Arizona State Senator J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) shared in his weekly update to constituents that his bill, aimed at ensuring school districts comply with the state transparency laws, is moving along through the Legislature.
“Given the importance of having transparency with such a critical topic as teacher pay, I sponsored a bill (SB 1599) that would add some teeth to the law and instruct the Arizona Department of Education to engage if a school district is not in compliance. The bill has passed the Senate and is poised for a House Floor vote,” Mesnard said.
As school districts across the country grapple with declining enrollments induced by the pandemic, many are engaged in spending sprees like those of the past leading to widespread layoffs and budget cuts when federal money ran out.
Bolstered by $190 billion in pandemic relief funding from Washington, the nation’s public schools are hiring new teachers and staff, raising salaries, and sweetening benefit packages. Some are buying new vehicles. Others are building theaters and sports facilities.
Using such temporary support for new staff and projects with long-term costs is setting the table for perilous “fiscal cliffs” after COVID funding expires in 2024, some education budget analysts say. And that’s on top of doubts about whether money to battle the pandemic is being properly spent in the first place.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation that would prohibit the federal government and any entity at the federal, state and local level that receives federal funding, including school districts, from requiring COVID-19 vaccines for minors.
“Parents should have the right to decide what is best for their children in consultation with their family doctor,” he said. “My view on the COVID-19 vaccine has remained clear: no mandates of any kind.
“President [Joe] Biden and his administration have repeatedly ignored medical privacy rights and personal liberty by pushing unlawful and burdensome vaccine mandates on American businesses, and now they are preparing to push a mandate on kids by pressuring parents – all without taking into account relative risk or the benefits of natural immunity.”
About a quarter of teacher vacancies across the state remain unfilled in 2021, with 55.4% of the vacancies are filled by teachers who do not meet the state’s standard certification requirements, according to a Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association survey of 145 school districts and charter schools.
This marks the sixth consecutive year of teacher shortages in Arizona. Approximately a quarter of teacher vacancies have remained unfilled a month into each school year since 2016, ASPAA’s press release said.
Twenty-six percent of teaching positions were open a few weeks into the school year, a 6% increase from the 21% vacancy rate in 2019, even though there were 400 less positions to fill this year than in 2019. As of Sept. 10, 2021, ASPAA counted 1,698.67 vacancies in its Oct. 12 report.
The watchdog Goldwater Institute has discovered that the Arizona School Boards Association is controlling much of the teaching within Arizona’s K-12 public schools, which includes Critical Race Theory. Schools are locked into the agenda, because if they try to opt out, the ASBA will accuse them of copyright infringement for using their own previously adopted policies or replicating those of other public bodies.
According to a new report the Goldwater Institute put out about the problem, the ASBA uses the messaging of “equity,” asserting that it is not CRT. But “retreating to the less revolutionary sounding term ‘equity’ reflects a distinction without a difference.” The purpose is still the same, “replacing the principle of legal equality with practices and government mandates forcing people to treat their fellow Americans differently based on race — inflicting racist policies on people today in order to balance out the racism of centuries past.”
Just three weeks after Gov. Doug Ducey announced that school districts issuing mask mandates or requiring vaccinated students to quarantine would be penalized by diverting money to students to use as school vouchers to attend elsewhere, demand has exceeded the $20 million he allotted by twice the amount. Ducey announced on August 17 that money the state received from the federal government through the pandemic-generated American Rescue Plan to boost per-pupil spending would not go to any of those schools.
Ducey made the announcement immediately following a demand on August 11 from Republican state legislators to take action regarding those school districts. They suggested that Ducey could withhold federal funds and offer vouchers, which he did, but he did not go so far as following their recommendation of suing the school districts.
The chairman of the Pima County Republican Party is calling for the arrest of local officials who mandate the COVID-19 vaccine or masks. In that lower part of the state, the City of Tucson requires vaccinations and the Marana School District requires masks.
Shelley Kais told the Arizona Daily Independent, “On September 29, any school board member, city councilman, or supervisor who requires masks or vaccines mandates and passports should be arrested ” She went on, “The power grab by our elected officials to play this ‘game of chicken’ is nothing more than political and follows neither science nor good public policy. We will continue to fight for our first responders, our teachers, and the children in Pima County.”
Twenty-six Republican members of the Arizona Legislature signed onto a letter drafted by Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) asking Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to take four steps of action in regards to several school districts that appear to be violating state law by imposing mask mandates in schools. A high school biology teacher recently filed a lawsuit over the mandate implemented by Phoenix Union High School District. The school districts contend that the law, A.R.S. 15-342.05, doesn’t apply yet since bills do not go into effect until 90 days after the end of the legislative session, but the bill contains a retroactive clause.
“It borders on anarchy and destabilizes the very foundation of our society to have local governments effectively refusing to comply with the law. It must not be allowed to stand,” the legislators said. “Any local government that willfully and intentionally flaunts state law must be held accountable.”