Arizona Legislators approved bills on school transportation, career and technical education districts offering associates degrees, review of school library books and parents’ access to educational records on the floor of the House of Representatives this week.
The school transportation bill, Senate Bill 1630, was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Floor session today, but the Senate did not take any final reading votes on bills as they lacked enough Republican votes to pass bills.
A motion to extend the legislative session to complete a budget was approved during the Senate Floor Session today. Senate President Karen Fann reminded Senators “That we have to do a budget first guys. It’s the only thing we are constitutionally required to do.”
Soon afterward, the House and Senate adjourned until Monday of next week.
The other bills approved by the House have been sent to Gov. Doug Ducey for his signature. Yesterday, Gov. Ducey signed into law bills approved by the Arizona Legislature that prohibit masks from being required for children and teens without parental consent and prohibit governmental entities – including schools – from requiring employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Arizona Capitol Television: Senate Floor Session – April 27, 2022
Senate Bill 1630, sponsored by Sen. Sine Kerr with six other co-sponsors, would let public district and charter schools use vehicles designed to carry at least 11 but not more than 15 students or type A, B, C, or D school buses to transport students to and from school on a regular basis.
As she rose to explain her vote against the bill, Rep. Judy Schwiebert said, “I am concerned because I think that all of us would agree that students’ safety should come first, and unfortunately this bill was drafted by an outside agency that I think had a good intention to provide alternatives for reservation school buses and other rural areas and other districts as well.”
“But what every transportation safety expert says is that the 11- to 15-passenger vans in particular that this bill would allow are much more likely to either roll over or even burst into flame, which is why they are prohibited by the federal government as well as by our state government,” Rep. Schwiebert said.
“Districts can get around that by purchasing second-hand vans, but our children are not safe in those particular vans so we should not be expanding that. There are other options – shorter school buses or other smaller vans like a Dodge Caravan and others that are similar,” Rep. Schwiebert said.
SB 1630 also requires drivers to have the appropriate license to operate a student transportation vehicle, but does not require them to have a commercial drivers license unless that is required to operate the specific vehicle they will be transporting students to school in.
Rep. Shawnna Bolick said a bill last year started this whole process.
“These drivers still have to go through the same exact safety driving administered by DPS here,” Rep. Bolick said as she voted for the bill. “It has also come to my attention that the Democrats in Congress had also asked Transportation Secretary Buttigieg to waive the CDL requirement so DPS still have control over all these safety standards.”
Senate Bill 1630 would let schools use route mileage and the number of riders to calculate funding to transporting eligible students, allow for a variety of vehicles to be used to meet schools’ and students’ transportation needs.
Rep. Kelli Butler said she understands that this bill might be in response to the school bus driver shortage, but she is against the bill.
“I subbed in on the Education Committee when this bill was being heard, and I was absolutely shocked by this bill,” said Rep. Kelli Butler as she explained her vote against the bill.
When you put your child on a school bus, “I think as a parent you’re making the assumption that that is as safe as possible process and that transportation safety has been considered,” Rep. Butler said.
“Getting around a safety prohibition and putting our children potentially at risk is so wrong. I can understand why we would be even contemplating that with this bill,” Rep. Butler said.
In addition, SB 1630 would add members to the student transportation advisory council that include charter schools of varying student enrollments, small schools in counties with a population under 300,000, the state board of charter schools, a private sector school bus or student transportation provider, two public members and a member with expertise managing electric vehicle fleets.
SB 1630 also requires schools to consult with the Department of Public Safety on modernizing and innovating student transportation to reduce barriers for students and provide more transportation options, including electric vehicles.
The bill passed the House with 37 ayes, 20 nays and three not voting, and goes back to the Senate to be heard today.
Bill approved to let CTEDs offer associate degrees for in-demand fields
House Bill 2034, sponsored by House Education Chair Michelle Udall with three other co-sponsors, would let career and technical education districts offer students the opportunity to complete associate degrees in fields on the in-demand regional education list that include regional and national accreditation requirements as well as state licensure if the program is accredited by a regional or national agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
House Bill 2034 would also require that the associates degree programs are funded through student tuition and program fees and not through additional taxpayer dollars.
Arizona Capitol Television: House Floor Session – April 25, 2022
“This bill I think is well intentioned. It’s expanding the ability of CTEDs to offer AA degrees in certain degree areas, but I’m concerned because the devils always in the details of course,” Rep. Butler said.
“This bill went back and forth several times about whether it would be regional or national accreditation and where it ended up was that it could be either regional or national accreditation to start the program,” Rep. Butler said as she explained her vote against the bill.
Regional accreditation is the only path that ensures the credits students earn will transfer to all our public universities and community colleges, while national accreditation is not so broadly accepted, Rep. Butler said.
“The concern is that a student might take classes, spend money and time taking classes at one of these that is only nationally accredited and then find out after the fact that they wasted their time and money and that those credits do not transfer to our other universities or community college settings,” Rep. Butler said.
While providing alternate pathways for students to attain college degrees and training in different settings is important, “This bill just doesn’t work out the details in a way that protects students,” Rep. Butler said.
HB 2034 also requires each CTED to provide a yearly report to the Governor, House Speaker, Senate President and the Joint Legislative Budget Committee including the number of students in the associates degree programs, the number of degrees completed, and the workforce demand for each program and the average cost of tuition per credit hour.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers said many have asked him why students can use the technical expertise they gain at CTEDs “and combine it with academic expertise from others and get these young people to leave with an associates degree.”
“I think that has been, is now, and will be a great benefit that this bill can move through and carry to people,” Speaker Bowers said.
“I look forward to seeing what all can be done to improve our workforce in an expeditious way, but also I think even a little bit cheaper, and yet no dimunition in the technical expertise that they will gain through the experience,” Speaker Bowers said as he voted for the bill.
This bill was approved with a vote of 52 ayes, five nays and three not voting, and the bill has been sent to the Governor.
House approves parents’ rights bill
The House also approved House Bill 2161, sponsored by Rep. Steve Kaiser, that would allow parents access to all written and electronic educational and medical record of their child attending a public school, require parental consent in writing before any medical test of their child, and make it illegal for any school employee to withhold information from parents that is relevant to the physical, emotional, or mental health of their child.
HB 2161 would also require the school to get written consent from parents before administering any survey that asks the student personal information such as critical appraisals of another person with whom the pupil has a close relationship, gun or ammunition ownership, illegal, antisocial or self-incriminating behavior, income or other financial information, legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as relationships with a lawyer, physician or member of the clergy, medical history or medical information, mental health history or mental health information, political affiliations, opinions or beliefs, pupil biometric information, the quality of home interpersonal relationships, religious practices, affiliations or beliefs, self-sufficiency as it pertains to emergency, disaster and essential services interruption planning, sexual behavior or attitudes, gender expression, perceptions or stereotypes, and voting history.
As Rep. Jennifer Pawlik explained her vote against the bill, she said, “Teachers care about the students in their classrooms. They work to build trusted relationships with their students. And as trusted adults, sometimes students share personal information with their teachers. Please note that we are mandatory reporters. One part of our job is to keep students safe.”
“I’d glad there have been so many changes to this bill as it’s gone through the process, but I still worry that the bill compromises the trust that teachers build with their students,” Rep. Pawlik said.
“It’s very concerning that parents can bring suit against a teacher should they believe that the teacher is usurping their rights. With that I vote no,” Rep. Pawlik said.
Under HB 2161, parents would submit a written request for access to these records to their child’s school principal or the school district superintendent, and fine a school $500 for each violation and may file a lawsuit in the courts.
Rep. Walt Blackman thanked the sponsor for bringing this bill forward.
“Parents have a right to know every single thing that’s being said, taught, looked at, what have you with their kids, because it’s their kids,” Rep. Blackman said.
“If that means that the teacher has to do more work, I’m sorry,” Rep. Blackman said as he voted for the bill. “However, as a parent, I want to make sure that I know everything that’s going on in that school, and everything that’s being reported and everything that teacher is saying to my child.”
Rep. Kaiser’s House floor amendment to HB 2161 would mandate that each governing board develop a procedure for reporting violations of statutory parental rights and would require a written warning for an employee who violated parental rights, two days suspension without pay and a civil penalty of $500 for a second instance in the same year, and assess a civil penalty of $1,000 and subject the employee to suspension and dismissal for a third or subsequent offense in the same year, and requires the AZ Dept. of Education to develop statewide training for public school personnel on state laws regarding statutory parental rights in public education. Then another House floor amendment by Rep. Kaiser removed all those provisions.
A different House floor amendment by Rep. Jeff Weninger clarifies that a school employee may withhold information about a child’s physical, emotional or mental health from the child’s parent if the information is subject to the duty to report abuse statute.
The amendment also directs the State Board of Education to impose the civil penalties and deposit that money into the Parental Rights Fund.
An amendment by Senate Education Chair Paul Boyer would allow for a parent to receive a paper or electronic copy of a survey or electronic access to it.
A Senate Education Committee amendment would also allow parents access to entrance or readiness exams or surveys.
“I know that there have been many amendments to this bill, which I appreciate; however, it feels to me that it is still amplifying or magnifying the divide between teachers and parents,” said Rep. Schwiebert.
“Parents can already file a lawsuit against a school district or teachers if they object to things that are happening, and this just reinforces this,” Rep. Schwiebert said.
“I think this bill sends a wrong message. It sends a message of division, rather than encouraging people to work together to resolve issues in their local schools, and I don’t know why we are trying to usurp this local control,” Rep. Schwiebert said as she voted against the bill.
The House approved the bill with 31 ayes, 26 nays and three not voting. The bill has been sent to the Governor.