Dozens of public schools would be able to throw out federal education policy regulating academic standards, teacher evaluation requirements and student tracking systems under a measure approved by the Arizona House on Thursday.
The Republican-led House voted 36-23 along party lines to advance the measure to the Senate after heated debate over the value of federal education dollars.
The proposed law would allow roughly 130 district and charter schools that don’t receive federal money to ignore federal and state mandates. The exempted schools would still need to follow any health, safety, civil rights and insurance mandates.
Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, the bill’s sponsor, said schools that don’t benefit from federal dollars shouldn’t be forced to meet federal standards. Farnsworth is president of the Benjamin Franklin Charter School in Gilbert.
“It simply says, ‘Yes, we as a state have a right to decide what we are going to do on education,’” he said.
Critics fretted that if the measure becomes law, it would result in a significant hit to Arizona’s education budget. Federal education funding is generally linked to compliance and income.
“When we exempt these few schools from complying with federal regulations, all of our schools in the state are at risk for losing federal funding,” said Democratic Rep. Eric Meyer.
Farnsworth countered that Arizona lawmakers need to support good policy over federal threats. He said federal education funding and regulations are unconstitutional.
“When you talk about the federal government, I have no idea what they are going to do. … Anytime I try to do anything, that’s what I hear: ‘We are going to lose federal funding, we are going to lose federal funding,’” Farnsworth said. “There’s really not a lot of risk, but if it does happen then at some point, we have to say, ‘This is the best policy for our state, and we will defend it if we need to.’”
Republican Rep. Justin Pierce also urged lawmakers to ignore the Democrats’ fiscal warnings.
“It’s a bit of a red herring when we ask people whether something is possible or not,” he said. “Anything that is not impossible is possible.”