Arizona Superintendent Eliminates Kindergarten Entry Assessment: ‘Waste Of Classroom Time’

Arizona Superintendent Eliminates Kindergarten Entry Assessment: ‘Waste Of Classroom Time’

By Staff Reporter |

The Arizona legislature’s new budget for the state nixed the Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA) at the behest of Department of Education Superintendent Tom Horne, who called the program a “waste of classroom time.”

The KEA required teachers to assess their students within the first 45 calendar days of enrollment. 

Horne issued a press release earlier this week acknowledging the change as motivated by educators’ disdain for the program, which the superintendent said was reportedly viewed as “an unnecessary bureaucratic requirement.” Horne said eliminating the KEA would improve academic results through reducing teacher paperwork. 

KEA’s elimination wasn’t sudden: the education department reported that it reduced the program’s administrative requirements by over 80 percent last year. Although, Horne said he would have eliminated the KEA earlier if he’d had the legal authority to do it on his own. 

“Over time, the KEA had ballooned into an endless morass of paperwork that meant teachers had to spend too much time on bureaucratic requirements versus time with students,” said Horne. “Now the legislature has taken the welcome step of entirely removing the legal requirement for the KEA, which frees up more time for teachers to spend on classroom instruction.”

Several public school leaders offered support for Horne’s decision.

“Superintendent Horne reviewed our feedback on the KEA in our Kindergarten classes,” said Dysart Unified School District Superintendent John Croteau. “The KEA duplicated many of our current practices and took away valuable instructional time. This decision prioritizes student interests by focusing on maximizing valuable classroom time to enhance student learning opportunities.”

“Superintendent Horne and his department sought feedback directly from kindergarten teachers and families about the time, student privacy, and resources lost to KEA and we appreciate the swift and effective action taken to eliminate this program in the best interests of Arizona kids!” said Challenger Charter School CEO Wendy Miller.

According to last year’s KEA requirements, teachers were to observe the following learning and development objectives in their students during instruction: social emotional development (manages feelings, follows limits and expectations, responds to emotional cues, interacts with peers, solves social problems); physical (uses fingers and hands); language and literacy (tells about another time and place, follows directions, notices and discriminates rhyme, notices and discriminates alliteration, uses and appreciates books and other texts, uses print concepts); cognitive/approaches to learning (attends and engages); and mathematics (counts, quantifies, connects numerals and quantities). 

School districts and charter school governing bodies were given discretion through the last legislative session as to the appropriate evaluation methods or assessments to accomplish the KEA. Prior to that, educators had to rely on the Teaching Strategies GOLD (TSG) platform to complete KEA. TSG usage and accurate KEA completion required additional training from teachers, with the introductory course amounting to three hours alone. 

Arizona’s KEA requirement can be traced back to 2013 when the state launched a pilot initiative, The Kindergarten Project, through partnership with the Arizona State Board of Education, First Things First, Alesi Group, and Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.

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Peoria Unified School District’s Behavioral Health Program Doesn’t Work

Peoria Unified School District’s Behavioral Health Program Doesn’t Work

By Tamra Farah |

The Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) is seeking federal funds to renew the Mental Health Service Professionals (MHSP) Demonstration Grant through the Department of Education (ED). The grant would enable the district to expand its program for unlicensed behavioral health workers. The grant application includes assertions to garner sympathy and support, such as highlighting low student-to-behavioral health worker ratios, funding cuts, and increased student academic issues post-COVID. There is just one problem: the initiative is flawed and poorly justified when scrutinized, raising several critical concerns.

If renewed, the MHSP grant would enable PUSD to hire additional counselors and social workers, asserting that they will assist students deemed to have mental health issues that purportedly hinder academic performance. A primary concern is the qualification of these personnel and the poor track record in this type of intervention in improving academic proficiency.

In a recent Substack piece, Attorney Chris Evans points out that the district refers to the personnel to be hired as “mental health professionals,” which Evans argues is “a title inflation for a person with no license from a professional board, no regulatory oversight, but is certified by the Arizona Department of Education to work in schools with zero scope of practice limitations.” This raises grave concerns about the effectiveness of mental health assistance and the safety of children under the care of these individuals.

PUSD staff and board members persist in claiming that behavioral health services enhance academic outcomes. However, the evidence to support this assertion is lacking. Robust independent research indicates this claim is false and seems to justify seeking federal funds rather than being a fact-based strategy.

For example, a close examination of PUSD academic assessments from 2017-2018 to 2023 reveals minimal improvement over five years in attempting to integrate behavioral health services into its schools; the expected improvements in academic performance have not materialized. During the first grant period, state assessment scores show no significant progress, and in subjects like math, the scores have declined. This stagnation indicates the lack of effectiveness of the rationale for the project’s federal funding and suggests that the behavioral health program has not delivered the promised academic benefits. If these programs cannot demonstrate a clear, positive impact on student achievement, their expansion, and current presence in schools are suspicious.

The ideological motivations behind this push for more behavioral health services cannot be ignored. The emphasis on social justice and equity indicated in the grant application may overshadow the primary goal of educational institutions: to enhance academic achievement. The current approach appears to conflate these objectives, potentially at the expense of educational quality.

The current justification for renewing this grant employed by PUSD is misguided. At the May 29 meeting, board President Becky Proudfit asked the grant administrator if the first grant initiated in 2019 had been effective and what the effect had been on the students in the district. During his response, the administrator admitted that he thinks, “It’s just really important to note that it’s hard to determine the overall success of the grant.” And still, the PUSD board voted 4-1 to renew the Mental Health Service Professionals (MHSP) Demonstration Grant for another five years.

It is time for PUSD to reevaluate its priorities and ensure that any funded programs are accountable and effective. Most importantly, addressing mental health in students is important, yet fundamentally within the authority and responsibility of parents and guardians, not schools.

Tamra Farah has a twenty-year career in public policy and politics. Her role as director and senior advisor at Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, and Arizona Women of Action and her expertise in PR and communications demonstrates her ability to create engagement and transformation in her efforts. Tamra has appeared on Fox News, America’s Voice, Newsmax, and Victory Channel and is quoted in major publications like The New York Times and Washington Post.

Two BASIS Charter School Students Named Presidential Scholars By Department Of Education

Two BASIS Charter School Students Named Presidential Scholars By Department Of Education

By Staff Reporter |

Charter school students are making a name for Arizona schools nationwide: two BASIS Charter School students were named presidential scholars by the Department of Education.

The department selected only 161 high school seniors for the honor, and two of the three came out of Arizona charter schools: Matteo Huish from BASIS Mesa, and Sruti Peddi, from BASIS Scottsdale. The third student, Vivian Saavedra, attends Chaparral High School.

There are an estimated 3.7 million students expected to graduate from high school this year. Out of that total, over 5,700 candidates qualified for the scholars recognition.

The three Arizona students were selected out of 144 Arizona candidates total, and 19 semifinalists from the state. This year’s presidential scholars announcement marks the program’s 60th anniversary. 

In a press release, BASIS Charter Schools CEO Carolyn McGarvey said she was proud of Huish and Peddi for their hard work and talent. 

“Their achievements reflect the rigorous academic standards and commitment to excellence that define BASIS Charter School campuses nationwide, and particularly here in our home state of Arizona,” said McGarvey. 

11 of BASIS Charter Schools were recently ranked in the top 100 public schools out of 24,000 schools in America by U.S. News & World Report, including the number-one school in the country overall: the BASIS Peoria campus. Both Huish and Peddi’s campuses were among the 11 ranked. 

Semifinalists represented Bell Academy Homeschool, BASIS Scottsdale (three students), Brophy College Preparatory, Primavera Online High School, Paradise Valley High School (two students), BASIS Mesa (two students), Desert Mountain High School, University High School, BASIS Phoenix, BASIS Chandler (two students), Chaparral High School, The Jones-Gordon School, Arcadia High School, and Northland Preparatory Academy.

Presidential scholars are not selected on an application basis; the recognition comes through invitation only.

Eligible students must have scored exceptionally well on either the SAT or ACT. The Department of Education takes the top 20 male and female scorers in each state, and reaches out to them to submit candidacy materials such as essays, self-assessments, secondary school reports, and transcripts. The department evaluates the candidate materials on academic achievement, personal characteristics, leadership and service activities, and essay content. 

Each Chief State School Officer — in Arizona, the superintendent — may also nominate 10 male and 10 female candidates, and partner programs may nominate up to 40 candidates. 

Semifinalists were selected by an independent national committee of educators convened by the Commission on Presidential Scholars. 

The Department of Education also recognized three Arizona teachers for distinguished teaching paired with their respective 2024 Presidential Scholars: Sadie Puerner, a chemistry teacher out of Chaparral High School nominated by Saavedra; Charity Taylor-Antal, an English teacher out of BASIS Scottsdale nominated by Peddi; and Greg Thorson, an economics teacher out of BASIS Mesa nominated by Huish. 

The department also recognizes presidential scholars in the arts as well as career and technical education. This year, however, Arizona didn’t have any scholars listed in those categories. 

BASIS Charter Schools has had one or more Presidential Scholars in seven years since its inception in 1998: 2023, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2013.

The network of charter schools has 40 campuses serving over 24,000 students in Arizona, as well as Louisiana, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

AZ Free News is your #1 source for Arizona news and politics. You can send us news tips using this link.

Peoria Unified School District’s Behavioral Health Program Doesn’t Work

The Threat Of Modern School Counselors In Public School

By Tamra Farah |

Imagine a world where your child becomes the child of the state, effectively no longer under your care or influence. Their heart, soul, mind, and body are captured by the state’s dictates, philosophy, and immorality.

Sadly, if your child attends a K-12 public school, this nightmare is becoming a reality and worsening daily. Through entities like the US Department of Education, the CDC, and influential non-governmental organizations, your role as your child’s primary influence and caretaker is being stripped away.

Like the proverbial frog in the pot, hardly noticing as the heat rises until it’s too late, our children are being indoctrinated to align with the state’s norms, leaving parents behind as mere spectators in their upbringing.

One avenue for this process is via school counselors. School counselors, formerly called “guidance counselors,” are no longer solely focused on college and career guidance; they’re now delving into academic and career concerns and social, emotional, and behavioral issues while potentially crossing legal boundaries when discussing sensitive topics without parental knowledge or involvement.

The delineation between certified and licensed professionals is critical. Certification by the Department of Education in Arizona, for example, does not equate to a license to practice behavioral health; it merely designates an employee classification. Unlicensed practitioners need to have the same standards of practice and ethics as their licensed counterparts, raising serious concerns about the well-being of children.

Unlicensed individuals engaging in behavioral health practices within schools in Arizona are not held to the same standards as licensed professionals, raising severe ethical and legal concerns. The unauthorized practice of behavioral health is unethical and a felony offense.

Parents must be vigilant. Arizona law enacted in 2022 aimed to bolster parental rights, requiring teachers and school counselors to disclose any information divulged by students, particularly regarding their physical, emotional, or mental health. Parents are entitled to access all educational records and counselor notes, with legal recourse available if information is withheld.

Despite these safeguards, oversight is lax, leaving parents in the dark about school counselors’ activities and the protection of their rights. Parents must demand transparency and accountability from school administrators regarding counseling practices and records. For example, every parent should demand to review their child’s counselor and teacher notes, including preferred names and gender identities.

The influence of external organizations, such as the American School Counselor Association, raises questions about the ideological underpinnings of counseling practices in Arizona schools. Are counselors truly prioritizing the well-being of our children, or are they advancing agendas that undermine parental authority?

The lack of oversight also raises questions about how school counselors are monitored to ensure compliance with these laws and ethical standards. It’s imperative to inquire about the credentials of school counselors and therapists and ensure they hold proper licensure from the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners.

A school counselor in Arizona is facing allegations of maintaining a covert spreadsheet documenting transgender students’ preferred names and pronouns. Mesa Unified School District (MUSD) is currently embroiled in a lawsuit brought forth by America First Legal (AFL) over accusations of aiding a student’s gender transition without parental consent. According to the lawsuit the student’s mother filed, school district officials permitted her daughter to use a name and pronouns inconsistent with her birth certificate. 

The mother asserts that her daughter was referred to using these names and pronouns for six months before she accidentally discovered it. Upon confrontation, the school principal purportedly confirmed the practice. An amended complaint now highlights the involvement of an additional MUSD employee. The complaint reveals that, based on a public records request, a counselor at Kino Junior High School was maintaining a clandestine spreadsheet to track which transgender students’ parents were informed about their preferred names and pronouns.

We cannot ignore this encroachment on parental rights and the well-being of our children. It’s time to take action to safeguard our children’s futures and protect our rights as parents. If you suspect your child has received unauthorized behavioral health services, report it to the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners.

Together, we can ensure that our children receive the education and support they deserve, guided by parental wisdom and consent, not state interference. Join us in advocating for the rights of parents and the well-being of our children in Arizona and every state.  Parents, check out your state’s laws and administrative rules that govern school counselors and parental rights.

Originally published at

Tamra Farah has twenty years of experience in public policy and politics, focusing on protecting individual liberty and promoting limited government. She’s served at the director level at Americans for Prosperity-Colorado, FreedomWorks, and is currently the Director of SMART Families Network with Arizona Women of Action.

Horne To Testify At Antisemitism Hearing

Horne To Testify At Antisemitism Hearing

By Corinne Murdock |

Arizona’s only Jewish statewide elected official, Department of Education Superintendent Tom Horne, will testify on Tuesday morning at a House meeting concerning antisemitism in education.

Horne’s testimony will be heard by the House Ad Hoc Committee on Antisemitism in Education. Tuesday’s meeting will consist of public testimony. Chairing the committee is Rep. Neal Carter (R-LD15). The other committee members are Reps. Seth Blattman (D-LD09), Michael Carbone (R-LD25), Alma Hernandez (D-LD20), Consuelo Hernandez (D-LD21), Alexander Kolodin (R-LD03), Teresa Martinez (R-LD16), Barbara Parker (R-LD10), Jennifer Pawlik (D-LD13), Marcelino Quiñonez (D-LD11), and Julie Willoughby (R-LD13).

Horne warned last month that antisemitism is a burgeoning issue in the U.S.

“Antisemitism is rising across the country and especially on college campuses,” said Horne.

Following the escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict with the Hamas terrorist attack in October, reports of antisemitic speech and activism in schools have became more frequent.

Last month, Horne addressed one widely publicized incident of a Desert Mountain High School club using materials from UNICEF and Amnesty International to encourage students to side with Hamas. Horne debunked various claims of pro-Palestine materials distributed by the club and its affiliates as propaganda, such as that Israel is an apartheid state and that Jewish peoples illegally obtained land in the Middle East following World War II. 

“In none of this propaganda is there any reference to what happened on October 7, not a single reference. All of these kids have an obsession with libels against Israel and the Jewish people,” said Horne. “The actions of Hamas are a repetition of what happened during World War II, yet the materials that are presented by UNICEF and Amnesty International and used as propaganda in our schools make no mention of it at all.”

Hamas murdered over 1,400 innocent civilians on October 7, sparking an escalation in the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

According to Horne, his parents fled Poland in September 1938, exactly one year before World War II broke out, because his father, an avid history reader, predicted that the Nazis would invade Poland. Horne shared that his father had warned his Jewish community at the time of the looming Nazi threat, but that not many listened. The remainder of the Hornes’ extended family abroad reportedly perished in the Holocaust. 

“I’ve been a big advocate of teaching our students history because our immediate family survived because of my father’s knowledge of history and ability to interpret current events, and I believe that our next generation’s survival depends on their knowledge of history and their ability to interpret current events,” said Horne.

About a week later at the Arizona Board of Regents meeting, Horne turned his back on pro-Palestine protesters attempting to obtain the attention of him and other members.

The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) responded to the protest with condemnation for growing opposition to Jewish people and the defense of Hamas.

“The rise of antisemitism is alarming in our schools, and support for the terrorist group Hamas across the country can’t be accepted,” stated ADE.

The committee meeting is scheduled for 9:00 am on Tuesday, with Horne scheduled to testify at 9:30 am. The meeting will be livestreamed here.

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