Monday, March 7, 2022

Posted By on Mon, Mar 7, 2022 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge A ‘Punitive Model’ For Failing Schools: GOP Proposal Would Let Charters Take Over District Schools
Photo by | Joe Brusky (modified)

In 2019, there were 180 Arizona schools that received a D or F rating and new legislation given preliminary approval by the House would hand over their operations or shut them down if they don’t improve.

House Bill 2808 establishes the Arizona Achievement District. This district is made up of high-performing district and charter schools handpicked by a nine-member board appointed by the governor. Out-of-state charter school operators may also be welcomed into the district.

The new board would use performance data from the 2018-2019 school year and this year to identify struggling schools. No school grading was done between those years due to COVID-19 and the shift to remote learning. Based on these results, schools would be given several choices: independently improve their performance within three years, partner with a high-performing school that will take over operations, be replaced by a “Fresh Start” school with a proven academic track record, close down, or consolidate with a nearby school.

The move is an extension of GOP school choice initiatives that favor charter over public schools. Struggling schools may elect to be replaced with a “Fresh Start” school, or might be forced into the arrangement if they don’t improve on their own. “Fresh Start” schools would be run by an Achievement District School to eventually replace a failing school on the same campus or within its attendance boundaries. They operate out of a vacant building or one which is being leased or purchased from a school district.

During a Feb. 15 Education Committee hearing in the state House of Representatives, sponsor Rep. Michelle Udall said these “Fresh Start” schools would need to be charter schools, because public school districts can’t buy up schools in other districts.

If schools fail to reach a C grade after the three year mark, they will be forced into a partnership with an Achievement District school, a Fresh Start school operation or be shut down, at the Arizona Achievement District board’s discretion.

“The goal is to have only high-achieving schools in the state. The goal is to have no more D and F schools in the state, so that every child can attend a school that is high quality and get the education they deserve,” Udall said during the committee hearing. 

The Mesa Republican, who chairs the committee, noted the program’s application of pressure on schools garners positive results.

Udall’s bill last month won preliminary approval in the House of Representatives, but has yet to face a formal vote. If the House passes it, the measure would go to the state Senate for further consideration.

A similar program in Tennessee found exactly the opposite. The state began taking over underperforming schools with its own Achievement School District in 2011 with the goal of moving the bottom 5% into the top 25% in five years. But after nearly a decade of handing struggling neighborhood schools over to charter school networks, the schools failed to meet the state’s performance goal — and the state is now working on moving several of them back into their original districts.

Critics of the bill say its measures don’t actually address the reasons so many schools are struggling. 

You have to meet kids where they are and then you have to have the resources to help them grow. They need more, and teachers need more.

– Kristi Wilson, Buckeye Elementary School District superintendent

A 2019 U.S. Census Bureau review placed Arizona 49th in school funding. The state spent about $10,000 on students that year, well below the national average of $15,700. Beth Lewis, the director of Save our Schools Arizona, a public school advocacy organization, pointed out that low funding invariably contributes to lower standardized test scores and graduation rates. It doesn’t help that these schools often operate in already poor communities.

“School performance correlates really closely with the level of district poverty,” Lewis said during a Tuesday afternoon Zoom town hall meeting with school officials about HB2808.

Arizona’s poverty rate was higher than the national rate, even before the devastating impact of COVID-19. Students whose families struggle economically often start school at a lower educational level than their peers, experience schooling gaps and might not have access to high quality learning materials at home.

Many D- and F-rated schools are in communities with entrenched poverty. Marana Unified School District Superintendent Dan Streeter said Roadrunner Elementary in his district was a C-rated school in 2019, but has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and he worries it may be in danger in the future if Udall’s legislation passes. About 82% of Roadrunner’s student body is on the free and reduced lunch program, and the surrounding community’s median income is 60% lower than the average for the rest of Marana. Its placement in a rural area means that community resources are scarce: The nearest library is 14 miles away.

“These are factors that impact letter grades,” Streeter said.

Expecting school districts to resolve systemic issues in such a short period of time is hardly fair, especially when the bill doesn’t provide adequate funding to do so, Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said.

Schools that choose the bill’s self-improvement route would be granted $150 per student for three years. For schools that are already overstretched, critics say that investment is insufficient. In Maricopa County, Buckeye Elementary School had an F rating in 2019. Its enrollment was 904 last year – assuming enrollment stays fairly equal, the total funding Buckeye Elementary might receive to turn around their performance is $405,000.

If schools decide to partner with an Achievement District or “Fresh Start” school — relinquishing their control and, in the latter case, the whole school — they may apply for one-time funding of $2,000 per student. That “partner” may end up being an outside charter school operator who profits from taxpayer money.

Implementing punitive measures shifts the focus from student growth to performance and is detrimental to students in the long run, critics said. Punishing schools for not meeting standards drives away high quality teachers — the most valuable asset in a school’s arsenal. Arizona continues a six-year streak of teacher shortages, and a survey last month found nearly 2,000 vacancies.

“When you have a student body that is more needs-intensive and you have a more punitive model for determining school letter grades and determining teacher performance-based pay, that doesn’t necessarily romance the most highly qualified applicants to come and take teaching positions,” Trujillo said.

The schools most at risk of facing takeovers are those that serve marginalized communities. Lewis estimates that 22 out of 77 schools in the Navajo Nation would be affected by HB2808. Joe Bia, a governing board member at Kayenta Unified School District, said that keeping schools open in Kayenta is critical. The town is rural and isolated, and schools and their after-school programs are among the only educational resources for youths. Shutting them down means cutting kids off from internet access they may not have at home.

Changing the way these schools work to meet performance standards might also put the cultural identity of schools at risk. KUSD families are predominantly Navajo, and he said the schools work to preserve their cultural heritage and language in classrooms.

“If we’re going to have to change the way that we’re running our schools, I can see that panning out in many catastrophic ways — one impacting elemental cultural aspects,” Bia said.

Tucson Unified School District is another district with cultural identities that would be negatively affected by eliminating local control. It’s home to the largest Afghan refugee student population, a sizable English Language Learner cohort, and is the top choice for Tohono O’odham and Pascua Yaqui families. Trujillo said he doubts transplanting educational frameworks from other regions into a place as diverse as Tucson would work.

“Our communities and our staff that serve these communities know the needs of our children and our communities best. And what they need is support — they need resources and they need time,” he said. 

Instead of forwarding potentially devastating programs, legislators should support programs with proven success rates, like Project Momentum, said Kristi Wilson, the superintendent of Buckeye Elementary School District. The project works in collaboration with school staff to help foster professional development for teachers, design tracking and evaluation methods, and craft curriculum maps and pacing guides to keep classrooms in step with state standards.

It also provides funding equivalent to HB 2880 — $150 per pupil. But the difference is the guidance that comes along with it, and a lack of punitive measures.

Avondale Elementary School District significantly improved working with the Project, tripling their AzMerit mathematics scores and nearly doubling scores in English in the 2017-2018 school year from the baseline established in 2014-2015. Still, those three years of gains were not enough to move all their schools out of D grade territory. A short turnaround time for schools with long-standing difficulties simply isn’t feasible, Save Our Schools Arizona noted in a written fact sheet for Tuesday’s town hall.

“You have to meet kids where they are and then you have to have the resources to help them grow,” Wilson said, “They need more, and teachers need more.”

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Posted By on Thu, Mar 3, 2022 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge Bills To Increase Scrutiny of School Library Books, Access to Classrooms Advance
Public Domain Image Via |

Schools would be required to publicly post every new book bought for their libraries, have elected governing board members approve all new book purchases and let parents know every book their child checks out under a proposal Senate Republicans advanced Tuesday.

Critics said the new requirements would decrease diversity of viewpoints by adding library books to the ongoing school culture wars that have roiled school districts in Arizona and across the nation over the past year.

Special education teacher Alicia Messing spoke against the measure, saying it could potentially lead to censorship of diverse viewpoints if parents disagree with them. She pleaded with the Senate Education Committee to recognize that it could inspire heightened polarization and stifle representation in school literature.

“We have lots of control over what books we choose to have on our bookshelves and our nightstands. We do get to control what books we read and what books our children read. What we don’t get to do is choose for everybody,” she said.

But Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, R-Peoria, said the bill was all about increasing transparency and keeping parents in the loop about what their children are learning.

“If parents have an issue with anything that’s being purchased in the library, they have the ability to speak to their governing board,” she said.

Her measure, House Bill 2439, passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 15 on a party-line vote, with only Republican support.

Committee members said there were  a host of logistical concerns.

Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Paradise Valley, wondered if all current books would need to be posted for review. There were several moments of confusion as neither Pingerelli nor committee staff were able to answer her question. Finally, Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, reread the bill’s stipulations and concluded that current books are exempt from the 60-day public review process but not from being included in the online catalog.

Marsh, a former teacher, also objected to the unpaid workload addition. Many schools don’t have full-time trained librarian staff. Those schools are exempted from posting a list of new purchases online, but not from preparing individual student lists if a parent requests them.

“This becomes another unfunded mandate. It implies there is manpower for this. I can’t stress enough, folks: librarians, front office people and administrators are already understaffed and covering for sick teachers in the classroom. There is an overwhelming shortage of manpower at most schools,” she said.

A January survey from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association reported that nearly 2,000 teacher positions remained unfilled and more than 3,000 vacancies were filled by people who don’t meet standard teacher requirements. 

Pace questioned whether the workload might discourage librarians from making purchases and keeping their shelves stocked, if every new book means dealing with burdensome reporting requirements.

While Pingerelli admitted HB2439 could benefit from amendments, it was passed on a party-line vote and will move towards the Senate floor for debate. 

Parental access to classrooms

The committee also opened up every Arizona classroom door to parents, whether their child attends the school or not, as long as they are considering enrolling them. Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, said she introduced House Bill 2025 after a constituent told her she was prevented from touring potential middle school special education programs for her daughter.

“As a parent of special needs children, I understand how important it is to see whether or not a classroom is going to be a good fit for the child,” she said.

The bill requires schools to develop visitation, tour and observation policies and publicly post the processes on their website. Policy conditions like when, how many people or how often they may visit are left up to administrators.

Karla Phillips-Krivickas is the mother who reached out to Udall after her request to tour middle school special education classrooms was repeatedly denied at one school, despite the Arizona Department of Special Education Director saying the school’s reasoning that it would constitute a FERPA violation was incorrect.

The bill’s language doesn’t specify visits only to special education classrooms. 

“Every school is different, some are small, some are big, so how they construct their classrooms is very different,” Phillips-Krivickas explained, adding that most special needs children spend a lot of time in general education classrooms.

A data review from The National Center for Education Statistics estimated that 60% of students with disabilities spent more than 80% of their time in general education classes from 2009 through 2019.

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, expressed concern that opening up access to special education classes could be detrimental for some students. She said that her friend is a special education teacher and several of her students are particularly emotional and have had violent reactions before.

And Marsh added that some general education classes have difficulty staying on track at the best of times.

“There are some classes where a pin dropping two miles away is a distraction,” she said.

Udall responded that different classrooms would necessitate different policy applications, and the bill allows for that. It includes an exemption for situations in which visits might risk the health or safety of students and staff, and also allows schools to set their own policy around the visits. Still, it’s important for parents to be able to examine the conditions their children will be in day in and day out, she reiterated.

“(It’s) a really scary thing to ask me to put my non-verbal daughter in a classroom and to never ever be able to see it and see what’s going on. Now granted, I think this is something that should be available to all parents, that’s why the bill is not specifically just for special education, but there definitely have to be nuanced policies for each school,” she said.

HB2025 was approved almost unanimously, with only one dissenting vote. Two of those who voted for it expressed reservations about the bill, but voted to send it to the full Senate for further consideration.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Posted By on Wed, Feb 16, 2022 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge Republicans Want to Bar the State from Making COVID-19 Vaccines a Requirement for School

A Republican bill that would bar the state from making the COVID-19 vaccine a requirement for school enrollment passed out of committee Tuesday.

“Some may ask, why is this necessary now? It’s not being mandated,” Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, said of her bill, House Bill 2086. “I want to make sure it stays that way.”
The bill would add “an immunization for COVID-19 or any variant of COVID-19” to the list of vaccines that cannot be required for school attendance.

Currently, Arizona law prohibits schools from requiring students to be immunized against HPV.

Last year, the legislature passed legislation that banned mask and vaccine mandates by schools, but the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the provisions that were unconstitutionally put into the state budget.

Osborne, who said she is not an “anti-vaxxer,” said that she decided to bring the bill because she had heard stories on the radio about young athletes being forced to get the vaccine in order to play in high school sports.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 16, 2022 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge House Passes Measure to Avoid School Funding Cuts, but Senate Appears 1 GOP Vote Short
James Anderson/Cronkite News

The push to temporarily raise the state’s spending limit for K-12 schools and avoid nearly $1.2 billion in cuts that could close classrooms passed easily in the state House of Representatives but stalled out in the Senate, where it may only be one Republican shy of the 20 votes needed to pass it.

With the Senate’s 14 Democrats unanimously supporting the measure, legislative leaders need only five Republicans to get to the two-thirds supermajority required to raise the aggregate expenditure limit, which is necessary to allow schools to spend the money that lawmakers budgeted for K-12 education last year. 

Five Republican senators — Nancy Barto, Paul Boyer, Tyler Pace, T.J. Shope and Senate President Karen Fann, who sponsored the resolution to raise the cap — confirmed to the Arizona Mirror that they’re supporting the measure. 

That means there are 19 votes. But the pivotal 20th vote proved elusive on Tuesday. Fann delayed the start of the Senate’s floor session by more than a half hour while she tried to round up the last vote. She wouldn’t confirm how many votes she already has, but says she’s close. 

The problem is that many Republican senators won’t vote for the resolution until they know that it won’t open the door for Proposition 208, a voter-approved income tax hike on wealthier Arizonans. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled last year that the tax hike is illegal if the new revenue would exceed the aggregate expenditure limit, and sent the case back to a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to determine. So far, Judge John Hannah has taken his time. 

Last week, Hannah told legislative leaders that he’ll issue his ruling on his own timeline. The Arizona Constitution sets a March 1 deadline for lawmakers to raise the expenditure cap before districts will have to start making budget cuts. Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman says that would represent a cumulative 16% cut for school districts. 

Because the school year would be roughly three-quarters over when the cuts are scheduled to go into effect, many school districts have said the impact would be massive — and could force teacher layoffs and school shut-downs. 

Posted By on Wed, Feb 16, 2022 at 9:07 AM

click to enlarge The Daily Agenda: Resignation Watch Begins
Gage Skidmore
It's all fun and games until you're testifying under oath.

She's even failing at resigning ... One vote down, one to go ... And it's not quite must-see TV.

In what should be the death blow to her short tenure as Maricopa County Attorney, Allister Adel’s five top chiefs penned a three-page letter recounting all her failures that somehow got worse for her with every new sentence. 

Adel was already in a world of hurt over the handful of individual scandals that have rocked her office since she took over. But allegedly being drunk on the job — and drunk-dialing an employee about “pranking” another employee who had resigned — was a bridge too far for the professional lawyers at MCAO.

They sent their demand for her resignation to the county board of supervisors and the State Bar of Arizona and have launched their own ethics investigation into their boss. 

The letter starts off by stating that her top deputies held an intervention of sorts with her on November 30 and warned that they didn’t have proof she was drinking on the job, but they were watching closely. The staffers walked away hopeful that she would start showing up to the office and get her act together. They said it was disappointing and shocking that she has done neither. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Posted By on Tue, Feb 15, 2022 at 1:40 PM

click to enlarge The Daily Agenda: Congrats! Now Get To Work
The schools might not shut down early, after all.

Time is a flat circle … Dodging is an art … And counting on your fingers is fine.

Republican leadership in the House and Senate finally introduced bills to temporarily lift the education spending cap, taking the first step to saving schools from running out of money — and possibly closing — two weeks from today.

But it’s far from a done deal. Word at the Capitol is that the House seems to have the votes lined up, while the vote count in the Senate is less sure. 

To get that two-thirds vote, it’ll only take six Republicans in the Senate (plus one to make up for Democratic Sen. Juan Mendez, who is out on paternity leave after Senate President Karen Fann refused to let lawmakers vote remotely) and 11 in the House to avert financial disaster and keep schools from closing. 

But even that will likely take some arm twisting. 

The bills are “clean,” meaning they only deal with the issue of the cap. While House Speaker Rusty Bowers has pledged to keep the bill that way, Fann seemed noncommittal when Capitol scribe Howie Fischer asked. Senate holdouts are already demanding that it be tied to universal school vouchers, which is a non-starter with Democrats.

Many Republicans remain wary of lifting the cap before the dust settles on the court battles surrounding Proposition 208, which would increase taxes on high earners to pay for education. Lifting the cap ahead of that ruling could undercut their legal arguments. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Posted By on Wed, Feb 9, 2022 at 2:41 PM

click to enlarge ‘Broken Promise’: Hoffman Implores Lawmakers To Lift K-12 Spending Cap To Spare $1.1B In Cuts
Photo by Gage Skidmore
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman used her annual State of Education address to urge lawmakers to raise a constitutional spending limit on K-12 schools before they face major budget cuts in a few weeks.

Speaking to the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, Hoffman, a Democrat elected in 2018, said she’d originally planned to give a different speech. But because of legislative inaction, public schools will face a collective 16% budget cut, equal to more than $1.1 billion, if the legislature doesn’t suspend the spending limit by March 1.

“We all agree that we must do everything possible to keep our schools open. But the biggest threat of widespread school closures comes not from the virus, but a school finance relic from 1980 — the aggregate expenditure limit,” she said. “In 21 days, public district schools in every county will face enormous and devastating budget cuts if you fail to diffuse the ticking time bomb that will force them to close.”

K-12 funding in Arizona has never been higher. But without legislative action, schools won’t be able to spend the money that lawmakers provided last year.

In 1980, Arizona voters approved an aggregate statewide spending limit for K-12 schools. The legislature can approve a one-year exemption of that limit with a two-thirds vote in each chamber, but Republican leadership hasn’t made any moves in that direction since the legislative session began last month.

School districts are already planning for the possibility of budget cuts, including potential school closures, Hoffman said.

“If schools close because they are not authorized to spend money already sitting in their bank accounts, the blame will lie with you, not our public schools,” she said.

Rep. Jennifer Pawlik and Sen. Christine Marsh, both Democrats, have introduced resolutions to lift the spending cap, but neither has received a committee hearing. Next week is the last week for legislative committees to hear bills in their chamber of origin, though the House speaker and Senate president can authorize such hearings after the deadline.

“Let me be perfectly clear: Inaction is not an option, and it’s appalling that this wasn’t the first issue addressed when the session started a month ago,” Hoffman said. 

Hoffman explained to the committee members what consequences their own school districts will face if the cap isn’t lifted.

Washington Elementary School District, in committee Chairman Paul Boyer’s legislative district, is poised to lose $25 million in funding. Coolidge Elementary School District, whose board Sen. T.J. Shope, the committee’s vice chair, used to serve on, would lose $2.9 million. And the massive Deer Valley Unified School District, represented by Sen. Nancy Barto, would be forced to cut $36.6 million. 

If schools close because they are not authorized to spend money already sitting in their bank accounts, the blame will lie with you, not our public schools.
– Kathy Hoffman, state superintendent of public instruction

Boyer, a Glendale Republican, seemed receptive to raising the cap, and noted that the legislature still has three weeks to act. But he also sought acknowledgement that the reason Arizona is about to exceed the cap is because GOP lawmakers, whom Democrats routinely accuse of underfunding K-12 education, have increased funding for schools by so much.

He noted that the legislature recently increased district additional assistance by $700 million. The reauthorization of Proposition 301, a voter-approved sales tax from 2000, maintained about $600 million in annual funding that was set to expire. And the 20×2020 plan that Gov. Doug Ducey spearheaded to increase Arizona teacher salaries, which are among the lowest in the United States, cost another billion dollars, Boyer noted.

In 2009, during the Great Recession, per-pupil funding in Arizona was $8,696, Boyer said. Now it’s $12,371. Arizona has added nearly $8.7 billion to the K-12 budget since 2015, he said.

“What we hear a lot is, well, we’re cutting education. But the reality is the opposite. The reality is the reason why we’re at the limit that we are is because we, the legislature, have put so many dollars into K-12 — one could argue at the detriment to corrections, public safety, other areas of government that desperately need it,” said Boyer, who works as a teacher at a charter high school.

One contributing factor, though not the only one, is that voters exempted Prop. 301 funding from the expenditure limit in 2002. When lawmakers and Ducey reauthorized the Prop. 301 tax in 2018, they didn’t ask the voters to do the same.

Hoffman acknowledged that the legislature has increased K-12 funding and thanked them for those budget increases. Nonetheless, the budget cuts they’ll suffer if the spending cap isn’t increased would be devastating.

Sen. Rick Gray, R-Peoria, questioned why school districts didn’t plan ahead for the possibility, knowing full well that the spending limit was looming. Hoffman responded that districts had no reason to believe that lawmakers wouldn’t permit schools to spend the money that they themselves had allocated, which she said would amount to a “broken promise.”

Marsh, a Phoenix Democrat and former Arizona teacher of the year, echoed that sentiment.

“We gave the schools the money. Period. Full stop. We now are the only ones who can grant them the ability to spend the money that was already appropriated and allocated to them,” Marsh said.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 9, 2022 at 11:19 AM

click to enlarge The Daily Agenda: Tick Tick Tick...
Copyright: andreypopov
GOP state lawmakers and Gov. Ducey want kids to be in school unless there's a chance taxes will go up on Arizona's highest earners.

As Arizona’s education doomsday clock continues ticking down, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman served up a pointed State of Education speech to the Senate Education Committee yesterday detailing exactly how much money schools located in lawmakers’ districts stand to lose if lawmakers don’t lift the education spending cap. 

And honestly, it’s worth repeating those numbers. 

But first, ICYMI, the education spending cap is the biggest looming problem in Arizona right now.  But Republican leaders at the Capitol don’t seem worried.

If lawmakers can’t muster a two-thirds vote to increase the cap in the next 11 legislative days, schools will be barred from spending more than $1 billion that they already have in their bank accounts and have budgeted for this school year. That’s a 16% across-the-board cut to schools — but it’s really more like a 100% cut of what’s left for the year.

We’ll try to explain it like a teacher would: Imagine your parents gave you a $100 budget for the month. It’s the 25th day of the month and you already spent $84. Suddenly, your parents say you can only spend $84 this month. So you have $0 instead of $16 for rest of the month. That’s the position schools are in.

We’re talking teacher layoffs, program cuts, class consolidations and full-blown school closures ahead of summer break. 

“We all agree that we must do everything possible to keep our schools open. But the biggest threat of widespread school closures comes not from the virus, but a school finance relic from 1980, the aggregate expenditure limit,” Hoffman said.

The reason we’re hitting the cap is somewhat complicated, but it boils down to fewer students were attending school last year because of the pandemic, lawmakers extended an education tax a few years back but didn’t exempt those funds from the cap as they had in the past, and lawmakers have put a bunch more money into education in recent years. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Posted By on Tue, Feb 8, 2022 at 3:30 PM

click to enlarge House Republicans Pass Bill to Prohibit Sexually Explicit Materials in Schools
Photo by Kennedy Library | Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

The Republican-controlled House passed a measure that would ban sexually explicit materials in K-12 classrooms across the state.

Rep. Jake Hoffman, a Queen Creek Republican, said the bill would shield children from inappropriate content.

“This (bill) is about nothing more than protecting the innocence of Arizona children from sexually explicit materials,” he said during a debate on the House floor on Thursday.

House Bill 2495 bans any textual, visual or auditory classroom materials that include reference to sexual activity or conduct. The bill defines conduct as broadly as any physical contact with “genitals, pubic area, buttocks or, if such a person is a female, breast.” It doesn’t matter if that contact is made with clothed or unclothed body parts.

The bill came under fire last week for including homosexuality in the definition of sexual conduct, leading to concerns that any content about the LGBT community would be prohibited. Hoffman initially denied the accusation, but ultimately added an amendment that would remove the word shortly before presenting it to the full House.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 8, 2022 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge To Expose ‘Critical Race Theory’ in Classrooms, Republicans Move To Have Teachers Post All Lesson Materials Online
James Anderson/Cronkite News

To allow parents to scour lessons for elements of “critical race theory,” Arizona teachers would be required to upload a list of every book and worksheet they use in their classrooms online for parental review if a Republican-backed bill becomes law.

The goal, says state Sen. Nancy Barto, is to increase transparency for parents who are concerned about their children’s education. Senate Bill 1211 requires schools to publicly post all materials and class activities on their website at least 7 days after being used. That means the names, authors, and organizations associated with the materials, along with links if they’re available for free online or descriptions if they’re not. Materials encompass everything from textbooks and worksheets to YouTube videos and phone apps.

Lesson plans that include topics like race, gender, diversity, and non-discrimination must be posted at least 72 hours before they’re carried out.

“More sunshine on what our kids are involved in is a great thing,” Barto, the Phoenix Republican who introduced the bill, said.

This is the second attempt to enshrine this into law, and a response to conservatives’ concern about so-called “critical race theory” being taught in classrooms. Conservatives have appropriated critical race theory as a catchall to describe basically any serious attempt to teach the history of race and racism in America.

Nicole Solas flew in from Rhode Island in support of the bill during a hearing on Tuesday afternoon. Solas was sued by the National Education Association after she filed more than 200 public records requests to determine whether her daughter’s school taught critical race theory. Solas said she was testifying on Arizona legislation so she could take the ideas back to Rhode Island.

She is being represented by the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based libertarian think tank that drafted the bill and is using it as model legislation in other states. Matt Beienburg, Goldwater Institute’s education policy director, said the organization supports other proposed bills of the same vein in 20 other states.

One proponent of the bill is Steve Daniels, the chairman of the right-wing extremist Patriot Party, who spent much of 2021 disrupting local school board meetings to protest mask mandates and how race is taught in schools. At one meeting, he was arrested for trespassing.

“It is racist curriculum — it singles kids out for the color of their skin and tells them: ‘If you’re white, you’re a racist and you can’t help it because you were born that way,’” he said of critical race theory education.