wednesday by the ASBA.
Ironically, in the opinion of Republicans in the Legislature, a state law that puts parents in charge of this subject isn’t overreach, it’s a guarantee of personal liberty. Democrats and the ASBA believe the best way for parents to have input on sex ed is by getting involved with the local school board. Parents with concerns should work with the elected members of the board to effect school curriculum, in the view of Democrats.
Republicans in the Legislature don’t believe that’s the best way to assure parents will be the ultimate authority on sex ed. Their lack of faith in the local governing system for schools is consistent with other party principles, which hold that less government is good government and the importance of individual liberties — in this case for parents.
Educating parents on the importance of teaching their children about sex education offers the best solution for politicians in both parties. It protects the right of parents to handle the subject, while creating awareness of social issues that afflict local communities.
Unfortunately, compromise is not an option in Phoenix.