Legislators expand parents' access to students' learning materials, hold several other bills in education committees - AZEdNews
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Legislators expand parents’ access to students’ learning materials, hold several other bills in education committees

To Support Students' Success, Queen Creek Unified School District Has Invested In A Staffing Model That Includes Counselors, College And Career Advisors, Career Center Specialists And Social Workers. Photo Courtesy Queen Creek Unified School District

The Senate Education Committee voted to expand parents’ access to instruction and training materials, while House Education discussed and later held a bill on school district boundary changes.

Arizona Capitol Television video: Senate Education Committee Meeting – 2/1/22

The Senate Education Committee held a bill that would provide grants to hire more school counselors, and House Education held a bill that would dissolve school districts with 125 students, sending students to neighboring districts’ schools.

Senate Bill 1189, sponsored by Sen. Sean Bowie, Senate Education Chair Paul Boyer, Sen. Rosanna Gabaldon and more, would appropriate $19 million in the 2022-2023 school year from the general fund to a School Counseling Plan Grant Fund, administered by the Arizona Dept. of Education, to provide grants that would allow each district school and charter school to hire at least one school counselor for every 550 students enrolled. Schools with less than 550 students enrolled would hire a part-time school counselor or enter into an agreement with one or more other school districts to contract for school counselor services.

SB 1189 would address a significant need for more school counselors, build on the previous School Safety Grants that helped many schools around the state add school counselors or school resource officers to staff, and the additional $21.3 million supplement to those grants when applications were larger than anticipated, and help reduce Arizona’s school counselor to student ratio, which is the highest in the nation.

Related articles:
Bills to hire more school counselors support Gov. Ducey’s safe schools plan

Supt. Hoffman announces $21 million for school counselors & social workers
Arizona students’ access to school counselors declines, while need rises

Under SB 1189, the Arizona Dept. of Education would develop application and selection procedures to distribute grants from the fund, and a committee made up of school counselors, school administrators, school principals, teachers, students, parents of enrolled students, and community mental health professionals would develop selection criteria to awarding grants from the fund.

The amount SB 1189 would appropriate from the state general fund for the School Counseling Plan Grant Fund would increase each year with $38,000,000 appropriated in fiscal year 2023-2024,  $57,000,000 in fiscal year 2024-2025,  $76,000,000 in fiscal year 2025-2026 and $95,000,000 in fiscal year 2026-2027.

Senate Ed votes to expand parents’ access to learning materials

Senate Bill 1211, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Barto, Sen. Gowan, Sen. Sine Kerr and more, would expand requirements for students’ parents’ access to instruction materials that would include district and charter schools posting classroom learning materials and activities on their website.  

SB 1211 would require that learning materials and activities for student instruction and teacher training be displayed for at least 72 hours prior to first use on topics that include nondiscrimination, diversity, equity, and inclusion; race, ethnicity, sex, gender, and bias; action-oriented civics, service-learning or social and emotional competencies; and any combination of these topics with other concepts. 

SB 1211 would also allow students’ parents access to teacher training materials in the same manner as student instructional materials and allow access to a classroom library within 10 days after a written request. 

In addition, SB 1211 would prohibit school governing boards or school staff from purchasing copyrighted instructional materials or those that require students to provide individual logins to use, unless students’ parents are provided the opportunity to review the materials.

Also, SB 1211 would require a principal to investigate a parent’s complaint within 15 days, and if not satisfactorily resolved for the parent to submit the written complaint to the school governing board or an administrator designated by the school board and requires an investigation within 25 days and written response about action take to resolve the complaint. The bill also allows an individual to sue in superior court if the complaint is not resolved to their satisfaction.

“This is a common sense transparency issue,” Sen. Barto said.

“No parent should have to be afraid they might be publicly attacked just to know what their students are learning,” said Nicole Solis, a parent from Rhode Island who came to speak in support of SB 1211 after she was sued after submitting a public records request to find out what her kindergartener was learning in school.

Sen. Rick Gray said “I applaud you for standing up to that.”
“It’s heart-breaking you’ve gone through this,” Sen. Gray said.

“You’ve given voice to so many parents around the country with your concern,” Sen. Barto said.

“In Rhode Island, do you have a parent bill of rights like we have here?” asked Sen. Christine Marsh asked.

Matt Beienburg with The Goldwater Institute said “This bill is pro-parent and pro-teacher.”

Then he read a letter from an Arizona English teacher Jessica M. which said she supports SB 1211, because most schools already have a way of posting student activities and learning materials online.

“Parents deserve to know what their students are learning and discussing in the classroom,” Jessica M. wrote.

Pam Kirby said she supports SB 1211 and noted, “I’m all for local control, but the contents of this bill must be dealt with legislatively.”

Amy Carney, a mother of six children in Scottsdale Unified School District, asked for legislators support to help parents more easily access the learning materials students are using in class.

Judith Simons, who retired from teaching in Mesa Public Schools, said this bill “constrains individual teachers creativity in the classroom” and noted that if parents have concerns about what their children are learning in the classroom they should “contact your teacher directly.”

Kerwin Franklin spoke in support of the bill and said “Transparency would have avoided some of the things that have happened in my children’s schools.”

Franklin said when her students were in charter school, she could request a textbook, review it and sent it back.

“Once teachers have their documents online, all they’ll have to do is update their materials online,” Franklin said.

Amanda Ray, a parent of two students in the Scottsdale Unified School District, said “When parents raised questions about what was in this curriculum we were harassed.”

“I don’t understand why transparency is difficult when they are using our tax dollars,” Ray said.

Christina Black, a Mesa mother of students who attend Zaharis Elementary, said after students showed excitement about learning about the moonwalk she asked parents to send in any information and learning materials they might have to help cultivate students learning.

“I don’t know when we stopped trusting our teachers,” Black said.

If teachers have to put down every resource onto paper, it might take so much time and take away creativity and stunt students’ learning, Black said.

Rachel Klaussen, a teacher, said SB 1211 is not necessary, noting her children’s teachers send assignments home for the following week.

“Children are unique and so are their needs,” Klaussen said.

She said after sharing a primary source from the textbook was too difficult for her students, she found another that was easier for her students to work with.

“This bill will create a burden for teachers. Teachers are already stretched to the limit on what they need to do,” said Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, who noted that 406 signed in to speak against the bill while 211 signed in support of the bill, then she voted no on the bill.

“If you’re serving the parents then you’re serving the kids, because no one cares more about those kids than those parents,” Sen. Gray said as he voted for the bill.

“I’ve never experienced a situation where I did not have access to curriculum materials,” said Sen. Theresa Hatathlie, noting a work session might better help examine issues and possibilities to solve this issue as she voted no on the bill.

Parents should know what’s going on in school, but the unintended consequences will add more work for teachers, Sen. Marsh said, noting that it will quash teachers’ responding to students’ interests on the fly and post those new materials on the fly.

“I think there’s another solution. I think we could get some teachers here and from the House to develop something that provides that transparency for parents and supports teachers,” Sen. Marsh said.

“I’m for the goal of transparency, but this bill is going to come with some unintended consequences,” Sen. Marsh said as she voted no.

Sen. Tyler Pace said there is a transparency issue, and parents should not have to get a lawyer or put in a public records request for this information.

“I have set down and met many hours on this bill” for the past several years, Sen. Pace said, noting that the version that made it out of committee previously removed a lot of burdens on teachers, but it still didn’t pass. Then he voted in support of SB 1211.

House Education Chair Paul Boyer said providing parents a simple list of materials used in the classroom would be just as useful as posting the information online.

“We have parents clamoring to know what’s happening in their kids classrooms and we know that those are the students who are going to succeed since they’re parents are so engaged,” Sen. Boyer said.

The Senate Education Committee gave SB 1211 a do pass recommendation with a vote of 5 ayes and 3 nays.

House discusses & holds school boundaries bill

The House Education Committee discussed held a bill on school district boundary changes.

House ed also held a bill that would dissolve school districts with 125 students and sending those students to neighboring districts’ schools.

Arizona Capitol Television video: House Education Committee Meeting – 2/1/22

House Bill 2277, sponsored by House Education Vice Chair John Fillmore, would make changes to the way school districts make boundary changes by removing the requirement that the involved school districts have not made more than one minor boundary adjustment made previously.

House Bill 2277 would require an election among voters residing within a school district to change district boundaries to include an unorganized territory in their boundaries if a school district governing board received a petition with the signature of 10% of the voters residing in the school district.

HB 2277 would also let voters who would like to reduce school district boundaries, to do so by sending a petition with signatures of 10% of voters in that school district to the country school superintendent setting forth the change of boundaries desired. The county school superintendent would then prepare a report and send it to the school district governing board that includes information on educational programs, transportation services and the financial impact on taxpayers. The governing board would mail or distribute the report to all households in the school district. An election would be held to determine the outcome of the request to reduce school district boundaries.

Also, HB 2277 would require that any taxpayer who owns property valued at 30% of all the taxable property in the boundary adjustment area to approve the boundary adjustment in writing.

“This bill is just really a simplification of having two school districts align with each other one has excess material or equipment that they don’t need the other one can use it and it allows for an easy transfer instead of having to go through a lot of rigamarole and running down with the state. It’s really something that the school boards locally would approve,” House Vice Chair Fillmore said.

Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter said he spoke on behalf of the County School Superintendents.

“This bill would be something our office would have to deal with, because it deals with both elections and adjacent property and boundaries,” Carter said.

“We don’t really understand the bill,” Carter said. “The current bill that appears to be the basis of this is a bill that deals with minor boundary changes that’s a half a page long and pretty easy to understand. This is a little over two pages and there are simply a whole of things in here we simply do not understand.”

Carter said there are some things in the bill that the county superintendents of schools like, such as unorganized adjacent territory and how to properly diminish the property of a school district.

“But then we get down to the real basis of this where we currently have a law that says you can only do a minor boundary change if it involves 1 1/2 percent of your students,” Carter said. “This changes it to 10 percent. That’s a significant attendance base – ADM base – that a district is going to be giving up to a neighboring school district.”

“I’m having a very hard time understanding why a district governing board would be willing to do that, and I certainly don’t know that voters would want to see that happen,” Carter said. “That’s on a continuing basis. It’s not a one-time exchange. This permanently moves that property into the adjacent district.”

If two districts in adjacent counties want to transfer property it’s done by school boards with an intergovernmental agreement, and “you don’t need to move boundary lines to do that,” Carter said.

Carter said the provision that allows a property owner who owns property valued at 30% of all the taxable property in the boundary adjustment area to approve the boundary adjustment in writing means that “one property owner can stop this as opposed to the governing boards having to stop it or the voters having to stop it.”

“I don’t know of any other place in Arizona education law that gives a property owner the ability to veto what a majority of voters would do,” Carter said.

“There are considerable doubts as to whether the board of supervisors would want to get into a battle between two school districts and their voters over whether those boundary lines should be moved,” Carter said.

Typically voters are required to move those boundary lines, Carter said.

“We’re confused and as a result we’re encouraging you to vote no, and we would be more than happy to get together whenever we can with the sponsor and others to try to identify what we really need to do so that when you direct us to do something, we know exactly what we’re supposed to do,” Carter said.

Rep. Daniel Hernandez asked Carter to give some examples of what some of those intergovernmental agreements school boards have entered into.

“I’m not sure what problem the bill is trying to solve here,” Rep. Hernandez said.

“Let’s say this district had buses that they’re not using, the district over here needs those buses and they get together and enter an IGA of some kind of lease, those buses come over and it’s done. The two boards vote on it, the county attorney approves it, and we’re off and running,” Carter said.

“He brings up some points I think we need to consider,” said House Education Chair Michelle Udall. “Rep. Fillmore, I hope you’ll work with him to clarify some of the things he brought up.”

“Yeah. I was very very comfortable until Mr. Carter got up and spoke,” Rep. Fillmore said. “He raises some valid issues on that, but the fact of the matter is I’m going to stick with what we have in this and move forward, but I will talk to you if there are some changes we might be able to come up with prior to it going onto the floor.”

The House Education Committee voted unanimously that House Bill 2277 be held.

House holds bill to dissolve school districts with 125 students

The House Education Committee held House Bill 2279 with a proposed amendment, both sponsored by House Education Vice Chair John Fillmore, which would allow the county school superintendent to recommend suspension of a school district and declare it lapsed if it has 125 students and attach the territory, of the lapsed school district to one or more adjoining school districts.

HB 2279 would also dispose of the lapsed school district’s property and apply the proceeds to the credit of the lapsed school district and after paying off any debts of the lapsed school district those funds would be transferred to the county school fund.