Last month, the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) gave a company $180,000 to do work already within the outlined responsibilities of its leadership: future planning and creation of a new mission statement.
In an email obtained by AZ Free News, Interim Chancellor Steven Gonzales insisted that the need to outsource the mission statement and strategic plan was due to the capacity constraints of the district’s Institutional Research/Effectiveness (IR/IE) experts normally responsible for those duties.
He further claimed that the increased community diversity necessitated a mission statement makeover and brand-new strategic plan. The allusion to diversity likely came, in part, from MCCCD’s new partnership with the technology company Intel to launch a semiconductor manufacturing bootcamp using American Rescue Plan funds — the entirety of the first class were women.
Gonzales projected that the new mission statement and strategic plan would be ready by New Year’s Eve, with implementation following in January of next year.
Although Gonzales said that the district was under capacity constraints, they formed a steering committee to offer resources to the vendor: MGT of America Consulting. The company has held many contracts throughout Arizona: they were hired by the city of Glendale, city of Scottsdale, city of Goodyear, Maricopa County, Coconino County, and Mesa Public Schools over the past few years.
The announcement came shortly after the Phoenix Business Journal selected Gonzales as one of the “Most Admired Leaders of 2022.” Gonzales assumed the interim chancellor role in January 2020.
75 percent of MCCCD’s income comes from property taxes. Only 23 percent comes from tuition. According to a railbird, MCCCD’s enrollment dropped to one-third of its previous enrollment.
Mesa Public Schools (MPS) ignored additional requests from our reporters to obtain data on how $32.3 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds were spent. In March, MPS toldAZ Free News that no records existed detailing how exactly those funds were spent.
Over a month ago, AZ Free News inquired about records for the chart of accounts related to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding. There were three separate COVID-19 federal relief grants administered: ESSER I, coded under 326; ESSER II, coded under 336; and ESSER III, coded under 346.
We requested those records because the public ESSER report given by MPS in December didn’t offer an in-depth explanation. MPS attributed those tens of millions spent to a variety of ambiguous explanations: “other,” “etc,” “indirect costs,” and “COVID relief positions.”
When we asked for further information about the $32.3 million, MPS told us they couldn’t offer further explanation of those expenditures because they weren’t required by law to create records.
Of the over $4 billion Arizona received in ESSER funding, MPS received the second-largest allotment: around $229.2 million. Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) received the most in the state.
Last October, MPS reported that they had nearly $40 million remaining in their maintenance and operation funds.
The latest endeavor from Arizona State University (ASU), a full-time online high school that awards university credits, offers a curriculum focused on woke ideologies on the taxpayer’s dime.
The bulk of the program relies on daily seminars in addition to online lessons, small-group tutorials, and peer tutoring. The sample of seminar subjects challenge students on ethical norms, such as editing the human gene pool, freedom of speech versus “freedom of reach,” social media moderation, and life extension. The seminars are student-led and supported by learning guides and guest experts.
All this at no cost to students who are Arizona residents. Instead, the state covers the cost. Students in other states would pay close to $10,000 a year, and students outside the country would pay nearly $13,000.
The program, ASU Preparatory Academy’s Khan World School, is poised to launch in August with 200 students to start. If all accepted students were Arizona residents this fall, that would cost taxpayers anywhere from $2 million to $2.6 million.
Rather than tests, the academic model emphasizes discussion with teachers, peers, and “industry experts” for learning and assessment. Students advance through a mastery-based model. At the end of the program, students will receive a transcript with final grades for college admissions and scholarships.
Specifics on curriculum weren’t offered. The program asserted that each student would receive their own custom plan.
Governor Doug Ducey called the program a “groundbreaking innovation.”
“Choice in education works and Arizona leads the nation in school choice!” tweeted Ducey.
ASU offered a quiz for students to determine their fit for the program. Only one of the seven questions related to academic competency.
The first question asks the student to select the desk that best represents their mind: “Albert Einstein’s Mess,” “Marie Curie’s Order,” or “Katherine Johnson’s Spotless.” The second question asks the student what time their alarm wakes them up: before the sun, before lunch, before dinner, or “lol, what alarm?”
A third question asks the student how many books they read in a month: none, one or two, or three or more. A fourth question asks the student who they turn to for answers: Google, their friend, their family, or themselves. A fifth question asks the student which animal best describes their learning pace: slothful, steady, or sprinting.
It’s not until the sixth question that the student is asked about something to do with core subjects. The student must answer a math question about where the vertex of a parabola would fall.
The seventh question reverts to a social question about the student’s way of thinking versus that of their friends.
The online lessons are a mix of Khan Academy and ASU course content. In order to be admitted, students must be entering their freshman year of high school, proficient in Algebra I, earned grades A or B in 8th grade Math and English Language Arts, and in possession of a computer with a web camera and internet access. Algebra I proficiency appeared to be measured by proof of program completion. Other than that, admissions doesn’t require a GPA or any other academic standards.
On Monday, the Arizona legislature approved a bill requiring K-12 schools to implement parental review and notification procedures for school library books.
Specifically, HB2439 requires schools to give parents lists of the books or materials their children borrowed from the library, make available online a list of all books purchased for school libraries, and notify parents of the public review period for the books. Certain schools and school districts were exempted: those without full-time library media specialists and those engaged in agreements with county free library districts, municipal libraries, nonprofit and public libraries, tribal libraries, private schools, and tribal schools.
The Arizona House passed edits made to HB2439 on Monday along a party line vote. The Senate passed their version with amendments last week. One of the major amendments to the bill removed the requirement that school boards review and approve all books prior to their addition to a school library.
State Representative Beverly Pingerelli (R-Peoria) sponsored the bill.
Activists argued that children should have the right to read anything without parental oversight.
Upon Governor Doug Ducey’s signature, the bill would take effect January 1 of next year.
A local high school has enforced its district mask mandate relentlessly but students dropped their masks to participate in the “Day of Silence,” or “DOS,” a day of action for LGBTQ acceptance. Pre-pandemic, students participated by taping their mouths shut. This year was no different for some, according to reports received by AZ Free News.
Last Friday, the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) Club at Betty H. Fairfax High School within the Phoenix Union High School District (PXU) organized a slew of activities to commemorate students taking a vow of silence for the purported silencing that the LGBTQ+ community faces. The club handed out rainbow lanyards with DOS informational cards, rainbow stickers, and rainbow masks. There were several large tables set up outside with posters, and they encouraged students to participate in either of the two “solidarity circles” during lunch: students standing or walking in a circle holding hands.
AZ Free News reached out to PXU for comment. They didn’t respond by press time.
DOS and the GSA clubs, also identified by a number of other names such as “Genders & Sexualities Alliance” or “Queer-Straight Alliance” at other schools, are the brainchild of Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), an activist organization focusing on minors’ sexualization. GLSEN has expressed repeatedly that they never advocated for duct tape wearing for DOS, but acknowledged that it was a popular outward expression of the vow of silence.
Current students weren’t the only ones subject to GSA exposure that week. Several days prior to the DOS protest, Betty H. Fairfax High School welcomed future freshmen with a GSA booth, among others.
Several months before these events, the club passed out pronoun pins for students and faculty to wear on their lanyards.
Former Arizona Attorney General and Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Tom Horne said in a statement to AZ Free News that Arizona students’ SAT scores were above the national average but declined after he left office. Horne characterized the GSA club events like Day of Silence as diversions that hurt academic outcomes.
“This is because leadership has neglected the necessary emphasis on academics, with harmful diversions, such as critical race theory, or, as in this case, A day of silence, which interferes with learning,” said Horne. “Schools need to be teaching the academics and not promoting racially divisive critical race theory, or other similar diversions such as the day of silence. The exception for the mask mandate shows runaway hypocrisy. My heroes are teachers who love their subjects, and focus on teaching them, rather than those who see their role as pushing ideological agendas.”
Betty H. Fairfax High School GSA has led the charge on LGBTQ popularity and acceptance in the district for years. In 2018, they won the GSA of the Year award.
Then in 2019, the woman who started the GSA club, Dayna Monroe, won GSA Sponsor of the Year. Monroe explained in an interview on receiving the award that her efforts caused district-wide policy changes. Her students nicknamed her “Mommy Monroe,” with one female student likening Monroe to a “therapist” figure.
“Mrs. Monroe, I consider her my school mom. She’s someone I can trust,” testified another female student.
Monroe has taught in schools for 20 years, with a decade spent in PXU.
SB1211, which would require schools to publish curriculum lists on their websites, failed in the House 28-30 on Monday.
The votes weren’t panning out in the way Republicans hoped, so several legislators voted to kill the bill in order to salvage it for later discussions. State Representatives Joel John (R-Buckeye), Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix), and Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix) voted with Democrats to kill the bill. Kaiser explained during the floor vote that he and Wilmeth did so in order to keep it active and open for discussion.
John, however, argued as a former teacher that the bill was too much of a burden for educators. He characterized the transparency bill as an “unfunded mandate” foisted on those in a “low-paying, thankless job.” John issued the false claim that he was only one of two other educators in the House. Other past and present educators include State Representatives Neal Carter (R-Queen Creek), Shawnna Bolick (R-Phoenix), Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), and Jennifer Pawlik (D-Chandler).
“The laws are quite robust already. 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,” said John.
Kaiser responded that the laws clearly don’t go far enough because K-12 schools are rampant with transparency issues.
“The reason we need to have a bill about this is because there’s problems happening in schools across Arizona,” said Kaiser. “If you don’t think this is a problem, look at the board [of votes]. This is a direct reflection of what’s happening to parents in schools. ‘There’s not a problem,’ they say. ‘Go home,’ they say. ‘We gave you a thumbnail sketch of what we’re talking about, go home.’ I’m so disappointed in how these votes are turning out.”
Apart from John, teacher perspectives on the bill differed along party lines.
Udall, a current teacher, supported the bill. She suggested that additional funding should be established to help ease the additional burdens of the bill. Udall noted the importance of proactive forms of transparency, rather than retroactive.
Conversely, Pawlik, also a teacher, asserted that educators shouldn’t have to be concerned about posting last-minute tweaks to curriculum or learning materials. Pawlik argued that it would not only inhibit teachers’ flexibility, but ultimately stunt students’ education.
The Senate passed the bill along party lines last month. Left-wing activist organizations celebrated the bill’s rejection.
SB1211 would enable parents access to all curriculum, learning materials, and teacher training at their school, organized by subject, grade, and teacher. Democratic legislators argued that parents should switch schools if they weren’t happy with the transparency at their current schools. They contended further that the legislation would create more red tape and punishment for educators. One legislator went so far as to argue that the bill constituted an effort to control speech.
If the Republican representatives hold to their promise, SB1211 may be resurrected this session in one form or another. As of press time, no exact solution was made apparent.