House, Senate split on high-profile education proposals as session nears close –

Lawmakers return to the Arizona Capitol on Monday in an attempt to reconcile different proposals for Arizona’s budget, many of which involve education spending and philosophy, as they work toward adjournment.

The House and Senate are in the waning days of their 2021 session. Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said on Friday that she expects the Legislature will work on Monday and also Tuesday as well as potentially Wednesday, the last day of the current budget year.

Lawmakers have already sent Gov. Doug Ducey a signature achievement for the session — a major tax overhaul that will drop rates to 2.5% over the next three years, giving Arizonans a tax break that ranges from $4 to $350,000. Republicans say the cut, supported by Ducey, will keep Arizona competitive with other states; Democrats called it a giveaway to the rich.

Issues still on the table include a final decision on an expansion of the state’s school voucher program, defeated on Friday in the House after being approved earlier last week in the Senate.

Other issues on the table include a last-minute measure by Republicans that would require the state Board of Education to work with three particular organizations in developing new civics education standards that include instruction on a “desirable citizenry” and the stories of people who fled communism.

Republicans in the House of Representatives argued for the measure on Friday, with Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, calling communism and totalitarianism “the greatest threats facing the globe today.”

But the proposal rankled Democrats and some Republicans concerned about the Legislature dictating curriculum from the state Capitol.

Sen. Paul Boyer, a Republican from Glendale and a teacher, called the proposal “a colossally terrible idea.”

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The proposal tasks the state Board of Education to work with three specific groups in crafting the new standards — the School of Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom at the University of Arizona and the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute.

The standards would require instruction on “the original intent of the founding documents” in addition to “the civic-minded expectation of an upright and desirable citizenry that recognizes and accepts responsibility for preserving and defending the blessings of liberty … .”

The state board also would be required to maintain a list of oral histories to be used with these standards that provide “portraits in patriotism based on first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies.”

Pieces of the proposal mirror legislation introduced in other states, such as Florida’s House Bill 5.

House Democrats argued the organizations that will have a hand in crafting these standards will slant the curriculum to the right, pointing to the major financial backing prominent conservative donor Charles Koch has provided for the School of Economic Thought and Leadership as well as similar programs.

“We keep hearing about the threat of communism — it’s a great threat, it is such a bad threat. You know what’s a bigger threat? White nationalism. The insurrection that happened on Jan. 6. Those are bigger threats to our nation,” Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, told the House on Friday.

“So, yes, let’s talk about communism,” Hernandez said. But let’s also talk about making sure we are not letting people get away with the kinds of things that happened on Jan. 6 and teaching our kids that it’s OK to try and overthrow a democratically elected government.” 

Rep. Quang Nguyen, a Republican from Prescott who was born in Vietnam and fled the country as a child about a week before the fall of Saigon in 1975, responded that white nationalism had not led him to the United States.

“White nationalism did not put me here. Communism did,” he said.

The House tacked the measure to its legislation on K-12 education spending, part of the state’s annual budget package.

But the House’s approval of that amendment and other changes means its legislation on K-12 spending differs from the bill passed by the Senate.

The Senate, for example, approved an expansion of the state’s school voucher program. The House rejected a similar measure on Friday when a few Republicans joined Democrats to block the proposal.

AZ Legislature: Education bill passes without voucher expansion; House goes home

With Boyer — a key Republican vote — publicly opposed to the last-minute amendment on civics education, the House and Senate will have to iron out an agreement on that bill and others on which they differ as lawmakers aim to bring the session to an end this week.

The House is also expected to finish voting on Monday on a pile of 22 bills Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed in May in an effort to prod the Legislature toward passing a budget.

While the governor did not delve into the specifics of the bills, some were controversial.

Overriding the governor’s vetoes would have required two-thirds supermajorities in both chambers, which would have doomed some of the bills that had passed only along party lines.

Instead of attempting to override the governor’s vetoes, senators filed the bills as new legislation and the Senate suspended its rules to vote on each one on Thursday.

One measure, now labeled Senate Bill 1840, bars state spending on any form of cultural or racial sensitivity training.

Other measures enjoyed broad support, however. The proposal now labeled Senate Bill 1831 would allow adult adoptees age 53 and older access to their original birth certificates.

Budget talks: Historic income-tax cut passes; House adjourns without taking up education bills

Some of the measures hit a snag on the second pass through the House, however.

Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, sponsored legislation that would allow people convicted of certain sex offenses when they were under the age of 22 to petition in limited circumstances after they turn 35 to have their name removed from the state’s sex offender registry. The bill did not get enough votes to pass in the House on Friday.

There is also the question of whether the House will override one of the governor’s vetoes, as the Senate did on Thursday in a highly unusual and entirely ceremonial vote.

Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, moved to override the governor’s veto on a technical bill he had vetoed, and the Senate obliged with a vote of 25-5. Only leading Senate Republicans opposed the move.

Pace acknowledged the vote would not have any major impact on policy but suggested instead that it was meant to represent the Legislature’s independence.

If the House votes to do the same, it would be the first time in decades that the Arizona Legislature has overridden a veto by a governor.

Contact Andrew Oxford at [email protected] or on Twitter at @andrewboxford.

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