See whether education advocates think Arizona Legislators’ bills are naughty or nice before the legislative session starts on Jan. 13, 2020.
House Concurrent Resolution 2001, sponsored by Rep. John Fillmore (R-Dist. 16), would repeal English-only instruction for English language learner students, require the Arizona State Board of Education to adopt and approve research-based models of Structured English Immersion language instruction as well as evidence- and research-based alternative instruction models for schools to use.
HCR 2001 would also let schools establish dual-language immersion programs for both native and nonnative English speakers, said Leigh Jensen, governmental relations associate for Arizona School Boards Association.
“The mandate that effectively bans bilingual instruction in Arizona removes a pretty significant array of instructional techniques that could benefit both English speakers and non-English speakers alike,” Kotterman said.
“We think that school district governing boards should make decisions about instructional strategies that will work for the students they have in their schools,” Kotterman said.
House Bill 2017, sponsored by Rep. Fillmore, would require K-12 students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance unless a parent requests the student be excused from it. The bill would also set aside a specific time each day for students to engage in quiet reflection and moral reasoning for at least a minute unless a parent requests the student be excused from that.
HB 2017 is similar to a Texas law that requires students to say the pledge unless their parent opts them out, Kotterman said.
“Arizona already has a requirement that schools set aside time every day to say the pledge,” Kotterman said. “This bill is unnecessary.”
“If anything, it will just result in more litigation because the first time you get a district trying to force a student to say the pledge, because their parents don’t have a waiver on file, you just buy yourself a lawsuit, in our opinion,” Kotterman said.
There’s been discussion about adding poverty weight funding for schools, Jensen said.
“What we’re trying to look at in the Legislature is to create what they call opportunity or poverty weights to try to counterbalance that pay for performance, so that we can have some equity in districts,” said Rep. Dr. Gerae Peten (D-Dist. 4) at the Engaging Arizona in Advancing Every Student Succeeds Act presentation Dec. 16 in Phoenix.
“Right now, the rich get rich and the poor get poor, and there doesn’t seem to be any mechanism to stop that downward spiral, so we need to recognize poverty and create opportunities for those underserved, underprivileged students,” Dr. Peten said.
We’re not sure what form it’s going to take, Kotterman said.
“There’s been discussion about adding an amount of funding for students based on the percentages of students in your school on free- and reduced-lunch,” Kotterman said. “We don’t know exactly what the final numbers will be yet, but we support adding additional funding for students in poverty.”
“Overcoming the obstacles associated with poverty require a lot more attention and support for students,” Kotterman said. “It costs districts more to help those students succeed on a level that’s equal to their wealthier peers. We support adding that money.”
Any bill to include poverty weight funding will have in it some academic accountability, Kotterman said.
“The tendency is to want to tie new money in education to increased performance, but in this instance, we feel like we’re asking for money to help students who are behind to achieve at a baseline level and then hopefully go on to be more successful as their school career goes on,” Kotterman said.
House Bill 2016, sponsored by Rep. Fillmore, would provide teacher immunity from personal liability in evaluating, grading and disciplining any student in accordance with the law.
“We don’t see a need for this,” Kotterman said.
“A teacher generally is immune from liability for following the policies of the school district. If a teacher is acting in accordance with the policies the governing board has set forth, they don’t need additional liability. It’s the district’s liability,” Kotterman said.
“With regard to grading, there is a provision in place about the teacher being the final say for grading,” said Kotterman noting that student discipline is a district responsibility.
Legislators led by Senate Education Chair Sylvia Allen (R-Dist. 6), are working on a plan that would increase the decades-old special education funding formula so that it better matches the services schools are paying for, said House Education Chair Michelle Udall, (R-Dist. 25), during a Legislative Workshop held Nov. 15 in Mesa.
“The lowest cost, highest incidence weight generates a very small amount of money right now,” Kotterman said. “We’re going to try to increase that. We’re going to ask for the Legislature to increase it by about $50 million statewide so that school districts who have students with learning disabilities or other health impairments will receive an increased weight for those students.”
“We need more money in the special education formula writ large because the costs of providing special education exceed the amount of money that districts receive for those students,” Kotterman said.
That means school districts must divert money from other priorities and program to pay for special education programs and services mandated by the federal government, said Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for Arizona Association of School Business Officials, during the Nov. 15 Legislative Workshop.
“The closer we get to funding the actual costs of special education, the more funding there is for the other things that districts have as priorities like technology and teachers’ pay and more,” Kotterman said.
House Bill 2033, sponsored by Rep. Fillmore, would to prohibit a school district governing board or any other entity from establishing or operating a community school program that provides academic and skill development for all citizens, supervised recreational and avocational instruction, remedial or supplemental education, meeting places for community groups of provides facilities to disseminate community services including extended day resource programs.
“On the surface it looks like it would be an effort to make sure school districts spend all their funding on reading, writing and math,” Kotterman said.
“That would be fine if Mr. Fillmore is also willing to remove every other unfunded mandate from school districts like vision screening, hearing screening, and other things, but the fact of the matter is that people rely on school districts for a lot more than just instruction and the State of Arizona and the Legislature have set it up that way,” Kotterman said.
Senate Bill 1012, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Sonny Borrelli, (R-Dist. 5), calls for an executive session for discussion or consideration of matters relating to school safety operations, plans or programs.
“That general issue, making school safety plans, will be discussed in executive session and not a public record. It is a security issue that several districts have brought up, and so we’re supporting those efforts,” Kotterman said. “Not because we don’t want transparency, but it’s also not in the interests of safety to have your plans for an incident be public record so anyone can know what your response will be if they decide to do something.”
A number of Legislators are working on those school safety issues, Kotterman said.
House Bill 2022, sponsored by Reps. Fillmore and Peten, would require environmental education to be based on current and reliable scientific information and it deletes discussion of economic and social implications.
“Instruction in Arizona schools is based on the state-board adopted academic standards, and we have a long history of the legislature not mandating standards or curriculum,” Kotterman said. “We would like to keep it that way, because this is a local control issue. (School districts’) governing boards make instructional decisions.”
Legislators are discussing policy that would let county superintendents consolidate programs to serve school districts’ students through an Arizona Department of Education grant without consolidating the districts themselves, Kotterman said.
“It will help mostly smaller, rural districts access have access and assistance that they couldn’t get on their own by pooling resources with other districts,” Kotterman said.
For example, that might be help in grant writing or finding speech therapy or counseling services, Kotterman said.
“It will be up to the county school superintendents to figure out what those needs are, but the idea is to help school districts achieve some more efficiency when things are expensive out in rural Arizona,” Kotterman said.
There will be many more bills that impact K-12 education proposed by legislators in coming weeks and throughout the Legislative session that begins on Jan. 13, 2020. This is just a quick preview of what’s ahead. AZEdNews covers legislation and policy that impacts public education as it arises during the legislative session and throughout the year.