Arizona Senate Education Committee Passes Curriculum Transparency Bill

Arizona Senate Education Committee Passes Curriculum Transparency Bill

By Corinne Murdock |

The Arizona Senate Education Committee passed a bill to ensure K-12 schools afford greater transparency to parents concerning the content and adoption procedures for curriculum and all other learning materials. The bill, SB1211, passed 5-3 along party lines. 20 states have introduced similar legislation; the Wisconsin legislature passed a similar bill last year but their governor vetoed it; most recently, the Indiana House moved another similar bill forward. However, no other state has the same legislative language as SB1211. 

Specifically, the 14-page bill would require schools to post online in a searchable manner all learning material adoption procedures as well as the content organized by subject, grade, and teacher. The specified learning material covered requires readings, videos, audio, digital materials, websites, instructional handouts, worksheets, apps, assemblies, guest lectures, civics assignments or projects, and service learning projects. Any educational materials concerning nondiscrimination, diversity, equity, inclusion, race, ethnicity, sex, gender, bias, action-oriented civics, service learning, or social and emotional competencies must be referenced in full online at least 72 hours before implementation. Materials outside that scope must be posted online within a week of their implementation and remain accessible on the site for two years. The bill also would require schools to allow all throughout the school day as well as a half an hour before and after school hours for textbook review prior to adoption.

Parents could seek redress for violations of this bill by first submitting a complaint to the school principal. If the principal doesn’t investigate and respond within 15 days, or the response doesn’t solve the issue satisfactorily, parents could submit a complaint to their school board. If the board doesn’t respond adequately or at all within 25 days, then parents may take legal action against the school’s governing body. No teachers would be subject to punishment.

State Senator Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) insisted all she was introducing was a “simple […] common-sense transparency bill.” Barto clarified that the bill would allow parents a heads-up about what their children would learn. 

“So many parents are so frustrated at not having access to what their children are learning in schools. There are so many things that are accessible online now, and curriculum needs to be one of them,” said Barto. 

Parent after parent highlighted personal and local incidents concerning willful lack of transparency from their schools and districts. In addition to parents, the Arizona Coalition of School Board Members and Heritage Action for America showed up to support the bill. A handful of teachers, most of them masked, and the Arizona Education Association (AEA) spoke out against the bill. They argued that the bill would create an undue burden on teachers and districts, foster distrust and malcontent between parents and teachers, and even further reduce educational quality. The Arizona Charter School Association (ACSA) was also reportedly against the bill, according to State Senator Gonzales, but none of their representatives gave testimony before the committee on Tuesday.

The first to provide public commentary on the bill was none other than Nicole Solas — the Rhode Island parent sued by her state’s teacher’s union, the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) for her public record requests and represented by the Goldwater Institute, the Phoenix-based conservative public policy and litigative think tank.

Solas told the committee that her story was a cautionary tale of what occurs when a state doesn’t have academic transparency. Her story began when she requested information about the education her daughter would receive, and learned that the school taught about gender at every grade level in “age-appropriate ways,” as well as teaching five-year-olds on the first day of Thanksgiving what could’ve been done differently during the pilgrim’s Thanksgiving. When Solas attempted to ask more questions about the curriculum, her school told her to submit public records requests. After doing so, the school board of her district put her name on the agenda of a public meeting with a threat to sue her for her records requests. 

Solas recalled how the five hour meeting was filled with public harassment and open debates on her moral character and motivations by the board members. Solas shared further that her district then hired a public relations firm to defame her in the national media. The local teacher’s union then decided to sue Solas for filing those records requests. Even after enduring all of that eight months later, Solas said her original requests have gone unanswered. All she received was outdated curriculum; the district told her she hadn’t asked specifically for the current curriculum.

“What they did to me was government abuse of power just because I wanted to know what was being taught,” said Solas. “This is a kafkaesque, bureaucratic problem with a very easy academic solution.”

It wasn’t just the blame from the district that presented a problem to Solas — it was the cost of the records requested. Solas insisted that the cost to districts to fulfill public records requests was unnecessary, and that public schools needed to be protected from squandering their education dollars.

“Pass this bill for public schools and you can save them from themselves. We need our education dollars to be spent on students, not on a petty stand-off between schools and parents,” said Solas. “These are the games they play with public records requests. Our children’s education is not a game.”

Majority Leader Rick Gray (R-Sun City) said Solas’ story was heartbreaking to hear, and expressed condolences for the plight of New Jersey’s children. 

“They wanted to send a message that if you want transparency […] they will retaliate against you and punish you for asking for transparency,” relayed Solas.

State Senator Christine Marsh (D-Phoenix) asked Solas if New Jersey had a parental bill of rights similar to Arizona’s. She added that she didn’t understand what Solas’ issue had to do with Arizona schools. Solas said they don’t have anything like that in her state, and informed Marsh that the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute is representing her for the lawsuit.

Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg offered insight from Arizona teachers in support of the bill. He read a letter from Jessica, an English teacher, who described how she covered over 70 absences in one week and insisted on the bill because it provided an “easy safeguard” for creating a “workshop” between families and schools. 

“This bill is pro-student, pro-parent, and pro-teacher,” asserted Beienburg.

State Senator Tyler Pace (R-) asked what a pragmatic solution would be, instead of this bill. Thomas said the best solutions would be at the local level. He said parents already had “a lot of tools” to get the transparency they need.

“The unintended consequence of this is that kids are going to suffer in that their interests aren’t going to be explored at any given instance during the day,” asserted Marsh.

Gray pressed AEA President Joe Thomas, who insisted that better answers were to be had, to give them a tangible solution. Thomas couldn’t. Instead he repeated that parents had the tools to investigate the curriculum themselves. Gray insisted that wasn’t enough of an answer.

“When we see this as a legislative body and this is brought to us, it is our responsibility to see what we can do to solve this problem. Ideally we would never get this problem here because the schools would take care of it,” responded Gray. “We don’t have any solutions from the education industry, but we clearly have problems from the parents.”

In closing public remarks, Beienburg cited how an AEA spokeswoman last year reported that she submitted curriculum materials regularly to her district officials for review.

“That’s indicative of the fact that this is doable,” said Beienburg.

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

Gowan Says Arizona Prepared For Type Of Cyberattack Which Crippled Virginia Legislature

Gowan Says Arizona Prepared For Type Of Cyberattack Which Crippled Virginia Legislature

By Terri Jo Neff |

With the introduction of legislation this week in the Arizona House of Representatives to prohibit many public entities from using public funds to pay for ransomware attacks, AZ Free News recently spoke with Sen. David Gowan about the security of the Legislature’s own computer systems.

Gowan says that the dedicated IT staff of the Arizona Legislature have ensured that its system protections are up to date and meet or exceed industry standards. This would allow the legislative session to continue with little impact if hit with the type of ransomware attack suffered by the Virginia Legislature last month.

“Nothing is 100 percent guaranteed, but we try to figure it out before a hacker can,” he said. “And we have the ability to move forward and maneuver, even if we have to do some things on paper.”

The Dec. 10 ransomware attack on servers used by Virginia lawmakers led to the disabling of the legislature’s voicemail system, its budgeting portal, and the platform used to draft bills. Even access to the Virginia Constitution and state code normally accessible online had to be taken down after the attack, which one state official blamed on an “extremely sophisticated malware.”

For a short time the website serving Virginia’s Division of Capitol Police was also down but there was no report of impacts to critical functions.

Whoever hacked the Virginia Legislature’s system left a ransom note, although it did not include a ransom price nor due date, according to a senior staff member. It is the first reported cyber security attack on a state legislature, although at dozens of public entities across the country were hit in 2021.  

Gowan is pleased that Arizona’s legislative staff has safeguards in place which will allow lawmakers to “quickly move forward with our work” if hit by an attack like Virginia experienced. He credits the fact that the legislature’s IT personnel conduct refresher training for lawmakers and staff about suspicious emails, which is the easiest way for a cyber attacker to get into a system.

There is also frequent spot checks of the legislature’s systems. And it helps, Gowan noted, that Arizona has one of the nation’s premiere cybersecurity programs, with the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, and the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs all major players, along with local and federal agencies.

Two controversial bills recently introduced by a state representative would make significant changes to Arizona’s laws related to cyberattacks. One would tie the hands of public officials in responding to a ransomware attack, while the other seeks to require anyone who does business in Arizona to report a computer security breach or face a civil penalty from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

HB2145 would bar the State and any political subdivision of the state (such as a county, city, town, or school district) from making ransomware payments to secure the release of data. It would also require immediate notification of such an attack to the Director of the Arizona Department of Homeland Security.

Meanwhile, HB2146 would mandate anyone who “conducts business in this state and that owns, maintains or licenses unencrypted and unredacted computerized personal information” to report any security system breach to the Director of the Arizona Department of Homeland Security within 45 days.

A willful violation of the notification statute could lead to a civil penalty of up to $500,000, according to the bill.  

Special Session Bill To Fund Statewide Fire Suppression And Mitigation Passes Out of Joint Committee

Special Session Bill To Fund Statewide Fire Suppression And Mitigation Passes Out of Joint Committee

By Terri Jo Neff |

After a mini-Wildfire 101 course from the Arizona State Forester, 18 of the 19 members of legislature’s Joint Committee on Natural Resources, Energy, and Water voted in favor of Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed $100 million fire suppression and mitigation legislation.

Next up for the bill during this Special Session is a quick trip through two Rules Committees on Thursday morning. That should be followed by the House and Senate convening to consider amendments to the two identical bills, SB1001 and HB2001, which are tracking in both chambers.

Wednesday’s hours-long meeting featured a questions and answers session with David Tenney, director of Arizona’s Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) on the same day that two ongoing destructive wildfires near Globe -the Telegraph and the Mescal- merged with nearly 150,000 acres burned.

Ducey called the Special Session for the sole purpose to pass a wildfire-related supplemental appropriations bill. The joint committee discussed many of the bill’s targeted investments for wildfire preparedness, response, and recovery, including $76 million toward fire suppression efforts, recovery efforts, mitigation of post-fire floods, economic assistance for those displaced by fires or post-fire floods, and assistance to landowners for emergency repairs from wildfire-related infrastructure damage.

There is also nearly $25 million appropriated in the bill for DFFM and the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to partner on wildfire mitigation efforts such as removing hazardous vegetation and fire fuels. The funds include hiring 720 ADC inmates, working in 72 teams of 10 inmates, to target DFFM-designated areas across the state where mitigation is needed. The goal, said Tenney, is for the crews to cover 20,000 acres annually.

Among the questions Tenney was asked was whether Arizona should own a fleet of firefighting aircraft instead of contracting with providers. Tenney was also asked whether DFFM should purchase a handful of $500,000 firetrucks designed for off-road wilderness access that could be “borrowed” to smaller fire departments.

Tenney also noted that as of this week, Arizona’s 2021 fire season will have impacted nearly 300,000 acres.  That puts the state of track for its worst fire season in history due to the combination of excessive heat in all 15 counties as well as drought conditions.

Some committee members tried to get Tenney to discuss whether Arizona’s increasingly larger wildfires are the result of climate change, but the director stuck to the purpose of the legislation -and the Special Session- which is to ensure funding for activities which can have an immediate affect on reducing fires or limiting the damage from fires.

The climate change comments received pushback from Sen. David Gowan (LD-14), who said no one is disputing there is climate change.

“Climate change happens every decade, happens every century, millennium, we have climate change,” he said.

Some Democrats questioned whether the Ducey-backed appropriations bill goes far enough as they preferred legislation addressing more than the immediate critical need. However, committee chairs Rep. Gail Griffin (R-LD14) and Sen. Sine Kerr (R-LD13) guided the discussion back onto the purpose of the legislation – to address the wildfire and post-fire flooding crisis facing Arizona now.

The only no vote was cast by Sen. Juan Mendez (D-LD26).

Two Bills Move Forward To Protect Gun Rights And Access

Two Bills Move Forward To Protect Gun Rights And Access

Terri Jo Neff |

Two pieces of state legislation aimed at protecting gunowners’ rights made it out of the Senate on Wednesday, and it is now up to House Speaker Rusty Bowers to assign the bills to House committees.

SB1382 deems stores which sell firearms, ammunition, or components of either as “an essential business” during a state of emergency. The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary and Senate Rules committees in early February and passed on the Senate Floor by a 16 to 14 vote along party lines.

The bill impacts ARS § 26-303 under Military Affairs and Emergency Management, which currently guarantees emergency powers shall not allow the imposition of additional restrictions on the lawful possession, transfer, sale, transportation, carrying, storage, display or use of firearms or ammunition or firearms or ammunition components.

Under SB1382, the statute would be amended to add one sentence that specifies stores that sells firearms, ammunition, or components of such are essential businesses “and there may not be any restrictions imposed on the store’s normal operations” during a state of emergency.

The legislation would not require a store’s primary source of revenue to come from gun or ammunition sales, thus allowing businesses which sell other retail items in addition to firearms to remain open. One such business that would benefit from the legislation is Lilly’s Tombstone Memories, a specialty gift store on historic Allen Street in Tombstone.

If SB1382 had been the law when COVID-19 first hit, owners Lillian and Bob Hritz would have been able to remain open without fear of retribution against their business license. They, like a number of gun store owners, saw an increased customer demand starting last March but due to Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive orders many had to close.

Among those supporting the bill are the Republican Liberty Caucus of Arizona and the Arizona Citizens Defense League.

Another gun rights bill passed out of the Senate on Wednesday, this one by a 17 to 13 vote.

SB1328 -known by its working title of the Second Amendment Firearm Freedom Act- would declare any federal act, law, treaty, order, rule, or regulation to be null and unenforceable in Arizona if the action violates the right to bear arms as provided by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or by the Arizona Constitution.

The bill sponsored by Sen. David Gowan (R-LD14) would also prohibit the State and any of its political subdivisions from using personnel or financial resources to enforce, administer or cooperate with any federal act, law, treaty, order, rule, or regulation deemed in violation of the U.S. or Arizona Constitutions.

But unlike many bills, SB1328 as currently written includes a provision putting teeth into the new law by making the impairment of a citizen’s right to bear arms a Class 1 misdemeanor for the first offense. Each subsequent offense would be a Class 6 felony, and a judge would be required to impose the maximum fine and sentence allowed by law for anyone convicted of such conduct.

The bill also contains a provision allowing citizens to sue any “entity, agency, bureau, employee or official of Arizona or a political subdivision of Arizona” that engages in such infringement for judicial relief, damages, and attorney fees. However, it excludes persons working under the authority or orders of a government entity, agency, bureau, employee or official from the outlined prohibitions.