SB1211, which would require schools to publish curriculum lists on their websites, failed in the House 28-30 on Monday.
The votes weren’t panning out in the way Republicans hoped, so several legislators voted to kill the bill in order to salvage it for later discussions. State Representatives Joel John (R-Buckeye), Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix), and Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix) voted with Democrats to kill the bill. Kaiser explained during the floor vote that he and Wilmeth did so in order to keep it active and open for discussion.
John, however, argued as a former teacher that the bill was too much of a burden for educators. He characterized the transparency bill as an “unfunded mandate” foisted on those in a “low-paying, thankless job.” John issued the false claim that he was only one of two other educators in the House. Other past and present educators include State Representatives Neal Carter (R-Queen Creek), Shawnna Bolick (R-Phoenix), Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), and Jennifer Pawlik (D-Chandler).
“The laws are quite robust already. 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,” said John.
Kaiser responded that the laws clearly don’t go far enough because K-12 schools are rampant with transparency issues.
“The reason we need to have a bill about this is because there’s problems happening in schools across Arizona,” said Kaiser. “If you don’t think this is a problem, look at the board [of votes]. This is a direct reflection of what’s happening to parents in schools. ‘There’s not a problem,’ they say. ‘Go home,’ they say. ‘We gave you a thumbnail sketch of what we’re talking about, go home.’ I’m so disappointed in how these votes are turning out.”
Apart from John, teacher perspectives on the bill differed along party lines.
Udall, a current teacher, supported the bill. She suggested that additional funding should be established to help ease the additional burdens of the bill. Udall noted the importance of proactive forms of transparency, rather than retroactive.
Conversely, Pawlik, also a teacher, asserted that educators shouldn’t have to be concerned about posting last-minute tweaks to curriculum or learning materials. Pawlik argued that it would not only inhibit teachers’ flexibility, but ultimately stunt students’ education.
The Senate passed the bill along party lines last month. Left-wing activist organizations celebrated the bill’s rejection.
SB1211 would enable parents access to all curriculum, learning materials, and teacher training at their school, organized by subject, grade, and teacher. Democratic legislators argued that parents should switch schools if they weren’t happy with the transparency at their current schools. They contended further that the legislation would create more red tape and punishment for educators. One legislator went so far as to argue that the bill constituted an effort to control speech.
If the Republican representatives hold to their promise, SB1211 may be resurrected this session in one form or another. As of press time, no exact solution was made apparent.
Dawn Penich-Thacker, cofounder of the largest teachers’ union in Arizona, Save Our Schools (SOSAZ), said that parents were “drama queens” for demanding more curriculum transparency.
The Arizona legislature is considering several bills to expand K-12 curriculum transparency currently. One of the most all-encompassing bills, SB1211, would require schools to publish a list of all its curriculum as well as teacher training materials and activities, on its website. Penich-Thacker scoffed that the bills would be mandating practices that already take place.
In a statement to the Arizona Daily Independent, State Senator Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) expressed disappointment that teachers’ unions would oppose the legislation.
“God forbid that legislators codify policy to protect children from the grooming and pre-sexualization that has found its way into curriculum more than once,” said Townsend. “The job of the legislature is to protect the public, and if there were no violations then we would not have to act.”
During a committee hearing on the bill last month, two House Democrats argued that schools shouldn’t have to adhere to further transparency and scrutiny. Instead, State Representatives Judy Schwiebert (D-Phoenix) and Jennifer Longdon (D-Phoenix) opined that parents should switch schools. The pair cited Arizona’s school choice system as the solution for a school’s lack of transparency.
SOSAZ celebrated the delay of legislation like the curriculum transparency bills, which they called “education attack bills.”
Another bill enforcing curriculum transparency, HB2161, was scheduled to be voted onby the State Senate on Monday, though no final vote took place. It empowers parents to sue school districts and officials for denying access to records or intervening in their right to raise, educate, and care for their children. The sponsor, State Representative Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix), explained that the bill’s intent was to ensure that parents had a mode of relief if their rights were violated.
Opposition to the bill came largely from LGBTQ activists such as a transgender school board member, Paul Bixler, and a former teacher and Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Phoenix co-chair, Caryn Bird.
Democrats also opposed the bill, with some arguing that parents needed to do better — not the schools. State Representative Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson) argued in a January committee hearing that parents weren’t as involved in their child’s education as they ought to be.
State Representatives Judy Schwiebert (D-Phoenix) and Jennifer Longdon (D-Phoenix) said during Monday’s House Appropriations Committee that schools don’t need curriculum transparency offered by SB1211, and that parents should switch schools instead.
In an exchange with Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg, Schwiebert insisted that parents should just use school choice if they disliked lack of curriculum transparency.
“Arizona is a school choice state, correct?” asked Schwiebert. “Parents could choose to go to another school. That could be their recourse, correct?”
Beienburg said Schwiebert made a valid point that further strengthened his argument.
“That’s a great point and illustrates part of the problem,” responded Beienburg. “A parent shouldn’t have to have their child in a school, find material that is clearly not academically appropriate, and now be faced with a decision of grumbling to a school board who may or may not be sympathetic to them, or take their kid out of school, away from their friends and their established environment.”
When she voted against the bill, Schwiebert said that parents already have the opportunity to engage with teachers. She insinuated that the blame lay with parents for not doing more, claiming that many teachers sit without any visitors at events like parent-teacher conferences and meet-the-teacher nights.
Longdon seconded Schwiebert’s argument, telling parents and legislators to utilize the school choice they championed before claiming that teachers have the “best interest” of their students at heart. She insisted the bill would stymie teachers’ improvisation efforts in class.
“So, I’ve heard a couple of things here. First off, when it was mentioned with this bill there was school choice, there was pushback against that. Although, when it’s been mentioned on other bills from folks who share my particular philosophy, we’re reminded we have school choice. So, I’ll put that out there. If you’re unhappy with the curriculum, school choice exists here in Arizona,” said Longdon.
Longdon also contended with Beienburg’s citation of the 1619 Project used in schools without parents’ knowledge, reminding Chairwoman Regina Cobb (R-Kingman) that the committee agreed not to discuss critical race theory (CRT) during the hearing at all.
Schwiebert’s recent stances on curriculum content may explain her stance against further transparency laws. Early last month, Schwiebert voted against two separate bills to ban divisive and adult content from K-12 curriculum: HB2112 concerning CRT and HB2495 concerning sexually explicit material.
Schwiebert argued that CRT imparted on children lessons of honesty, integrity, and freedom to pursue their dreams.
“When we teach history, it’s not about assigning guilt or blame. It’s about teaching young people to think deeply and critically themselves so we don’t repeat the same mistakes,” said Schwiebert.
Other Democrats said that they supported curriculum transparency but disagreed with the bill’s approach. However, State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) challenged their claims, arguing that their description of transparency efforts as “meddling” proved their disingenuity. Hoffman also dispelled certain rumors presented by bill opponents, such as requiring teachers to photocopy documents. He noted that educators couldn’t be trusted on their own, citing his struggle as a school board member to get transparency from his district — in one case, he had to wait over 10 months for a contract.
“The bill is very clear. It requires you adding what those resources are to a list so that parents can be informed and so that parents have the ability to know what’s going on in their classrooms,” said Hoffman. “This system is not set up for parents to be informed or empowered beyond the cursory information that they are allowed to have. This bill empowers parents.”
State Representative Kelli Butler (D-Phoenix) claimed that curriculum transparency already exists, and characterized the bill as an “attack” on teachers.
“We need to stop tying the hands of our wonderful, dedicated classroom teachers,” said Butler.
State Senator Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) sponsored the bill; it passed out of the Senate along party lines several weeks ago, 16-13.
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.