On Wednesday, the Arizona Senate passed HB2008, which reforms the state’s high school learning standards to cast a positive light on America’s founding principles while exploring the dangers of other governing ideologies. The bill now heads to the House for review before submission to Governor Doug Ducey for final approval.
Under the bill, the State Board of Education (SBE) must update high school social studies standards to incorporate a comparative discussion of political ideologies. Communism and totalitarianism will be juxtaposed with American ideology, such as its founding principles of freedom and democracy.
“The academic standards prescribed by the state board in social studies shall include personal finance, American civics education, and a comparative discussion of political ideologies, such as communism and totalitarianism, that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy that are essential to the founding principles of the United States,” states the bill. (emphasis added to reflect the new legislative language)
Specifically, HB2008 requires the learning standards to rely on source texts, oral histories from victims of ideologies like communism and totalitarianism. The SBE would develop resources from the Arizona State University (ASU) School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, the University of Arizona (UArizona) Center for Philosophy of Freedom, and the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute for American Democracy.
The SBE would have until this New Year’s Eve to establish a list of “portraits in patriotism” oral history resources supplementing the civic education and social studies standards.
The bill almost didn’t make it out of the Senate. It failed just the day before, on Tuesday, when Majority Leader Rick Gray (R-Sun City) joined Senate Democrats in opposing it since State Senators Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) and Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) weren’t able to vote. However, all Republican senators offered unified support for the bill the next day.
HB2008 passed in the House along party lines, with unanimous opposition from Democrats and unanimous support from Republicans.
Democrats have pushed back against efforts to portray communism in a negative light. Some, like State Representative and congressional candidate Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson), have argued that ideologies like white nationalism pose a bigger threat than communism.
HB2008’s sponsor, State Representative Quang Nguyen (R-Prescott Valley), was a victim of communism himself. At 12 years old, Nguyen fled from the Communist Party of Vietnam a week before the Fall of Saigon in April 1975.
HB2008 was Nguyen making good on his promise late last year to ensure students learn about the evils of what he and others, such as House Majority Leader Ben Toma (R-Peoria), had suffered. Toma was nine years old when he emigrated from Romania in the 1980s, ruled at the time by communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.
The Arizona State Board of Education (SBE) will have a bunch of new faces at its next meeting following Monday’s announcement by Gov. Doug Ducey of seven new members.
Created within the Arizona Constitution, the mission of the 11 member board is to develop successful citizens through robust public education. The SBE oversees the public school system by establishing policies, setting courses of study, and gathering data on pupil performance.
The new members chosen by the governor are:
Jason Catanese, analgebra and geometry teacher at Pueblo Del Sol Elementary School in the Isaac School District who is a former national teacher of the year for Teach For America. He is also chairman, co-founder, and executive director of the Camp Catanese Foundation.
Jenny Clark, the founder and CEO of the non-profitLove Your School which helps families navigate school options, whether in a district, charter, private, online, homeschool, microschool, or learning pod setting.
Jacqui Clay, the electedCochise County superintendent of schools who has worked as a teacher, assistant principal, and director of career technical education.. She also spent 25 years serving in the U. S. Army.
Dr. Scott Hagerman, superintendent of the Tanque Verde School District and Continental Elementary School District. His experience includes past positions with Tucson Unified School District, along with work as a principal and classroom teacher.
Katherine Haley, whose nearly 20 years of experience in public policy and philanthropy has involved expanding educational opportunities by building coalitions to advance federal policies which improve school choice and strengthen students’ workforce readiness.
Julia Meyerson, the founder and executive director of Vista College Prep charter schools in Maricopa County. A Phoenix native, Meyerson joined Teach For America after college and served as an educator in Brooklyn, New York.
Karla Phillips-Krivickas, the founder and CEO ofThink Inclusion who has more than 20 years of experience in state and federal policy. She uses her experience to advise education leaders on sound policy and best practices to advance academic achievement for students, including those with disabilities.
The outgoing members are Janice Mak and Calvin Baker, whose terms had expired back in January 2020; Lucas Narducci, Michelle Kaye, and Patricia Welborn, whose terms ran only to January 2021; and Jill Broussard and Armando Ruiz, whose terms expired in January 2022.
“Arizona is grateful to the outgoing members for their service and commitment to students’ success, and for their steady hand in guiding our educational institutions during the pandemic,” Ducey said with the announcement. “Our new board members have big shoes to fill, but I am confident that with their new energy, fresh ideas and diverse backgrounds, we will be able to continue strengthening education for our students.”
The new SBE members will join Christine Burton (January 2023) and Dr. Robert Robbins (January 2024) and as well as Kathy Hoffman who is a member due to her position as the state’s elected Superintendent of Public Instruction. Also carrying over for now is Dr. Daniel Coor as the community college representative, whose term expired in January 2021.
Ducey’s announcement included two community members for the Arizona Board of Regents, which is the governing body for the state’s three public universities: Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona.
One of the new Regents is Gregg Brewster, a senior sales executive of Brewster HealthCare Consulting who has expertise in health care, supply chain management and transportation. According to the governor’s office, Brewster is a member of the AORN Foundation Board of Directors, as well as an active participant on the Arizona State University Alumni Board.
The other new Regent is Doug Goodyear, CEO and a founding partner of DCI Group, a public affairs firm with offices in Arizona and Washington, D.C. The company has grown into of the country’s largest independently-owned public affairs firms. Goodyear has been active in the Phoenix chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization.
The outgoing Regents are William Ridenour and Ronald Shoopman.
Earlier this month Arizona Auditor General Lindsey Perry published a financial risk analysis of the state’s 207 public school districts, which showed dozens of districts rank at high-risk in one or more of 10 areas of review.
But only six districts finished the review with a designation of “highest risk,” according to Perry’s office. Those districts are Double Adobe Elementary, Elfrida Elementary School District, Flagstaff Unified, Isaac Elementary, Safford Unified, and Wenden Elementary.
Elfrida Elementary is a one-school district in Cochise County which ranked high-risk in 8 of the 10 categories. The district, which had 101 students in Fiscal Year 2020 but only 84 in FY2021, was also on the highest-risk list last year, according to the inspector general.
In response, district officials noted several aspects of the financial risk areas have improved in recent months, albeit not enough to get removed from high-risk status.
“There was a limited possibility that the school was going to be able to get out of all the high risk areas during the year,” the district’s response stated. “However, the COVID relief monies have made quite an impact in the school both budgetary wise and infrastructure wise.”
District officials have used their COVID relief monies in a variety of ways, including spending more than $290,000 for salaries, technology purchases to improve 1:1 computer ratios, and repairs to HVAC systems. Monies were also spent for public health items such as plexiglass, masks, and cleaning supplies. Additional expenditures included an outside cleaning company and a staff aide to help with health scanning of students riding the bus.
Another improvement, according to public records, was addressing the district’s loss of its credit line. As a result, Elfrida Elementary District is now on registered warrant status. In February 2021, the amount was $164,031, but by early November 2021 there were no registered warrants.
“We are striving to not have a registered warrant status at the end of FY2022 by ensuring that the district calls down grant monies monthly and that we do not spend more money than our revenues allow,” the district told the auditor general.
District officials also entered into a food service agreement with the local high school, and a superintendent sharing agreement with another elementary school district. A full-time teacher position with benefits was not filled; instead, a long-term substitute without benefits has been utilized at a savings of nearly $20,000.
The audit report further noted Elfrida Elementary District’s primary property tax rate has been frozen since FY 2014, although district officials had not adjusted its budget to stay within the revenue it would generate based on its frozen tax rate. And the report pointed out that COVID-19 funding is short termed.
“As these are one-time monies, to avoid future financial risk and to ensure it will be able to spend within its available cash resources and budget capacity when these relief monies are no longer available to spend after September 30, 2024, the District should plan how it will adjust its spending in areas where its remaining monies are used,” the report noted.
While Elfrida Elementary ranked at high-risk in 8 categories, Antelope Union High School District in Yuma County hit that designation in only 4 of the 10 categories. Which is one reason the district fell off the highest-risk list from last year, according to the auditor general.
But Perry’s office warns Antelope Union’s data indicates “it could move back in to the highest-risk group in the future” if it does not continue to make progress.
Among the improvements made by Antelope Union officials was a tax levy and a General Fund spending reduction. The district was also aided by COVID-19 federal relief monies, more than $160,000 of which went toward operational experiences through June 30, 2021.
District officials have told auditors they plan to use its remaining relief money for non-operational purposes. In the meantime, the auditor general is recommending Antelope Union begin formulating a spending plan sooner than later, as COVID-19 funds dry up in 2024.
However, another problem is facing Antelope Union High School District’s finances.
Last June, Perry’s office notified the State Board of Education about accounting and bookkeeping problems with Antelope Union. As a result, the Board deemed Antelope Union in noncompliance with the Uniform System of Financial Records for Arizona School Districts (USFR) due to deficiencies dating back to June 2018.
This means the district is not receiving certain state monies. Which once lost, stay lost.
“The District will remain in noncompliance until cleared by the State Board of Education,” Cristan Cable, Director of the Auditor General’s accountability services division, told AZ Free News.
Cable explained that Antelope Union cannot be cleared by the Board until auditors determine the cited deficiencies have been resolved. Those deficiencies were first brought to the attention of the Antelope Union governing board back in 2019. At the time, a corrective action place was provided to district officials but there is much work remaining.
“The State Board of Education will reconsider the District’s noncompliance when we are able to report to the Board that the District has addressed its deficiencies either based on our subsequent review at the request of the State Board of Education or based on our review of the District’s fiscal year 2022 or a later financial and compliance audit performed by the District’s independent auditors,” Cable said.