Who Is In Charge

Senate passes sex education bill

Updated March 18 – The Senate Monday voted 20-15 to pass the comprehensive sex education bill.

Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora
Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora

The vote came after 45 minutes of discussion that consisted primarily of Republican senators coming to the microphone to oppose the bill, mostly on moral grounds. The vote fell along party lines, with majority Democrats backing the bill. (House passage of the bill also was along party lines.)

Here’s a sampling of some of the opposition comments:

“This isn’t about parents teaching their children, this is about the state taking over the role of parents. … There is no room for teaching solid moral values. … What about staying morally pure? … Have we become so jaded as to right and wrong?” – Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud

“We have forgotten what morality is. … Sexual activity is a sacred thing between a man and a woman after marriage. … [The bill has] “an agenda to have a free-flowing sexual society. We’ve seen where that’s got us in the last 30 years.” – Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley

“For so many years we have been taking power away from the family. … We can’t even discipline our children in the way we think appropriate. … We can’t even have our kids work on the farm anymore.” – Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins

“I think sex education is appropriate … but I think this goes too far. … I think the family is the best place for these kinds of conversation to happen.” Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango

The measure returns to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

Text of March 15 story follows.

The comprehensive sex education bill has passed its first floor test in Senate after a long debate that featured discussion of body parts, sexual diseases, agency infighting, government tyranny and teen psychology.

The debate was part of what turned out to be a long, ideological day at the Capitol Friday, during which both houses had protracted debates over gun-control legislation and the House wrangled over abortion.

The sex-education measure, House Bill 13-1081, has been controversial every step of the way since it had its first, six-hour hearing in a House committee on Feb. 7.

The bill wouldn’t impose any uniform new sex ed requirements on Colorado schools nor override existing state content standards on health education. Rather, it would create a new grant program, to be funded with expected federal and private funds, within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Schools that wanted grants would have to abide by standards set in the bill for “age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, and comprehensive human sexuality education.”

Prime sponsor Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, noted that teen pregnancies and some sexually transmitted infections are down in Colorado, but “this is still a very significant issue in our state,” with 15 babies born to teen moms in Colorado every day. “That’s preventable” with better sex education, she said.

Critics of the bill, primarily conservative Republicans, have several objections:

Abstinence: The chief critic of the bill was Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who criticized a health department report on teen sexual health for slighting abstinence. “My deep suspicion is this is about anything but abstinence,” Lundberg said. Democrats, with some Republican votes, added an amendment that beefed up language about the importance of abstinence.

Parental involvement: The House amended the bill to require the health department to appoint a parent to the advisory committee that will oversee the program. Lundberg tried various amendments that would have required the State Board of Education to appoint two parents to the panel, but those changes were rebuffed.

Big government: “I am the parent here, not this Senate, not the department of health, not the Department of Education. … It’s none of your business. Stay out of my family’s life,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch. Lundberg grumbled about “busybody social engineering of everybody’s life.”

Homosexuality: The bill specifies that sex education should be sensitive to the needs of gay and lesbian students, which has made some Republicans uncomfortable. Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, complained, “This is not about sex education, this is about an agenda of the left to promote gay and lesbian sex education.”

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, responded to all the criticism by saying, “I’m pretty sad that this bill is being perceived as a radical bill … or promotion of unusual sexual practices. … I would think we would want some medically based information. Many people believe we shouldn’t talk about sex in school or that we can just tell kids not to have sex and they won’t. That’s not reality.”

The bill also has a subtext of agency infighting. The State Board of Education recently voted to oppose the bill and sent a letter to every senator.

Lundberg repeatedly hammered the point that CDE, not the health department, should run the program. Todd replied that CDE would have a seat on the advisory board and that the bill doesn’t touch state health content standards.

SBE members complained about the bill during a meeting earlier in the week. “We’ve been chasing this from behind from the beginning,” said chair Paul Lundeen of Monument. He said the move to take CDE out of the process was a “strategic” one by others.

The Senate will have to take a final recorded vote on the bill before it can return to the House for consideration of amendments.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.