On Tuesday, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for requiring schools to adopt gender ideology practices in order to receive free or reduced lunch funds. About half of Arizona’s children rely on those meals.
The federal government supplements states with funds to provide free or reduced meals for low-income K-12 students. As AZ Free News reported, the Biden administration updated its Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) guidelines for its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to clarify that protected classes within anti-discrimination policy included sexual orientation and gender identity. In the context of Biden’s correlating executive order, the guidelines would likely require schools to allow bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams open to gender identity.
Brnovich asserted in a press release that the Biden administration’s actions are unlawful.
“USDA Choice applies to beef at the market, not to our children’s restrooms,” said Brnovich. “This threat of the Biden administration to withhold nutritional assistance for students whose schools do not submit to its extreme agenda is unlawful and despicable.”
Arizona’s lawsuit is part of a 22-state coalition led by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery. The remainder of the coalition includes Indiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Altogether, the 22 states receive over $28.6 billion in SNAP benefits for over 15.4 million individuals.
The states’ complaint asserted that President Joe Biden directed federal agencies to rewrite federal law in order to align with his January 2021 executive order to “prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity.” The lawsuit further asserted that the USDA circumvented the mandatory legal process outlined in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to implement their new guidelines.
The states described the new guidelines as “arbitrary, capricious, [and] an abuse of discretion.” Specifically, their lawsuit alleged that the Biden administration failed to observe procedures required by law for guideline updates, misinterpreted Title IX, violated anti-commandeering and non-delegation doctrines, and violated the Constitution’s Spending Clause, First Amendment, Tenth Amendment, and separation of powers.
“To be clear, the States do not deny benefits based on a household member’s sexual orientation or gender identity. But the States do challenge the unlawful and unnecessary new obligations and liabilities that the Memoranda and Final Rule attempt to impose — obligations that apparently stretch as far as ending sex-separated living facilities and athletics and mandating the use of biologically inaccurate preferred pronouns,” read the complaint. “Collectively, the Memoranda and Final Rule inappropriately expand the law far beyond what statutory text, regulatory requirements, judicial precedent, and the U.S. Constitution permit.”
Brnovich’s decision to join the coalition lawsuit wasn’t the only action Arizona officials took in response to the USDA guidelines. Earlier this month, Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (R-AZ-08) introduced legislation to nullify the gender ideology compliance requirement.
In a few short weeks, around 200 children will commit to an education that tends to stand out in this day and age: a “Christian, constitutional, classical” one.
These students of the new private school, Tipping Point Academy (TPA), are just a fraction of the thousands upended or seeking alternatives following public schools’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic: a demographic projected to increase due to the state’s recent and historic universalization of its school choice program, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).
TPA was launched last March by Great State Alliance (GSA), a nonprofit advocating for constitutional liberty since the summer of 2020 when that organization launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
AZ Free News interviewed TPA Founder Jeremy Wood. He was unabashed about God being the core of TPA’s foundations and vision.
“We are working from the presupposition that the word of God is the roadmap for life and living,” he explained. “The Bible is God’s word and truth. It offers knowledge and wisdom and everything you need to be successful in life. Our classes are all taught from a Biblical worldview. Everything we teach is taught from that perspective. We believe that God created the world. He created science, math, astronomy, and the stars, and He made the world to work as a perfect mechanism.”
Wood clarified that core academics and God aren’t mutually exclusive. He explained that TPA operates from Christian premises rather than a secular one. Meaning: TPA offers a classical education that encompasses the likes of Socratic dialogue and natural law and excludes modern, controversial approaches like Critical Race Theory (CRT), Culturally Responsive Education (CRE), Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), and Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). Their version of education includes approaches like “The Noah Plan,” which incorporates the Bible in every subject.
“That’s the difference: the word of God is the foundation of our instruction. That’s not separate from our academics. We’re teaching the kids all the same academics they’re learning in public schools,” said Wood. “Our curriculum isn’t vastly different. It’s more of a philosophical approach for how we apply the methodology of teaching. We apply the principled approach which is based on teaching kids on how to become learners and critical thinkers.”
Wood said that TPA initially started as a desire to provide a better education for his own children. Then, he said that he recognized that education was a frontline in defending liberty, and his desire expanded to offering a better education to his community.
“The government was forcing these shutdowns and mandates, so we decided to stand up and create a solution that was faith-based and protective of our rights to assemble, to meet without fear of needing to shut down, or implement mask policies, or some other weird draconian measures to create barriers between us,” said Wood.
According to Wood, TPA uses a mastery learning model for teaching. Students must master content in each subject, which are “set up like mini dissertations” that require students to compile their research and writing to complete a notebook, or “mini thesis.” Additionally, TPA prioritizes hands-on, project-based learning. Wood cited an example of TPA students learning to apply for a job, use functional math, develop business plans, manage a business, run sales, and market products and services through the campus cafe.
“TPA is about creating critical thinkers,” stated Wood.
Another unique aspect about TPA: they expect parental involvement, almost to the point of a requirement. Wood emphasized that fathers were the key figures that TPA prioritizes for incorporation, but noted that anyone is open to serve through work like administrative support or classroom management. Parents are required to undergo a background check, just like all TPA staff.
“We’re not going to allow you to be a non-present parent. We expect volunteering,” said Wood. “We believe it’s our duty to partner with the parents. If you’re not going to be involved in volunteering, we’ll just tell you right now we don’t think you’re a fit for our school. If we were in it for the money, we’d be telling people everything they wanted to hear to get them in the door. We’re pretty clear on our methodology to keep like-minded people in our community.”
In just over a year of its existence, TPA has already experienced pushback from the establishment educational community.
Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) has been one of the first to target TPA. The anti-school choice organization’s director, Beth Lewis, characterized the private school as a money-grabbing scheme developed in response to the universalization of ESAs.
At $8,500 annually, TPA’s tuition falls below the average private school cost. Average tuition for private schooling in Arizona is nearly $10,300.
TPA’s enrollment ranges between 180 to 200 students, totaling between $1.5 and $1.7 million accrued from tuition. If every parent utilized the $7,000 maximum from the state’s ESA Program, that reduces tuition to $1,500 — which may be paid down for just over $100 on a monthly basis. Interested parents may also qualify for a TPA scholarship.
Wood responded that taxpayer dollars for education should be accessible to all taxpayers — regardless of their beliefs.
“Those are our taxpayer dollars as well. People are welcome to have their opinion. They don’t have to send their kids to our school,” said Wood. “We shouldn’t be discriminated against just because we want our kids to learn about our heritage, our values, our God, as well as the academics.”
Wood added that he hasn’t drawn “one penny” from his nonprofit for compensation. Rather, he said that he sacrificed his own business to launch TPA. The Wood family now lives well within their means, he says, to allow TPA to flourish.
“I think there’s the perception that we don’t want taxpayer dollars going to religion. Well, we’re taxpayers as well, so if this is what we believe we should have a right to allocate our dollars to the education of our choice,” said Wood. “I’m not doing this for a platform. I’m not doing this for fame or money. We’re just trying to create a solution for our families and families that think like us.”
From the very beginning, Wood said that the TPA team relied on God to provide. He shared that they prayed without ceasing for their ideal location where the school sits currently: the site of a former church. By the time Wood discovered the site, it was already under contract to become a multifamily residence. Yet he said they prayed, and three weeks later the property fell out of escrow. Wood then sent a letter to the property owners, explaining his reason for buying. The owners agreed, selling the property at a generous price that Wood described as “essentially the cost of the dirt.” They closed within 30 days on the deal, enabling the TPA team to prepare the location for this past school year.
“We came across a campus in the Northeast Valley, and we believed God was going to deliver this property for us. We didn’t know how,” said Wood. “It was a small, humble beginning.”
TPA’s enrollment is filling up this year but, according to Wood, the main reason that some parents say they can’t enroll their student is due to finances. He expressed hope that increasing awareness of the ESA Program expansion will remedy that issue.
Wood shared that some parents also prefer the frugality of charter schools. He touched on an issue reported by AZ Free News: since charter schools exist within the realm of public schools, they’re under stricter government regulation and susceptible to incidents that occur in public education.
“There’s a perception that they could jump to the charter school path, that there’s a little more autonomy there. People don’t understand a charter school is still a public school,” said Wood. “They’re still under the regulatory thumb of the state government in terms of health requirements. If the government starts pushing for mask or vaccine mandates, or hindering any medical freedoms, the charter schools are still going to have to comply with that.”
TPA will teach all grades, K-12, but enrollment is only open up to the 9th grade at present. The school plans to integrate its current students into high school before opening up its high school classrooms for enrollment.
TPA also launched a feeder school, or “K-prep,” enrolling under 20 children. Wood said their goal is to launch 100 schools over the next decade.
If state lawmakers provided nearly 28 percent more funding to increase the salaries of Arizona’s public school teachers between 2018 and 2021, why did those teachers’ pay only go up 16.5 percent? And how did Arizona’s public schools spend billions of federal COVID funds?
Those are among the questions related to public school expenditures addressed in a policy report released this week by the Goldwater Institute which uses Arizona as a case study to delve into how school districts allocated COVID funds and why teachers have not seen meaningful pay increases dispute funding being made available to their district boards.
The report, “The COVID Funding Flood: How Spending Surged in Arizona’s Public School System Amid the Pandemic Era” by Matt Beienburg contains information which lawmakers, school district stakeholders, and the public can learn from when addressing future school funding issues.
Beienburg, Goldwater’s Director of Education Policy, provides data showing that the flood of taxpayer spending in response to COVID was “ostensibly meant to address the harms of the pandemic” but actually led to a massive overspending of federal funds, triggered a costly cycle of fiscal irresponsibility within K-12 public schools, and prioritized the interests of teachers’ unions “over student wellbeing.”
And during that time, the long-running pattern of public school districts increasing overall spending without meaningfully raising teacher salaries continued, according to Beienburg’s report. It should not be surprising then that district boards and administrations engaged in the same type of redirection when it came to COVID funds, the report notes.
Some key findings of the policy report are:
· Between fiscal years 2018 and 2021, Arizona lawmakers increased funding for teacher pay by 27.9 percent. But district schools provided only a 16.5 percent average teacher pay raise during that time, showing many district boards chose to use the funds for other expenditures and not what the legislators, teachers, and parents understood those funds were being used for.
· Arizona public school districts triggered a massive statewide enrollment decline of nearly 50,000 students as a result of their COVID mitigation protocols (i.e. closures, mask mandates) even as charter school enrollment rose and state and federal taxpayer funding for all public schools surged during the pandemic;
· Arizona school districts spent a significantly smaller proportion of their federal COVID funds (23.6 percent) compared to charter schools (31.3 percent) during the peak of the pandemic through June 2021. This was primarily due to a disproportionately high level of funding that districts have received from legislation but accumulated instead of spending at that time.
· The vast majority of public school districts’ expenditures of federal COVID funds for technology and school facilities upgrades occurred more than a full year after most public schools reopened for in-person learning. This suggests the funds are being primarily used for a non-COVID-related purpose. According to Beienburg’s report, the “COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an era of unprecedented spending on public K-12 schools, yet available evidence suggests that the bonanza of federal spending was almost entirely avoidable and that much of it will likely serve a very different purpose than the one originally sold to policymakers and the public.”
The report recommends that to avoid this sort of institutional failure in the future, policymakers in other states should seek to replicate the steps taken by the Arizona legislature to mandate reporting requirements on the use of all federal COVID stimulus funds.
The University of Arizona (UArizona) denied a reporter’s public records request concerning complaints received by its bias complaint system for students.
The reporter, Christian Schneider with The College Fix, submitted the records request last August. UArizona had no issue fulfilling a similar 2019 request for its bias complaint system. Overseeing the reporting system is the Bias Education & Support Team (BEST), which falls under the Dean of Students’ jurisdiction.
The Goldwater Institute, Phoenix-based public policy research and litigation organization, took up Schneider’s case. Last week, the organization requested that UArizona fulfill the records request.
UArizona Public Records Coordinator Kim Fassl claimed to Schneider that they denied his latest request based on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as well as Arizona court precedents upholding record denials to ensure individual privacy and the state’s best interests.
“The production of these records could cause a chilling effect among future complainants and the University,” wrote Fassl.
The previous public records coordinator that fulfilled Schneider’s 2019 request, Teri Bentson, raised none of the objections issued by Fassl. The change in perspective may have to do with the connection between Fassl and one of the six women in charge of BEST: the “Core Team.”
Prior to handling public records requests, Fassl was the associate director of residential education for student behavioral education. One of BEST’s Core Team, Nina Pereira, serves as the director of residential education, which oversees behavioral education. It appears that Fassl was Pereira’s subordinate. Neither Pereira and Fassl responded to a request for comment.
Fassl has also served as a member of the UArizona Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT). Similarly to BEST, BIT has a referral form to report concerning student behaviors.
In their letter petitioning for the fulfillment of Schneider’s request, the Goldwater Institute contended that both Arizona and federal court precedent determined redaction of identifying information was sufficient for FERPA adherence. The organization added that Schneider allowed for redactions in his initial request, too.
UArizona launched BEST in October 2020 amid the racialized protests and riots initiated by George Floyd’s death less than five months before.
BEST’s Core Team has remained the same since its launch. In addition to Pereira, there’s Veda Kowalski, assistant dean of students; Beverly Perez-Mercado, organizational development specialist within the Office of Learning & Organizational Development; Judy Marquez Kiyama, associate vice provost; Whitney Mohr, civil rights investigator within the Office of Institutional Equity; and Jane Pizzolato, director of the Office of Diversity & Inclusion.
Kiyama also serves as an equity consultant for the Ada Center and Strong Start to Finish. She’s also involved with the Culturally Responsive Curriculum Development Institute (CRCDI), which represents eight colleges. Culturally Responsive Education (CRE), also known as Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT), is synonymous with Critical Race Theory (CRT).
A Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) psychology teacher instructed high schoolers on controversial, challenged, and, in some cases, debunked claims concerning sexual orientation. According to records obtained by AZ Free News, SUSD didn’t give the teacher permission for what she taught.
Much of what SUSD Advanced Placement (AP) psychology teacher Mackenzie Onofry taught on the subject to the Desert Mountain High School students came from Alfred Kinsey: the late Indiana University sexologist credited as the “Father of the Sexual Revolution” whose research included adults sexually violating infants and children to prove the inherent sexual nature of mankind, even in minors. Kinsey is revered in many LGBTQ+ circles, and IU established an institute in his honor.
The following includes what Onofry taught the students, according to slideshows obtained by AZ Free News: only 4 percent of men and 2 percent of women are exclusively heterosexual, sexuality is a continuum, homosexuality spans human history and is a natural part of the animal world, sexual orientation isn’t a choice and is immutable, conversion therapy doesn’t work, women have more erotic plasticity (sexual interests) than men, that homosexuality is a gene location on the X chromosome, fetal testosterone exposure causes attraction to women, and male homosexuality increases by one-third with each son born.
Dr. Miriam Grossman, the psychiatrist interviewed at length in The Daily Wire documentary “What Is a Woman,” interviewed with AZ Free News about this incident. Grossman affirmed the fact that Kinsey’s research was fraudulent and even criminal. She said Onofry’s teachings were “shameful,” especially considering that the SUSD teacher didn’t tell the full story of Kinsey.
“There’s no question here that this teacher is coming into the classroom with her own agenda of influencing the students and imposing her value system and ideas on these students. I think parents should be outraged that this is happening right under their noses,” said Grossman.
Grossman explained further that Kinsey attempted to normalize deviant sexual behaviors through his “Kinsey Scale,” which declared that human sexuality exists on a continuum but was based on research interviews that included sex crime felons and prostitutes.
“Kinsey was a social reformer. He wanted to rid society of Judeo-Christian values. He wanted an any-age, anything-goes type of sexual behaviors between people. We know that he lived that kind of lifestyle and he wanted to promote that kind of lifestyle in society,” explained Grossman. “He came up with his scale through research that was done in prisons with felons that had people who had committed sexual crimes and research with prostitutes. He took their responses to his questions about sexual behavior and he applied that to middle America. He implied that the deviant behaviors of the group that he was studying, and in which he fit by the way, applied to everybody.”
Grossman suggested that parents read the works of Dr. Judith Reisman, a researcher who dedicated her life to challenging Kinsey’s work and legacy, systematically exposing fraud in Kinsey’s work. Reisman reiterated that Onofry had a duty to teach the whole truth about Kinsey, if she were to mention him at all.
“If Kinsey should be mentioned at all in a psychology class to high schoolers, and I highly question whether that should be mentioned at all, it should only be mentioned how fraudulent his research was,” said Grossman. “What parents and schools need to be asking here is, what is motivating this teacher? Psychology is a huge field with many different areas and important things that teenagers would benefit from knowing. Clearly she’s picking and choosing these areas. I’m wondering how this is more important than other areas.”
Onofry also taught AP psychology at the Flagstaff BASIS, a prestigious charter school chain. While a graduate student, Northern Arizona University (NAU) named Onofry their Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year.
Onofry’s sister, Samantha Onofry, is legal counsel to Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT).
Onofry’s curriculum was only available to the public through an open records request. Access to curriculum online through SUSD requires a parental or student login.
The issue of transparent school curriculums was nearly solved this year.
The state legislature came close to requiring all K-12 schools to make their curriculum accessible to the public online — until one Republican voted with Democrats to kill the legislation. Following the initial report of the SUSD sexuality curriculum from the Arizona Daily Independent, State Senator Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) lamented the one Republican’s vote against transparency.
Though Barto didn’t mention the representative by name, she was referring to her colleague Joel John (R-Buckeye). John has sided with Democrats on other critical bills advanced by his fellow Republicans, such as HB2656.
“The radical push continues. AZ parents won’t know if CRT and sexual grooming is even happening in their schools [without] transparency aka SB1211 which failed this year because one Republican voted with every single Dem,” tweeted Barto.
Barto’s bill, SB1211, would’ve required schools to offer curriculum online in a searchable manner, organized by subject, grade, and teacher. Any education materials concerning nondiscrimination, diversity, equity, inclusion, race, ethnicity, sex, gender, bias, action-oriented civics, service learning, or social and emotional competencies were to be published online within 72 hours of their implementation. All other materials were required to be published within the week of their implementation. All materials would remain accessible on the school’s website for at least two years.
In explanation of his “no” vote in April, John argued that the bill was too burdensome for teachers. He said that, as a former teacher, the curriculum posting would burden an already “low-paying, thankless job.”
“I think this bill frankly goes too far and puts too many extra burdens [on teachers], as some of our colleagues have already pointed out,” stated John.
In his argument, John echoed a talking point among Democrats: that SB1211 was an “unfunded mandate” by the state.
Barto issued her condemnation in response to the testimony of Rhode Island parent Nicole Solas, who was sued by the nation’s largest teachers union for filing public records requests.
In the committee hearings preceding SB1211’s failure in April, Democrats stated that parents dissatisfied with their school’s transparency should just transfer. They made the argument as part of an indirect insult to the state’s school choice system.
Teachers on the popular podcast, “Teachers Off Duty,” argued that it was “against best practice” to require them to publish their curriculum in advance of the school year. One of the teachers, Bri Richardson, said that she couldn’t adhere to such a requirement because she didn’t know what she’d be teaching. The other three podcaster-teachers concurred with her.
“Is that a joke? Bro, I don’t know what I’m teaching,” said Richardson.
SB1211 earned the approval of Governor Doug Ducey’s office, who celebrated the bill’s progression out of the Senate in March.
Upon the bill’s demise, the House Democratic caucus portrayed SB1211 as “anti-teacher” and an indictment of educators as the enemy.
Nicole Solas, the Rhode Island mother who was sued by the nation’s largest teacher union for requesting public records, offered advice to Arizona parents facing similar transparency battles. As AZ Free News reported last week, Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) will post the names of individuals online who submitted records requests — an update that inspired controversy within the community.
The National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI), a teacher’s union, sued Solas last year for seeking records on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and gender theory from her child’s Rhode Island school. Not only was Solas sued — the school district attempted to charge Solas $74,000 for access to the requested records.
Solas advised Arizona parents to be loud and engaged until they achieved victory. Her examples of loud engagement were submitting public records requests and filing lawsuits. She advised that district officials would “fold like a paper tiger.” Solas offered the advice and discussed her ongoing legal battle on “Conservative Circus” with host James T. Harris on Tuesday.
Solas pointed out that parents speaking out at school board meetings serves to inform the public, which she says has a far greater impact on schools.
“Keep in mind that when you make public comment at school board meetings, you’re doing that to talk to, not the school board, you’re trying to talk to people that don’t know what’s going on,” said Solas. “You need to be brave.”
The Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based think tank and legal organization, represented Solas in the lawsuit, National Education Association of Rhode Island, et al. v. South Kingstown School Committee, et al. Most recently, the Rhode Island Superior Court denied Solas’ motion for summary judgment early last month.
Most recently, Twitter deplatformed Solas with a permanent ban for speaking out against child grooming. She revealed that she is seeking legal representation currently to restore her account.