By Terri Jo Neff |
A state senator has introduced a bill to prohibit public school districts from using taxpayer dollars to pay for membership in a state or national school board association.
Current state law allows a school district governing board to budget and spend funds for membership in an association of school districts within Arizona. But a school district board is not permitted to spend taxpayers’ dollars to join an association which attempts to influence the outcome of an election.
“The Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) has a consistent pattern of lobbying with a clear bias,” Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-LD16) said Tuesday. “This constitutes political activity and is often against the very taxpayers that funded them.”
ASBA “should be serving the parents, and not working hard against them,” Townsend added.
As a result, Townsend is sponsoring Senate Bill 1011, which would still allow a school district to join ASBA or another state association, as long as the membership dues are not paid by taxpayer funds. That leaves ASBA the option, Townsend suggested, of pursuing 501(c)(4) tax exempt status so it can fundraise for operational money “without relying on the taxpayer.”
SB1011 passed out of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday via a 5-3 partisan vote.
The Arizona Association of County School Superintendents has come out against Townsend’s bill, as has the Arizona School Administrators Association. Among those supporting SB1011 include the Center for Arizona Policy and Diane Douglas, who served as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2015-2018.
School boards and associations have come under scrutiny the last two years due to COVID-19 protocols which have frequently pitted educators and administrators against the wishes of parents. It has led to a groundswell of parental interest in school operations and curriculum, as well as in how school boards spend funds.
Last September, the National School Boards Association got sideways with many school district governing boards and parents after sending a letter to President Joe Biden complaining about purported threatening and aggressive behavior on the part of parents toward school board members.
NSBA claimed such actions amounted to domestic terrorism which warranted federal law enforcement intervention. The fallout led several state school board associations to withdraw from NSBA.
And in Arizona, it resulted in the creation last year of the Arizona Coalition of School Board as an alternative to ASBA, which is still a member of NSBA.
Townsend recently requested records from ASBA about its expenditures for legal fees in connection with any litigation involving the state. She said her intent is to determine whether those expenditures came from dues paid by any Arizona school board.
ASBA did not comply with her public record request, Townsend said.
“I would hate to know the dues this organization receives from school boards are being used to pay attorneys to sue our state and overturn legislation we’re crafting on behalf of these constituents,” she said. “This is completely inappropriate, and I will be looking into whether or not taxpayer money has been used in this fashion to undo our laws.”