Arizona House Passes Bill Eliminating Algebra II Graduation Requirement

Arizona House Passes Bill Eliminating Algebra II Graduation Requirement

By Corinne Murdock |

Last week, the Arizona House passed a bill removing algebra II from the mathematics pathway required for high schoolers to graduate, instead offering alternative courses including personal finance, computer science, statistics, or business math. The bill, HB2278, passed mainly along party lines, with several Democrats voting in support of it: State Representatives César Chávez (D-Phoenix) and Mitzi Epstein (D-Chandler). HB2278 appeared before the Senate on Monday for a second reading.

State Representative John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction) told the House Education Committee earlier this month that he introduced the bill because high schoolers need more practical math skills. 

“We’ve been taking our kids and pushing them with more college-oriented programs such as trigonometry, algebra, and advanced algebra III. But basic math for the kids to understand, have the ability to amortize a loan, and do business discounting and understanding that sometimes 60 percent off an item in a retail store still may not be a good deal even with that 60 percent, depending on what that margin rate was when they bought it,” said Fillmore. 

State Representative Jennifer Pawlik (D-Chandler) attempted to introduce an amendment to have the State Board of Education create multiple alternative math graduation pathways, require that high school graduation pathways have two additional courses teaching algebra II critical thinking skills, and eliminate personal finance from courses suggested for the math graduation pathway. Pawlik’s amendment failed.

During the House floor vote last week, State Representative Michelle Udall (R-Mesa) asserted that, from her perspective as a math teacher, this bill would better equip high schoolers with applicable critical thinking and math skills. She read a list of algebra II standards to the floor, asking them to consider whether they were applicable to everyday life.

“We do use common sense, logic, reasoning. These are things we do need to learn, and there are several different math classes that would teach you those concepts: personal finance, business math, statistics. You’re going to learn real-world, real contexts, and ways to use math — not only to do that critical thinking and reasoning, but in a way that might be more engaging to some students,” said Udall. 

Epstein concurred with Udall’s assessment. She noted that she was disappointed Pawlik’s amendment wasn’t passed, and wished that four years of math would be required of high schoolers.

“I do think it makes sense that we want to have rigorous math, we want to have relevant math. And currently, our standards are not achieving relevant math,” said Epstein. 

In opposition to the bill, Minority Leader Reginald Bolding (D-Laveen) said that the bill would only “dumb down” the standards.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Arizona Legislature Approves K-12 Aggregate Expenditure Limit Increase

Arizona Legislature Approves K-12 Aggregate Expenditure Limit Increase

By Terri Jo Neff |

Arizona lawmakers have increased the aggregate expenditure limitation (AEL) for the state’s K-12 schools, eliminating the need for those schools to make more than $1.1 billion in spending cuts with several months left in the current school year.

House Concurrent Resolution 2039 allowed for the overall spending cap for all of the public schools to be lifted by a total of $1,154,028,997.  The bipartisan resolution was introduced by House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R-LD25) and co-sponsored by Rep. Reginald Bolding (D-LD27).

It passed the House last week on a 45 to 14 vote, with 17 Republicans voting with the Democratic caucus to ensure the required two-thirds “supermajority” margin.

HCR2039 then came up for a vote in the Senate on Monday, passing on a 23 to 6 supermajority margin after 9 Republicans joined with all 14 of the chamber’s Democrats. Voting nay were Michelle Ugenti-Rita (LD23), Wendy Rogers (LD6), Warren Petersen (LD12), Vince Leach (LD11), David Gowan (LD14), and Sonny Borelli (LD5).

The only two legislators who did not cast a vote on the resolution were Rep. Athena Salman (D-LD26) who is on maternity leave and Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-LD16).

After Monday’s vote, Senate President Karen Fann directed the resolution be  returned to the House so Speaker Bowers can transmit it to the Arizona Secretary of State.  The governor’s signature is not required for enactment of the resolution.

Failure to pass the resolution by March 1 would have caused Arizona’s K-12 schools to begin planning for spending cuts. There was some debate as to whether school administrators would have actually had until April 1 to implement the cuts, but by law the Legislature’s deadline is March 1.

Issues with the AEL have been the subject of discussion for several years. It stems from the fact the Arizona Constitution requires the Economic Estimates Commission (EEC) to annually determine an AEL for all public school districts for the next fiscal year.

The AEL is currently calculated by adjusting the expenditures of local revenues for all school districts in FY1980 to reflect the changes in student population and the cost of living and multiplying the result by 1.10. Critics note the local revenues base has not been adjusted for four decades.

For FY2022, the EEC calculated the AEL for all public school districts to be $6,019,638,192. That figure is then compared against an annual report from the State Board of Education (SBE) of the actual aggregate expenditures of local revenues for all districts for the current year.

SBE calculated the FY2022 aggregate expenditures of local revenues to be $7,173,667,189.

When the SBE figure exceeds the AEL, the Legislature must authorize spending in excess of the AEL but only up to the SBE amount. Which is what lawmakers just did for this fiscal year. Or the SBE must notify each school district of the amount by which it may have to reduce its expenditures for the rest of the year despite the fact the money has been budgeted.

The passage of HCR2039 only applies to raising the AEL cap for the current fiscal year. Unless voters amend the Arizona Constitution’s calculation process the same limitation situation will likely continue.

A vote on the AEL could have taken place last month, but many lawmakers were waiting for a ruling from Judge John Hannah of the Maricopa County Superior Court about whether Proposition 208 revenues would exceed the current aggregate expenditure limit.

Prop 208 narrowly passed in November 2020 to enact a 3.5 percent tax on income above $250,000 ($500,000 married filing jointly).  This is on top of the existing 4.5 percent tax rate for income above $159,000 ($318,000 married filing jointly).

A legal challenge followed, and last August the Arizona Supreme Court issued a ruling that Prop 208 revenues applied toward the AEL and thus would be unconstitutional if the taxes collected actually exceeded the spending cap. The justices then sent the case back to Hannah to crunch the numbers.

Hannah was made aware of the Legislature’s March 1 deadline and even acknowledged that some lawmakers wanted to see his ruling in the Prop 208 case first. However, the judge told the parties earlier this month that he has until March 10 under court rules to issue his ruling, and he did not intend to jump the case in front of others also awaiting rulings. 

Flagstaff High School Threatened Maskless Student With Police, Kicked Him Off Campus

Flagstaff High School Threatened Maskless Student With Police, Kicked Him Off Campus

By Corinne Murdock |

This week, Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) employees threatened to call the police on one high school senior for not wearing a mask, ultimately forcing him to leave campus without notifying his parents. The student, Cezar, described his ordeal to conservative talk radio host Jeff Oravitz: he stood outside on a football field with other maskless students, not wanting to be marked absent and desiring an education as he waited for administration to grant them access to the school building. 

“My mindset was: I was going to do this protest and still get my education and just go to school, have a normal school day without a mask, and see how it goes,” said Cezar. “But obviously I’m going to stay being respectful and whatnot because that’s the type of person I am and I feel that’s how we need to approach this situation: just peaceful.”

Cezar said that there were approximately 100 students from his high school who protested with him outside against FUSD’s mask mandate, with another estimated 400 students at other schools protesting as well. When he decided he’d attempt to attend class maskless, Cezar took a video of his encounter with administration. 

The video shows Cezar engaging with various administrators. Eventually he was escorted by a masked administrator, who wore gauges and his dreadlocks in a man bun. Cezar explained that he’d like to still get his education while doing his peaceful protest. The administrator commented that FUSD should try to find someone who can explain to Cezar and his peers what they’re protesting. When the administrator informs Cezar the other students in class will be masked, Cezar says, “No, thank you,” to which the administrator responds, “Yes.”

The pair eventually come upon another male administrator, who informs Cezar that he can either wear a mask to attend class, stand outside on the football field, or have his parents pick him up. Cezar informed the administrator that they could call his parents and that he would go to class. 

Cezar then comes upon the female administrator who repeated what the two prior male administrators said: Cezar would either have to wear a mask or have his parents pick him up. The female administrator refused to call Cezar’s parents.

At that point, Cezar requested that the administrator sign a document confirming that he had been kicked off campus by school staff due to his peaceful protest against wearing a mask. The administrator refused. She suggested Cezar talk to the school board and superintendent about his refusal to wear a mask. 

“I don’t feel like they listen because no ever comes from it,” said Cezar. “And when it does, it’s very minimal.” 

Another female administrator suggested that they call the police because she “didn’t feel comfortable” with Cezar around, and that she was going to retreat to a “safer space.” The administrator then explained to Cezar that his rights ended where their rights began.

Cezar also had another document from his parents asserting his right to peacefully protest masking, replicated below:

“To whom it concerns,

Students have a constitutional right to participate in non-disruptive protests during the school day. This means that school officials cannot retaliate against or discipline student protestors unless the protests cause, or are reasonably expected to cause, the disruption of school events or make it impossible for school officials to maintain order. 

As the child’s parent this letter is not only my expressed permission but an assertion of my child’s right to peacefully protest in the following manner:

  • Not wearing a mask –
    • 1) Demonstrating concern regarding the potential health and safety issues, such as decreased oxygen levels and inhalation of harmful bacteria, that arise through mandated mask-wearing forced upon the individual; and 
    • 2) Exercising freedom of choice, conscience, or taking actions aligned with an individual’s creed.

School policy allows for expressive speech at all times, in-so-far as the speech does not interfere with the normal operations of the school. Because my child’s expressive speech will not impact school operations, I expect there will be no issues for my child.

My child is not to be sent to the office. I do not give my child permission to leave campus, nor will I pick my child up. My child shall not be harassed, bullied, or treated differently by any teacher, administrator, faculty, or student for standing up for his/her right to peacefully protest the mask mandates. If any teacher or administrator takes issue with my child’s right to protest, please contact me to meet with them and the principal for further discussion.”

Cezar expressed gratitude that he’s been able to have in-person learning again, but lamented at the difficulties, inconsistencies, and behavior changes from others he’s endured. He described how no educator was willing to help him or even offer a kind word when he was unable to breathe through a mask due to severe allergies.

“The constant masking and being told to put your mask up – teachers are not nice about this, they are kind of aggressive when it comes to making sure our masks are up,” explained Cezar. “I had an incident with a teacher where it’s the end of the school day, I’m walking out and I take off my mask because I’ve been wearing it all day and he like gets right up on me in my personal space and he’s telling me to put my mask back on and he’s demanding it and raising his voice and whatnot. It’s purely not right to talk to us this way.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

ASBA Drops Its Membership In National School Board Association

ASBA Drops Its Membership In National School Board Association

By Terri Jo Neff |

Earlier this week the Arizona School Board Association voted to end its relationship with the National School Board Association, a group which has been under fire by parents, school officials, and legislators for several months.  

In her Feb. 16 letter to NSBA, Dr. Sheila Harrison-Williams said the ASBA board of directors voted to discontinue membership in the national organization. Harrison-Williams, who is ASBA’s executive director, referenced a missive the national organization issued to President Joe Biden last fall in which the actions of parents trying to be involved in their children’s education were compared to acts of domestic terrorism.

NSBA has since replaced its executive director and launched a third-party review of certain association activities. But that has not eschewed further concern among Arizona’s school district officials and parents, Harrison-Williams wrote.

“Despite these efforts, it has become clear that ASBA’s continued membership in NSBA has become a hinderance to the work we are undertaking in Arizona on behalf of Arizona’s public school students,” she wrote, adding that the ASBA’s primary obligation is to advocate on behalf of Arizona’s students.

“We are unable to do that if we are continually called to account for the actions of NSBA,” Harrison-Williams wrote.

The ASBA’s announcement comes after state lawmakers were asked to support Senate Bill 1011, which would prohibit public school districts across Arizona from using taxpayer dollars to pay for membership in a state or national school board association. The bill is opposed by the Arizona Association of County School Superintendents and the Arizona School Administrators Association.

However, the issue has become a lightning rod among several school district boards outside Maricopa and Pima counties.  Many of those boards have expressed dissatisfaction with what they see as partisan political interference by the NSBA. This, in turn, put pressure on ASBA’s board to cut ties with the national organization.

Learn more about SB1011 HERE http://azfreenews.com/2022/01/bill-would-bar-use-of-taxpayer-funds-for-school-board-association-dues/

School Choice Scholarship Expansion Passed By Senate

School Choice Scholarship Expansion Passed By Senate

By Corinne Murdock |

In a party-line vote on Wednesday, the Arizona Senate approved a bill to expand the state’s K-12 school choice scholarships: the Arizona Equal Opportunity Education Act. 

SB1657 expands Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program eligibility by allowing more classifications of students to participate. That includes those with: disabilities identified by public school systems in other states; a parent that is a veteran, first responder, or full-time health professional; income that qualifies for federal free and reduced-price lunch programs; a household that receives benefits from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Section 8 Public Housing Assistance; participation in federal Title I services for low-income students under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); residence in the attendance boundary of a school that qualifies for schoolwide Title I Program funding under ESSA or whose governing board submitted a plan to the School Facilities Oversight Board within the last two years requesting additional construction or funding due to exceeding existing capacity; or current or past participation in the Education Recovery Benefit Program, Open for Learning Recovery Benefit Program, or any successor state grant program. It also would entitle participating children to access Classroom Site Fund (CSF) dollars. 

Additionally, permissible ESA expenditures would include public transportation services; educational devices such as calculators, laptops, telescopes, microscopes, and printers; and consumable educational supplies like paper, pens, and markers. The legislation also ensures that school districts cover expenses for independent educational evaluation from qualified examiners obtained by parents, like psychiatrists. 

American Federation for Children (AFC) Arizona State Director Steve Smith asserted on “The Conservative Circus” that the legislation marked the largest expansion of school choice in state history. Smith cited polling numbers that 78 percent of minorities in Arizona support school choice.

“I’m still trying to figure out why Democrats voted against this,” remarked Smith. “We’re talking about the kids that need the help the most, the Democrats — who I’m told over and over again are always helping the downtrodden — continue to vote no.”

Smith called out the three House Republicans who killed a similar bill last year to expand school choice: State Representatives Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), Joanne Osbourne (R-Goodyear), and Joel John (R-Buckeye). 

State Senator Paul Boyer (R-Glendale), the bill sponsor, argued in last week’s Senate Education Committee that opposition to the bill concerning a reduction in public school spending was reducing children to dollar signs. He cited that Arizona has invested over $8.6 billion into public education since 2016, and that the state set an all-time record with its latest per-pupil spending: well over $14,000. 

“I can’t tell a parent, ‘Sorry, we haven’t done enough on the funding side,’ when we really have. And at one point we have to say, we have to let every child who wants to go to the school of their choice, they should have that opportunity, too,” said Boyer.

Boyer insisted that the greater issue at hand was allowing parents to choose the best educational options for their child.

As AZ Free News reported, the legislation earned the backing of NFL Alumni Association chaplain and Phoenix-based pastor Drew Anderson; he credited school choice for his escape from the school-to-prison pipeline. Anderson insisted that school choice defined a “civil rights movement of our era.” 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Arizona House May Approve Concealed Carry For College Students

Arizona House May Approve Concealed Carry For College Students

By Corinne Murdock |

The House will soon vote on a bill to allow college faculty and students to carry and possess firearms on campus property. The bill, HB2447, would only require that faculty and students submit notification to their administration that they are armed and possess a concealed carry permit. In the state of Arizona, individuals must be 21 or older to receive a valid concealed carry permit, or 19 and older for active military and veterans. The bill would extend to all higher education campuses — community colleges as well as four-year colleges and universities — and require them to adopt guidelines for firearm usage during an active shooter situation. 

The House Rules Committee passed the bill on Monday. The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill last month along party lines, 6-4.

While House Judiciary Committee Republicans viewed the bill as a further defense of Second Amendment rights and increased, committee Democrats conveyed concern that allowing more guns on campuses would decrease safety. The bill sponsor, State Representative Quang Nguyen (R-Prescott Valley), cited how Texas passed a bill ensuring the same rights in 2016, SB11. Nguyen serves as the Arizona Rifle and Pistol Association president currently and is a certified CCW instructor, firearms safety instructor, rifle coach, and previously a state director for a junior rifle team overseeing competitors aged 12 to 20. 

Arizona State University (ASU) Police Chief Michael Thompson insisted that college students lack the maturity to carry a firearm. Thompson said that students should leave it up to the professionals on campus: law enforcement and security.

“The notion that a CCW training is going to prevent some kind of mass shooting on campus is a fantasy,” said Thompson. “They are still in a very developmental stage in their lives, and they tend to not think through consequences and have issues with their actions at many occasions. It’s increasing and adding a risk to a campus that’s not necessary.”

Chairman Walt Blackman (R-Snowflake) explained that while in the military he oversaw platoons of hundreds of young men in the very age bracket that Thompson criticized: 18 to 23 years old. Blackman said that, based on his experience, he disagreed with Thompson’s assessment that college students 

Thompson rebutted that the 18 to 23 years old in the military are soldiers “with training and supervision,” whereas those in college would be “intoxicated” and “in their dorm room, showing off rifles and handling pistols.”

Nguyen’s subsequent line of questioning prompted a heated exchange between the legislator and Thompson. 

Nguyen responded that Thompson’s characterization of ASU’s climate made the case for necessitating concealed carry. He added that young adults may vote and even be drafted to serve in the military at 18, and cited his own daughter as an example, who finished six weeks of boot camp before turning 18 and received a firearm as part of her assignment.

“You kind of scare me when you start talking about kids drinking and doing drugs and being irresponsible. You just made a case for me to not send my kids to ASU,” said Nguyen. “Or you’re making the case for me that if I send my 21-year-old daughter to ASU, she should be armed to protect herself from all the drugs and the drug users on campus.”

Thompson said that his issue wasn’t with concealed carry generally, but with the ability for any states’ concealed carry permit to be permissible for use on college campuses. Nguyen questioned Thompson why concealed carry permits existed at all if those permits were questionable, or why Arizona allows reciprocity.

Minority Whip Domingo DeGrazia (D-Tucson) expressed concern that concealed carry permits may be obtained through an online course and a 15-minute interview with an instructor.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.