The Arizona House of Representatives Education Committee approved a bill today that prohibits instruction in controversial topics, and the Arizona Senate Education Committee approved a bill that prevents school districts from using taxpayers’ money to pay for membership in school board associations.
AZEdNews is a service of Arizona School Boards Association.
House Education Committee gave a due pass recommendation with a vote of 6 aye and 4 nay to House Bill 2112, sponsored by House Education Committee Chair Michelle Udall, which would prohibit instruction that places blame or judgement on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex with penalties of up to $5,000 for each instance and the revocation of a teacher’s certificate.
The bill is similar to one that failed last year, was added into the budget bills, and later ruled to be void and unenforceable by the Arizona courts last year for violating the title and subject matter requirements of the Arizona Constitution.
Arizona Capitol Television: House Education Committee meeting HB 2112 1/18/22
“I’ve received countless emails from concerned parents and teachers about this topic as I’m sure many of you have also,” Chair Udall said, and asked for discussion to be respectful.
Parents have sent emails expressing their “concerns about teaching that they see as racially divisive, rather than help heal the racial divides that persist in our communities,” Chair Udall said. “Most of the parents who contact me point to ways children are being categorized and pitted against each other as oppressor and oppressed.”
“Teachers can and should teach the history of racism in in a much more productive way,” Chair Udall said.
“Our schools should be concerned that are children learn how to read, write and do math,” Chair Udall said.
Rep. John Fillmore commended Rep. Udall for bringing the bill forward and said he had concerns about school district’s paying the $5,000 penalty “saying it’s like a nickel or a penny to their budgets” and asked if she would consider raising the penalty.
Chair Udall said, “While $5,000 is not a lot for a school district it could be for the people who are making those decisions.”
Rep. Fillmore said “this is just a get elected bill and it really does accomplish nothing. If this bill does not get changed I will not be voting for it on the floor and I know others will not be as well.”
Rep. Reginald Bolding asked if Chair Udall was familiar with the term separate but equal.
“Yes, I am,” Chair Udall said.
Then Rep. Bolding asked if a teacher could be fined or lose their teaching license for teaching a lesson based on the Civil Rights movement and if they happen to mention that students were segregated by race in schools.
“Mr. Bolding, of course not,” Chair Udall said.
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“This is similar to the 1619 Project that is being taught in Balsz School District,” Rep. FIllmore said, noting that he was against it.
“No one is going to be fined if you teach historical facts,” said. Rep. Quang Nguyen.
Rep. Andrea Dalessandro said, “It feels like this bill will only throw gasoline on the fire of what is going on in critical race theory.”
“We know through our history that injustice has happened and that’s part of what needs to be addressed,” Rep. Dalessandro said. “It feels like this bill is creating legitimacy for attacks on schools and teachers.”
“I don’t think this is the way to go,” Rep. Dalessandro said.
Rep. Lupe Diaz said, “There’s a difference in teaching history and the good and bad things we’ve done as a human race.”
“The thing we need to be concerned about is current affairs,” Rep. Diaz said. “That’s where it gets squishy.”
“We’re trying to curtail the racism taking place in our country’s history at this time,” Rep. Diaz said.
Rep. Bolding said the problem comes when a student asks why or how and then a teacher starts to have a deeper discussion.
“How do we expect out teachers to maneuver around discussions of race and history when they get to the why and how,” Rep. Bolding said.
“There’s a difference about talking about actions than talking about a whole race,” Chair Udall said.
“If you are a Black student you may feel discomfort hearing that,” Rep. Bolding said. “If you are a non Black student you may feel discomfort hearing that also.”
Tim Grubbs said “We need to have a larger discussion on this.”
“There are current conditions that are affecting people. We are not one nation under God,” Grubbs said and asked the committee to bring in thought leaders to lead a deeper discussion on this.
Kristen Roberts, an English teacher, said she opposed the bill.
“This bill undermines local control and the school board members, parents and teachers who come together to determine what we teach,” Roberts said.
“If this continues, what kind of education will our children receive,” Roberts said.
“Let’s focus on things that are not so divisive,” Roberts said.
Rebecca Gau, with Stand for Children, said she was concerned the bill might make teachers think twice about teaching about the American Revolution, World War II and other historical events because of the section of the bill states that schools and teachers may not teach the concept of one race being morally superior to another race.
‘Think about that in terms of teaching about the rise of Nazism and what led to World War II,” Gau said.
“It’s not asking teachers to take a side. It’s saying you can’t teach it,” Gau said.
“I ask you to vote no on 2112 as written,” Gau said.
Chair Udall said she did not think the bill would preclude that, but she could look at clarifying the language in the bill.
“I oppose House Bill 2112,” said Lisa Olson, a retired teacher and mother of five. “It’s not the Legislature’s job to micromanage teachers or any other profession. The Legislature’s job is to provide a well-funded public education that serves all students, and for the entire time I have lived here that has not happened.”
“Parents in Arizona already have a voice in their district’s decisions on curriculum through outreach for parent comment and through school board elections and retention, as well as further public comment in that arena,” Olson said. “The Legislature in my opinion has no right in subverting local control on these issues.”
“Teachers aren’t telling their students how to feel about said documents or concepts. They’re teaching students how to examine them critically,” Olson said.
“I’m asking you to find a different solution to what you’re seeking to solve here, because this is as you’ve heard a former educator say, this is something that educators will point to in a whole bag of bad things we’ll call them that have come their way in the last two years that will make them feel that their not valued and their curriculum is being called into question, and they’re going to move on,” said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association and a social studies teacher.
“I talk to educators every day, and they do not feel supported,” Thomas said.
“HB 2112 divides us at a time when we need to be coming together,” Thomas said. “My entire life I’ve seen parents and teachers and in modern times students come together to solve problems.”
“After hearing your conversation today, after learning about Civil Rights marches people have been on, and the true beliefs that you have as Republicans and Democrats, I would ask you to do two things: One, push this back down to the local community – have parents, teachers and even students decide if this is an issue they need to prioritize in their community,” Thomas said.
“Is this something they can agree is happening in their community and if it is, let’s look at the State Board of Education, who should have purview over this and should be able to come up with some best thinking,” Thomas said.
“The second most important thing. Teachers across this state need quality professional development in understanding the strength and diversity their students bring to the classroom and how to interact in that in a culturally responsive way,” Thomas said. “That is something you could fund, that is something you could push out so that all educators could understand what we are asking them to teach or not teach or at least explore in the classroom.”
“Every bill that you all put in the committee is a statement to educators,” Thomas said. “Bills like 2112, that are written with language that is too vague to clearly understand how to implement, say we simply don’t trust you, we’re going to take this matter out of your hands, and we’re going to tell you what you can and cannot do.”
“If this issue is happening, and we have no data to prove that it is in a systemic way at all, let’s have the people closes to the students discuss how to move forward,” Thomas said.
“Naming and shining a light on our failings is the only way to heal them,” said Kathy Sigmund. “The very discussion in this room shows how hard it would be to enforce this bill.”
“Children prepare for adulthood in the classroom,” Sigmund said.
“I believe Arizona teachers are not teaching their students what to think,” said Corrina Ontiveros. “They are teaching them to think critically.”
Mindy Lacey said, “We do need to talk about this in school.”
“We need to be honest with our children and give them the opportunity to learn and listen to each other and come together to learn together,” Lacey said.
“This bill is a solution in search of a problem,” said Rep. Bolding as he voted no on the bill. “We need to be able to dive deeper into the why and the how that we are this country and this state.”
“I’m going to vote yes,” Rep. Fillmore said. “I believe in my heart this bill is too lax.”
Rep. Joel John said the bill should have language to allow schools to have the opportunity to make changes before being fined as he voted for the bill.
“I believe that this bill will chill our teachers’ ability to teach the history standards,” said Rep. Jennifer Pawlik as she voted no on the bill.
Rep. Judy Schwiebert said, “When we teach history, it’s not about assigning guilt or blame, it is about teaching young people to think critically so they don’t repeat our past mistakes.”
“Teachers are not the enemy, they are essential and they are exhausted by enormous class sizes, our inability to prevent the spread of COVID and measures like this from the legislature,” Rep. Schwiebert said as she voted no on the bill.
Senate Education Committee meeting
Senate Education Committee gave a due pass recommendation with a vote of 5 aye and 4 nay to Senate Bill 1011, sponsored by Sen. Kelly Townsend, which would prohibit a school district from using tax money to pay for membership in a state or national school board association.
Arizona Capitol Television: Senate Education Committee meeting SB 1011 1/18/22
In September 2021, National School Boards Association Interim Executive Director Chip Slaven sent a letter asking for the federal government to investigate cases where threats of violence against school board members might be considered violations of federal laws protecting civil rights and saying “As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
“The National School Board Association are likening parents who have legitimate concerns who have gone to school board meetings just to raise concerns that they are domestic terrorists, and asking for the President of the United States to invoke the Patriot Act. Think about that. All politics aside, to ask the President to invoke the Patiot Act and hate crimes legislation against parents for voicing opinions,” said Senate Education Committee Chair Paul Boyer. “I’m sorry, but that’s heinous, and that’s an understatement, and that’s why I decided to hear this bill.”
The NSBA later stated in a memo that “there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter” Slaven sent, and that “As we’ve reiterated since the letter was sent, we deeply value not only the work of local school boards that make important contributions within our communities, but also the voices of parents, who should and must continue to be heard when it comes to decisions about their children’s education, health, and safety.”
Sen. Kelly Townsend said the bill dovetails with what Texas has been trying to do, “which is ending taxpayer funded lobbying.”
“I don’t know thatf parents realize and understand exactly what their tax dollars are going to,” Sen. Townsend said. “Your local school boards receives taxpayer money. There are organizations – Arizona School Boards Association and the one that the Chairman referenced and others that require dues to be a part of that association and the benefit is that they provide support services for school board members.”
Support services include board training, conferences, policy services “and those types of things. On the face that seems reasonable, but when you see Arizona School Boards Association signing in for or opposed to bills and you start to see a partisan pattern to that, I would argue that a parent whose taxpayer dollars are going to argue against their own political persuasion regardless of which side they’re on would not feel comfortable with that,” Sen. Townsend said.
“We have long heard complaints about taxpayer funded lobbying, and that’s what this bill is about,” Sen. Townsend said.
“If that organization wants to lobby for or against certain bills, then by all means do it, but those school boards need to come up with a different way to pay for the membership,” Sen Townsend said.
Chris Kotterman, governmental relations director for Arizona School Boards Association spoke in opposition to the bill.
“I think that there’s two issues that we have to deal with,” Kotterman said.
“The first one obviously the chairman mentioned with regard to the National School Boards Association and the statements that were made there,” Kotterman said. “And I think the thing to remember about that is that the National School Boards Association is itself an entity that exists on it’s own as a consortium of states like ours. And when that letter went out, members including the members of this association expressed their extreme displeasure in the way that letter was phrased, and the governance of that association undertook to handle that problem.”
“Let me be clear, the executive director of NSBA at the time that letter was written is no longer the executive director of NSBA,” Kotterman said. “The board of NSBA has undertaken actions to make sure that things like that don’t happen. It was a grievous problem to phrase things that way.”
“Now, I will say that the Arizona School Boards Association has absolutely no interest in pursing any sort of action against parents who show up to school board meetings and participate in the public,” Kotterman said. “But I think as elected officials you all understand that there is a line between what is acceptable public participation and what is not. I believe that all of you to a person have experienced that on one occasion or another.”
“The only assertion is that school board members are elected officials. They are not volunteers. They are not the PTA board. They’re elected officials who are uncompensated and therefore they should enjoy the same protections of other elected officials – you all, city council, that kind of thing,” Kotterman said.
“The way that was stated was unfortunate, but it is being dealt with, which leads us to the second point,” Kotterman said.
“That is, is it going to be the policy of the State of Arizona that when a national organization makes a statement, that is found to be problematic by this body that the solution to that problem is going to be coming after the funding sources of its local affiliates, based on speech,” Kotterman said. “I think that is a serious public policy consideration that needs to be taken under consideration.”
“As for the other issues, I think that we are going to hear plenty about some of the issues that are going on in public schools today, and they are very real issues. Parents have a right to express those issues and those issues will be played out at the local level,” Kotterman said.
“However, those issues will eventually result in public policy initiatives that come before this body and as political subdivisions of the state like counties, like cities, like towns, we have the ability to come together and advocate for certain policies,” Kotterman said. “That is the genesis behind the school boards association.”
“You’ll see later the other services that we provide, but I want to be very clear that if taxpayer funded lobbying is the issue, the Arizona School Boards Association as a 501(c)3 has the same rights as other 501(c)3s to engage in limited advocacy, which we do. In fact, 90 plus percent of the Arizona School Boards Association’s budget goes to core services that have nothing to do with lobbying or any other sort of advocacy activity.”
Chair Boyer asked Kotterman if he thought the language in the NSBA statement was more than problematic.
“I will say it again. I do not think, and the Arizona School Boards Association does not think that parents are domestic terrorists or any form of criminal whatsoever,” Kotterman said. “Yes, that was an extreme problem, and as I said the governance of the association has undertaken to deal with that.”
“I don’t think that any organization should be trying to invoke the White House and the Justice Department against American parents,” Chair Boyer said.
Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales asked, “Are we also going to stop charter school’s from allowing them to use their taxpayer money to pay for dues to organizations that they belong to?”
“It seems to me that this is a political move and not necessarily a policy move,” Sen Gonzales said. “Is it because we don’t like ASBA and the positions that they take on education, but we do like charter schools and the positions that they take?”
“I would like to hear the other speakers to gauge where this is all coming from,” Sen Gonzales said.
“I am more than happy to entertain an amendment to include charter schools if it needs to specified in there,” Sen. Townsend said. “This is one of many steps we need to take. The cities and towns, we have the League of Cities and Towns, if we want to amend it to do all of those, I’m happy to do that too. This is step one in the effort to remove taxpayer dollars being used by an organization that has a partisan bias.”
“This organization can exist with a 501(c)4 where they can do political action, and a 501(c)1 for board training,” Sen. Townsend said. “They can fund raise for what they want to do.”
Sen. Townsend said she doesn’t want schools to lose a resource, but parents don’t have a vote on what lobbying is going on and “it’s their money.”
“I strongly encourage ASBA to continue and do the great work they’re doing, but not with parents’ tax money,” Sen. Townsend said.
“I attends ASBA training for the same reasons I attend church. I learn to be a better person. I learn about the big picture. And I make friends,” said Jill Humpherys, a school board member for Gilbert Unified School District.
“For me, church is not a one and done thing and neither is ASBA board professional development,” Humpherys said. “Board training is not a one and done, but must be ongoing.”
“If you take away our opportunities to lobby, then you take away the voices of our districts, our children and our families,” Humpherys said.
During the discussion, a parent whose children attend Scottsdale Unified School District said, “I am not for my taxpayer money going to ASBA, I was shocked when they did not distance themselves from the National School Boards Association.”
“I appreciate all those who are on school boards, one of the most important jobs we have in our state,” said Sen. Rick Gray as he voted for the bill. “ASBA has some good things, but there are some other things. When what happened with the national board, our board was crickets.”
Wendy Effing, a school board member with Flowing Wells School District in Tucson, said “In our school board meeting room we have a plaque that faces our board every day that says ‘What about the kids?’ It is always about the kids.”
“ASBA provides policy and advocacy services that would be unable for us to duplicate elsewhere,” Effing said.
“I do not believe my tax dollars should go to pay membership fees, my daughter and I pay our own membership fees,” said Lisa Blankenship.
Kathleen Pasierb said she taught for many years in Santa Cruz Valley, served as a school board member and encouraged legislators to vote no on the bill.
“The wealth of knowledge and training afforded by ASBA allowed me to grow as a board member,” Pasierb said.
“We owe it to our students and community families to govern our district the best we can, and ASBA shows us the way to make the best decisions for the school children or Arizona,” Pasierb said.
“I think parents did not know they were funding an organization that had so much disrespect for them,” Sen. Nancy Barto said as she voted for the bill. “It’s not appropriate for taxpayers to fund this organization.”
“There’s been a lot of talk about partisanship, but ASBA is a non-partisan association,” said Monica Timberlake, a school board member for Quartzsite Elementary School District. “Only a very small portion of ASBA’s resources go to NSBA. A small school district can get the same services from ASBA like a large district like Tempe Elementary.”
Timberlake said her district couldn’t afford those services without ASBA.
Sen. T. J. Shope said, “There is a cost to this. There will be small school districts like mine who will have to spend a whole lot more money for a whole lot less.”
But he said he’s committed to working with Sen. Townsend on developing a solution to this.
Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales said, “I’d like to see Sen. Townsend amend her bill to include other agencies, because we can’t focus on one because we don’t like what happened.”
“I’d like to thank the 208 members of the public who chimed in on the request to speak system against this bill and I vote no on this bill,” Sen. Gonzales said.
Creighton School District Supt. Donna Lewis said ASBA is critical to preparing and training school board members and developing policies helps schools save money to implement the things their community wants for their students.
Chair Boyer said in closing, “If passed, more money will stay with the schools and less money will go to a national organization that has perpetrated heinous acts against parents.”
Sen. Christine Marsh said, “I think this bill sets a dark, dark precedent. I don’t always agree with the League of Cities and Towns, but we don’t de-fund them.”
“This bill will force some of our rural districts to spend the money the need to get policy made from the laws we pass,” Sen. Marsh said. “I think we are conflating the advocacy with the policy work ASBA does for schools that are already so underfunded and taxed to the max.”
“This will be a death blow to a great policy organization our school boards need,” Sen. Marsh said as she voted against the bill.