By Daniel Stefanski |
An education-related bill is receiving rare bipartisan support, though Republicans and Democrats still have major differences on a key part of the proposal as it moves through the legislative process.
HB 2456, sponsored by Representative Beverly Pingerelli, “continues the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind (ASDB) for four years.”
According to background provided by the State Senate, “the Arizona Constitution requires the Legislature to provide by law for the education and care of pupils with visual or hearing impairment. Originally established in 1912 within the University of Arizona, the Legislature established ASDB as its own agency in 1929 to provide schools and programs for the education of persons with visual or hearing impairment and serve as an optional resource to school districts, state institutions and approved educational programs.”
Over the past year, the Senate and House Education Committees of Reference held public meetings and “recommended that the Legislature continue ASDB for eight years.”
Pingerelli’s bill, which was originally introduced to continue ASDB for eight years, first sailed through the House Education Committee in January with a unanimous vote of 10-0. In February, it passed the full House chamber with a 60-0 result. It was then transmitted to the Arizona Senate and the Government Committee, where an amendment was adopted to reduce the number of years ASDB was continued from eight to two. The bill passed unanimously out of that committee, 8-0.
The full Senate chamber then amended the bill, led by Senator Ken Bennett, to continue the ASDB for four years. The body then officially considered the legislation and passed it 27-1, with two Democrat members not voting. Democrat Senator Juan Mendez was the only member to vote against the measure.
After the vote, the Arizona Senate Republican Conference tweeted out a statement, writing: “Senate Republicans are fighting to ensure students and families of the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind receive the best education possible. On the other hand, Senate Democrats are pushing for inequities within this community by refusing to support the oversight needed to guarantee these students are being properly served. Absolutely disgusting!”
The Senate Republicans shared a clip of Senator Jake Hoffman on the floor during the Committee of the Whole consideration of the legislation, explaining “why an 8-10 year continuation of these schools without proper oversight would be a big mistake.” In his remarks, Hoffman stated that “the Constitution gives us the authority and responsibility to provide educational services for deaf and blind children. Yet for some reason, we’ve been treating this incredibly important community within our state like we do the paper pushers at ADOA (Arizona Department of Administration)…. Our job, that the Constitution tasks us with, is to provide the best possible education to deaf and blind children in our state.” He championed the Legislature ensuring that oversight was happening more often at ASDB.
Count Arizona Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne in support of the continuation of the ASDB. Superintendent Horne told AZ Free News: “This school provides a unique curriculum that would be difficult to replicate in a traditional school setting. Braille instruction, direct communication in American Sign Language (ASL), and training in Orientation and Mobility are skills that are critical to the growth of sensory-impaired students.”
Although most of their members voted to clear the bill from the chamber, the Arizona Senate Democrats Conference was furious after the vote, tweeting the following response to the Senate Republicans’ statement: “Try talking to the community before you speak on their behalf. You know that the Conference Committee recommended 8yrs., the House passed 8yrs., the community asked for 8yrs. Senator Hoffman is dragging his caucus down with him.”
Following the Senate’s amendments and action, the bill was sent back to the House to be reconciled before its final trip to Democrat Katie Hobbs’ office for her signature or veto.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.