Attorney General Sues USDA Over Gender Ideology Adherence For School Lunch Funds

Attorney General Sues USDA Over Gender Ideology Adherence For School Lunch Funds

By Corinne Murdock |

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. 

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

Public School Spending Surged During COVID But Teacher Pay Didn’t Follow Despite Funding

Public School Spending Surged During COVID But Teacher Pay Didn’t Follow Despite Funding

By Terri Jo Neff |

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.

Beienburg’s full report can be read here.

University of Arizona Refuses to Release Records on Student Bias Complaint System

University of Arizona Refuses to Release Records on Student Bias Complaint System

By Corinne Murdock |

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). 

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

Federal Judge Dismisses Governor Ducey’s Lawsuit to Keep COVID Funds for Maskless Schools

Federal Judge Dismisses Governor Ducey’s Lawsuit to Keep COVID Funds for Maskless Schools

By Corinne Murdock |

Last Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed Governor Doug Ducey’s lawsuit against the Biden administration’s attempt to recoup COVID-19 relief funds given to mask mandate-free K-12 schools. Arizona District Court Judge Steve Logan dismissed for failure to state a claim. 

Last August, Ducey applied the American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA) Arizona cut of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) to two programs: a $10 million one that would cover $7,000 of tuition or other educational costs at schools without mask mandates, and a $163 million one that made only mask mandate-free schools eligible for funds.

In the Ducey v. Yellen, et al. ruling handed down last week, Logan, an Obama appointee, rejected Ducey’s claim that his application of SLFRF funds were a valid use of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative economic impacts. Logan insisted that Ducey’s reading of the statute was “too narrow” and thereby neglected its greater context. The judge opined that Ducey’s encouragement of noncompliance with public health guidance worsened, not mitigated, COVID-19’s negative economic impacts.

“In line with the explicit purpose of the SLFRF […] the statute at least carries the possibility that SLFRF funding may not be used for programs with conditions that undermine public health guidance, as such programs would exacerbate rather than mitigate the pandemic’s fiscal effects,” wrote Logan. “This proposition is axiomatic: a program that addresses fiscal effects of the pandemic but contains a condition that would promulgate the spread of the virus prolongs the pandemic and its resulting fiscal effects — thereby failing to provide mitigation of either.”

Logan did agree with Ducey’s argument that the state has authority to decide how to use its SLFRF funds. However, Logan determined that Ducey’s application ran afoul of ARPA’s restrictions. Logan rejected Ducey’s argument that the USDF was too ambiguous when describing permissible uses of SLFRF funds. Rather, the federal judge agreed that the U.S. Department of Treasury’s (USDT) enumeration of permissible usage was sufficient.

In addition to USDT Secretary Janet Yellen, the named defendants in the case were USDT Acting Inspector General Richard Delmar and the USDT itself. 

Ducey first filed the lawsuit in January. 

In response to an October letter from the USDT informing the governor that Arizona’s usage of SLFRF funds weren’t permissible, Ducey accused the Biden administration of government overreach.

“Here in Arizona, we trust families to make decisions that are best for our children. It’s clear that President Bident doesn’t feel the same,” wrote Ducey. “He’s focused on taking power away from American families by issuing restrictive and dictatorial mandates for his own political gain.”

USDT began investigating Ducey’s two programs following a mid-August request from Congressman Greg Stanton (D-AZ-09), issued hours after Ducey first announced the two programs at the heart of this case. 

The governor filed an appeal to Logan’s ruling last Friday.

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

Scottsdale Teacher Pushes Radical Sex Theories Not Approved by District

Scottsdale Teacher Pushes Radical Sex Theories Not Approved by District

By Corinne Murdock |

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. 

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