The Arizona Senate is set to vote on SB1416, a bill which will increase the governor’s control over education and weaken public schools by transferring power away from the Arizona Superintendent Diane Douglas today. The bill is being pushed by Senate President Andy Biggs at the behest of Governor Doug Ducey and the corporate-charter school industry.
Public school advocates hope that conservatives and liberals will join to preserve the power of the highest duly elected education office in the State.
The State Board of Education has been unable to fulfill its most basic duties. Just last week parents were stunned to find that nearly half of the SBE standards website was written in Latin. Of course, it has also put children at risk by failing to properly investigate complaints against teachers who have committed serious crimes.
Douglas sent a letter to the senators today urging them to keep the public in public education. The letter reads:
SB 1416 is not the compromise agreed upon last year by the State Board of Education, the Governor’s Office and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Last year, HB 2184 was introduced as an agreement between the State Board of Education, (the Board) the Governor’s office, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction. That bill consisted of 11 pages, while SB 1416 is nearly 55 pages in length of non-negotiated changes that impact ongoing litigation, programmatic oversight, numerous employees, and the traditional functions of the Arizona Department of Education (The Department). At no point did the Department receive a request to work on a bill that clarifies, alters, and restructures the oversight and authority between the Board and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
S.B. 1416 transfers administrative functions to the Board; some examples are provided below.
- Supplemental State Aid Appropriation
- Current Practice: The Department receives a supplemental state aid application and reviews the application to ensure it is complete and correct. The Department then distributes payment to the school district or charter school.
- Concerns: If Board approval of the applications becomes a requirement, the requirement of a 45-day window for payment could be jeopardized. This is because the Board would have to wait until the next Board meeting, which may be more than a month away, to approve the application. Additionally, the Board does not have the staff or the expertise to determine state aid payments or review applications for compliance purposes. School finance is fully understood by only a few professionals in the state and the Department is fortunate to have such experts. Delays to the school finance system may negatively impact Arizona schools and students.
- English Language Learner Program
- Current Practice: The Superintendent’s Office of English Language Acquisition Services (OELAS) develops support and assistance for English Language Learner (ELL) programs across the state using expertise of the office’s specialists and education stakeholders.
- Concerns: If the Board is now to manage the administration of Arizona’s English Language Learner Program, the Board would likely need additional funding to hire outside contractors to perform the work. Assistance and support from OELAS must be fluid and change quickly, due to changing regulations, guidance from the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR), and individual school needs. If the Board is to manage administrative processes, changes to assistance provided to schools would have to be approved by the Board, which could lead to delays in implementation. Guidelines, monitoring, and information provided to schools by the Department follow the policy established by the Board. As a result, there is no need for the Board to approve these materials and processes every time a change is needed to better administer the adopted policy.
The Department currently has the expertise and resources to continue to develop and improve English language learner programs. OELAS works closely with OCR to ensure compliance. The Board does not have the knowledge, resources, or established relationships to properly execute and ensure OCR compliance of this program.
- Investigations Unit
- Current Practice: Pursuant to A.R.S. § 15-203(A)(23), the Board should adopt rules prescribing procedures for the investigation by the Department of every written complaint alleging that a certificated person has engaged in immoral conduct. The Board currently is working outside this authority by providing oversight of employees investigating teacher misconduct. The Investigations Unit no longer resides in the Department’s Jefferson location, having moved to the Executive tower in early 2015. Investigators must still complete much of their work at the Jefferson location, due to data security and privacy concerns related to student and teacher information being accessed remotely.
- Concerns: One of the primary concerns that led to the current litigation is that Investigative staff has been working under the direction of the Board, instead of the Department. Under the direction of a Board that statutorily meets four-times a year; it is imperative that the Investigators receive daily oversight, management, and support to carry out their very important role in the safeguarding our students. Between 2010 and 2015, 79 cases of teacher misconduct were not properly reported, by investigators under Board supervision, to state and national databases. Investigators must work closely with the Department’s Certification Unit to ensure that teacher misconduct is properly reported and recorded. Without sufficient oversight, further instances of unreported misconduct may occur. Earlier this month, a media investigation revealed that a teacher, whose certificate was revoked in Oregon, is still certified to teach here in Arizona. The Board lacks the resources to effectively provide this oversight, while the Department has the expertise and leadership necessary to keep the investigative process running smoothly so that Arizona students are kept safe while at school.
The Department’s Certification Unit must work in conjunction with the Investigations Unit to review teacher certificate applications and investigate reported misconduct. When reviewing teacher complaints and files, the Board must work on the Department’s computer network for security purposes. Additionally, there cannot be two hard files, that are used for both certification and investigation purposes, because there is danger of materials being misplaced and not matching. Working on the Department’s computer network ensures data and information is secure, as well as access to in-house technical support when needed. The Department providing sensitive information to an outside network could potentially lead to a breach of confidential data.
The Courts should determine who has authority over the State Board Executive Director and Deputy Director, as well as the Investigations Unit.
The Department respects the vital role and constitutional authority of our Legislature to set and alter our state’s laws and direct the setting of policy. However, this bill does not provide any needed clarification; rather, it further complicates the relationship between the Board and the Department. Therefore, in this instance, it is important that questions concerning the powers and authority of the Board and the Department are handled through the judiciary.
The Department has requested multiple times that the Board agree to court mediation, but, as of yet, the Board has not agreed to do so.
UPDATE: The Arizona Senate voted in favor of SB1416 today.
The legislation has no funding attached to it in order to accomplish its mandates.