Bill Would Bar Use Of Taxpayer Funds For School Board Association Dues

Bill Would Bar Use Of Taxpayer Funds For School Board Association Dues

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.”

Tucson Schools to Pilot Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum

Tucson Schools to Pilot Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum

By Corinne Murdock |

Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) will pilot a social-emotional learning (SEL) supplemental curriculum at 19 schools this coming spring. TUSD will rely on Character Strong’s SEL supplemental curriculum. 

The following make up the tentative list of schools incorporating the pilot supplemental curriculum, according to TUSD spokeswoman Leslie Lenhart.

  • Elementary: Wheeler, Dunham, Collier, Robison, Grijalva, Erickson, Hudlow, Mission View, Cavett, Van Buskirk, and Ochoa
  • K8: Roskruge, Borman, and Robins
  • Middle: Alice Vail, Valencia, and Utterback
  • High School: Cholla and Santa Rita

Five schools already implemented the supplemental curriculum: Peter Howell Elementary School, Miles Exploratory Learning Center (K-8), Lineweaver Elementary School, Borton Magnet School (elementary), and Sam Hughes Elementary School. According to Lenhart, these five schools will serve in an advisory capacity for the pilot program.

SEL incorporates a variety of controversial teaching approaches, such as Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE), Critical Race Theory (CRT), and Culturally Responsive Education (CRE).

In a slideshow presentation discussing adoption of SEL curriculum, TUSD claimed that SEL cultivated “mindsets, skills, attitudes, and feelings” that set up students for success. The board also described SEL as a necessary precondition for education.

“In essence, SEL focuses on students’ fundamental needs for motivation, social connectedness, and self-regulation as preconditions for learning,” read the agenda item.

SEL promotes five competency areas: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. The three functions of the TUSD SEL curriculum would focus on prevention and intervention using standards offered by Collaborative Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): an organization that helped mainstream SEL, a budding theory at the time. 

During the same meeting, the board approved spending $26,325 in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds on SEL professional development. The funds go toward training teachers, staff, and administration in trauma informed or culturally responsive care, de-escalation strategies, interventions, trauma, and resiliency. 

TUSD has followed state precedent. In December, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) claimed that SEL was the key to solving the mental health decline in school-aged children. ADE based their claim on an advisory published by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

Governor Doug Ducey has acted in support of SEL adoption as well. Last August, AZ Free News reported that $1.6 out of $65 million in learning funds would go toward SEL programming. Then in September, AZ Free News discovered that Secretary of State Katie Hobbs nominated an elementary school teacher for her SEL implementation and activism.

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

State Representative Chavez: Teachers Unions Have Gone Too Far With School Closures

State Representative Chavez: Teachers Unions Have Gone Too Far With School Closures

By Corinne Murdock |

After nearly two years of ever-changing pandemic protocols, it appears that some members of the Democratic Party and teachers unions disagree with remote learning as a viable mitigative strategy for COVID-19. State Representative César Chávez (D-Maryvale) commended Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s insistence that “enough is enough” with distance learning for K-12.

“Mayor Lightfoot’s statement is commendable,” wrote Chávez. “We have wedged a gap within a generation of children that might never obtain the lost curriculum due to the pandemic. We need to stop politicizing this situation, roll up our sleeves, and get these kids back in school.”

Chávez’s commentary provoked Arizona Education Association (AEA) President Joe Thomas to ask, “Was your account hacked?” Thomas has been one of the principal activists pushing for remote learning coming off of the holidays. As AZ Free News reported, Thomas was one of the individuals responsible for launching the RedforEd movement. 

Chávez joined the likes of Governor Doug Ducey with his stance on remote education. Following the organized push by teachers unions to close schools, Ducey pledged that in-person education would continue for all of Arizona. To back his promise, Ducey announced that families could receive up to $7,000 if their child’s school faces unexpected closures.

For that, former state representative and current attorney general candidate Diego Rodriguez called Ducey “the worst governor in Arizona history.” It appears that Chávez wouldn’t be at odds only with his former colleague — other Arizona Democrats signaled support for teachers demanding remote learning.

State Representative Mitzi Epstein (D-Ahwatukee) asserted that she supported school closures; the Arizona House Democrats agreed with her remarks. State Representative Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley) excoriated Ducey for “punishing” schools if they decided to close due to COVID-19 outbreaks. 

State Representatives Athena Salmon (D-Tempe) and Andrea Dalessandro (D-Sahuarita) insisted that teachers have “safe environments” in which to teach. Likewise, State Senator Juan Mendez (D-Tempe) retweeted commentary criticizing Ducey for jeopardizing children. 

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

Newt Gingrich Commended Governor Ducey on School Choice Program to Offset Remote Learning

Newt Gingrich Commended Governor Ducey on School Choice Program to Offset Remote Learning

By Corinne Murdock |

Former House Speaker and conservative pundit Newt Gingrich complimented Governor Doug Ducey for his leadership tactics concerning COVID-19 and K-12 schools. 

The governor announced that families may receive up to $7,000 to receive the education of their choice if their child’s school decides to cease in-person learning due to COVID-19. Ducey allocated $10 million to what he called a “preemptive action” program: the Open for Learning Recovery Benefit.

“Governor Ducey’s announcement that Arizona will give the education money to parents if their school is closed is the most creative response yet to the teachers union putting children last,” wrote Gingrich. “Chicago should follow his lead.”

Gingrich’s tweet referred to the decision by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) on Tuesday night to return to remote learning. A day later, hours after Gingrich’s tweet, Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared in a press conference to reemphasize the importance of in-person education. Lightfoot had pushed for school reopenings throughout 2021 in a constant battle with the CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS). 

As Ducey made his media rounds to discuss his program, he submitted an opinion piece with the Wall Street Journal criticizing the CTU, CPS, and Lightfoot’s administration the day after her press conference. Ducey challenged President Joe Biden to take a stand on school closures as well.

“Even Mayor Lori Lightfoot is unhappy, correctly noting that Chicago’s classrooms are safe and accusing the union of an ‘illegal work stoppage.’ She added that teachers who didn’t show up Wednesday would be put on no-pay status. We’ll see how long that lasts given how powerful the CTU is in Democratic politics,” wrote Ducey. “As for Mr. Biden, whose side is he on? The students whom he says will be safe in class according to all of the science? Or the unions who backed him politically but are doing terrible harm to America’s school children, including 330,000 of them in Chicago this week? How about leading for a change, Mr. President?”

Ducey’s program was prompted by teachers unions’ efforts to close in-person schooling, having children return from the holidays to remote learning for two weeks minimum. Ducey accused unions of disregarding children’s welfare for a political game.

On Thursday, the governor further claimed that his $10 million program would be “kryptonite” to teachers unions. He dismissed the activists as those opposed to science and challenged their true intentions.

“These unions are playing games with our children’s education. They aren’t following the science. Experts agree that kids should be in the classroom,” stated Ducey. “Our kids cannot afford any more time away from the classroom. Arizona children are in school and they’re going to stay in their classrooms. […] Kids need to get caught up. There’s too much focus on masks, and not enough on math. Arizona is showing the way to keep kids in school.”

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

Ducey Takes Preemptive Action To Encourage In-Person Learning For K-12

Ducey Takes Preemptive Action To Encourage In-Person Learning For K-12

By Terri Jo Neff |

In an effort to reassure students and parents, Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday that he is making up to $7,000 available for families who may face financial or educational barriers due to unexpected school closures.

Ducey described his new $10 million Open for Learning Recovery Benefit program as a “preemptive action” to ensure in-person learning remains an option for all K-12 students in Arizona. Funds can be used by eligible students and families toward childcare approved by the Arizona Department of Economic Security, as well as school-coordinated transportation, online tutoring, and school tuition.

“In-person learning is vital for the development, well-being and educational needs of K-12 students,” Ducey said. “With the new Open for Learning Recovery Benefit program, if a school closes for even one day, students and families who meet the income requirements will have access to instruction that best meets their needs.”

Families at or below 350 percent of the federal poverty line will be eligible to apply online for benefits later this month. Data shows such families are more likely to be negatively impacted by school closures due to limited daycare options, limited access to technology for remote learning, and less flexibility with work schedules.

The governor’s announcement of the new funding program came just days after some members of RedforEd, a teachers’ union / activist group, called on school districts to require students to utilize remote learning in place of in-person classroom instruction for the next few weeks, at a minimum.  Ducey and many K-12 professionals have rejected the option, citing performance gaps and other harms brought on by school closures.

You can read more about the call for school closures here.

“We will continue to work with families, public health experts and school leaders to ensure our kids can stay in the classroom and parents have a choice – always.” Ducey said Tuesday.

The Open for Learning Recovery Benefit program is the latest effort by Ducey to show his seriousness toward requiring schools to resume teacher-led, in-person instruction. Since March 2021, various funding options have been made available by the state, including the Education Recovery Benefit program and the Education Plus Up Grant program announced in August to provide grant fundings for district and charter schools that kept their doors open and followed all state laws.

Another K-12 funding program implemented last year addressed K-12 literacy, adult education, and expanded teacher professional development. Monies were also set aside to promote after-school programs, to support school choice opportunities for students in rural communities, and to fund Arizona Transportation Modernization Grants to improve reliable and safe transportation options.

Governor Ducey: In-Person Education Will Continue

Governor Ducey: In-Person Education Will Continue

By Corinne Murdock |

In an apparent response to the push from teachers’ unions to revert to remote learning for at least two weeks if not more, Governor Doug Ducey announced Monday that all of Arizona would continue with in-person learning.

In a thread, Ducey reminded Arizonans of President Joe Biden’s stance on keeping schools open, as well as the past actions of unions striking for higher pay after being promised higher pay. For the latter reference, Ducey was citing his promise of a 20 percent raise.

“IN-PERSON LEARNING WILL CONTINUE IN ARIZONA[.] ‘The science is clear, and overwhelming. We know how to keep our kids safe from COVID-19 in school. K through 12 schools should be open.’ That’s from President Joe Biden. And public health experts agree. Yet union leaders are telling parents to prepare for remote learning. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, this is the same union that encouraged a teacher strike well after a teacher raise was proposed. Once again, teacher unions are playing political games with no regard for the social and emotional impact on our kids. Parents shouldn’t stand for it — and will remember these antics at the ballot box. And at the state level, we’ll be working to ensure in-person learning continues. From recruiting more substitute teachers, to ensuring that if a student is turned away for even one day of in-person learning, parents have a choice and the resources to take their child to a school that better meets their needs.”

Twitter tagged the following warning to the governor’s thread: “Some conversations get heavy[;] Don’t forget the human behind the screen.”

Ducey issued a similar Twitter thread announcement last March several weeks before the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 being announced as a national emergency. That thread announced Ducey’s executive order for all schools to continue March 15 — several days after the one-year anniversary of former President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration.

“ANNOUNCEMENT: Getting kids back in the classroom is one of the most important things we can do as we see #COVID19 cases drop and vaccinations underway. A majority of Arizona public schools are already open, and school leaders have demonstrated in-person instruction is possible to do safely. The @CDCgov has laid out a path for every school to open safely. Public health experts nationally have spoken about the importance of getting kids back in school. In Arizona, teachers have been prioritized for the vaccine, and many school districts are reporting that nearly all of their educators have received both doses. Today, I’m issuing a new Executive Order. It requires public schools to get back to teacher-led, in-person instruction by March 15, or after Spring Break. I know not every parent feels comfortable sending their kids back to school. So virtual learning will continue to be an option for those families. But many do want to go back, and this will require schools to provide that opportunity. The science is clear, and so are the social and behavioral impacts. It’s time to get kids back in the classroom. I’m confident that Arizona has made better progress on this to date than many other states, and today’s action will speed up that process even more.”

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at the time of this report, there have been 1861 reported workplace fatalities from COVID-19. OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring employers to report employees that were hospitalized or died from COVID-19, “regardless of the amount of time between the exposure to COVID-19 in the work environment and the death or in-patient hospitalization.

These OSHA reports are given within eight hours of a fatality, or 24 hours of a hospitalization.

According to the latest counts, there have been over 24,300 deaths related to COVID-19 in Arizona. In the last six months, a total of over 6,300 deaths have occurred. Nearly 72 percent of deaths occurred in individuals over 65 years old. Nearly 16 percent of deaths occurred in individuals aged 55 to 64 years old.

Nearly 8 percent of deaths came from individuals aged 45 to 54 years old. 5 percent of deaths came from individuals 20 to 44 years old. Nearly 0 percent of deaths occurred in individuals under the age of 20: .2 percent, to be exact.

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