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House panel approves bill to quash political activity in classrooms

(Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Teachers, students and Red for Ed supporters gathered at Chase Field on April 26, 2018, before marching to the Arizona Capitol. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The president of the state’s largest teachers’ union warned a House committee Monday of a potential Red for Ed resurgence if they advanced a contentious bill from Rep. Kelly Townsend last night, which they did.

Townsend’s House Bill 2015, which opponents view as retaliation for last year’s strike, would prohibit school district employees from using school resources to espouse a political or religious ideology or face a fine of up to $5,000. Democrats and opponents argued the bill would have a chilling effect on teachers without solving an existing problem.

The House Education approved the bill 8-5 along party lines, just hours after teachers in West Virginia, who inspired last year’s strike in Arizona, decided to walk out of their classrooms again starting today in protest of a Republican bill viewed as retaliatory.

Joe Thomas

Joe Thomas

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas cautioned the committee before they voted on Townsend’s proposal.

“I’m telling you right now if this goes through tonight, I’m going to be on television for the rest of the week talking about this against the backdrop of West Virginia,” he told the committee.

He said the problem as Townsend and supporters of the bill described it – teachers indoctrinating their students based on their own personal beliefs – is not a widespread issue. And he argued state law prohibiting the use of school resources to influence elections, such as endorsing or opposing a candidate during work hours, is sufficient.

Following West Virginia teachers’ decision, Thomas said Arizona educators were already inundating him with questions of what they would do next.

“Are you threatening to have a walk-out if this bill passes?” Townsend, R-Mesa, asked.

Thomas insisted he was not making threats, but emphasized again that representatives should consider the timing, warning Townsend’s bill could ignite anger that is already stirring.

Rep. Kelly Townsend

Rep. Kelly Townsend

In any case, the bill will now advance to the House Rules Committee before a vote on the House floor.

Townsend did amend the bill to remove a provision allowing parents to file suit against teachers in their districts in violation of the law. Her amendment adopted by the committee also removed language from the original bill that specified violators may be fired.

But the adjustments she made did not appease opponents who waited hours to speak against the proposed legislation; the bill was the last the committee considered during the marathon hearing that ran until 10 p.m. Monday.

Organizers of the Red for Ed movement that led to a statewide teachers’ strike last year have already been surveying parents and members of Arizona Educators United to gauge interest in a variety of actions the movement could take this year.

A copy of the educators’ survey posted on Facebook asked whether respondents were satisfied with last year’s outcome, which actions they felt were most effective, which of the original demands is most relevant this year and whether they are committed to taking further action.

And a copy of the parents’ survey asked what should be prioritized in terms of K-12 funding, whether respondents support the movement and this: “Can Arizona students afford to wait for funding or do we need immediate action from the state Legislature?” The options for the latter included an indication that the Legislature needs to act, that schools can wait for funding or that “districts need to be more accountable with the funding they receive.”

2 comments

  1. Teachers should do their job, which is to teach our children a curriculum that has been passed down from the board of education not their personal beliefs and agendas. Right or Left

  2. bradley taylor hudson

    Political beliefs are unavoidable. We’ve had them since the beginning. They are often taught as “history”. (For example, I was taught the “history” that George Washington was almost perfect, only to learn as an adult that he was a slave owner, both “political” issues.) There is a balance between allowing any teacher to espouse personal beliefs unfettered, and attempting to restrict all political education. Our children are growing up without civic education, producing generations of ignorant voters. It is impossible to teach civics without introducing different political beliefs, so we must monitor, not forbid. Another problem with this legislation is that it could be a tool for constant harassment of any teachers deemed by someone to not be “politically correct”. The disruption of education would be far more trouble than a monitoring approach.

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