Education topics among hot-button issues so far this legislative session - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Education topics among hot-button issues so far this legislative session

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Posted: Friday, March 23, 2012 1:16 pm

Arizona lawmakers have brought a number of education bills to the Legislature this year.

But as the bill-making part of the session nears a close, and the focus turns to the budget, it’s becoming more clear what bills survived and what didn’t.

Arizona parents will no longer wonder what it means if their child’s school is “performing” or “performing plus.”

The National School Lunch program will stay intact in Arizona, at least for the next school year.

And as for a “parent trigger” bill — one that would allow a majority of parents at a poorly performing school to fire the principal, vote for the school to close, or turn it into a charter school? That one is gone, too.

School grades

Then Sen. John Huppenthal, now superintendent of schools for Arizona, introduced a bill that changed the way schools are labeled two years ago. That law brought about a system of grades — A through D, plus F — that public schools received last year. But they also got the former “legacy” labels (excelling through failing) that were to stay in place while there was a transition.

It created a lot of confusion and so now the old labels are gone. Come fall, when the state once again releases its assessment of public schools, they will only have the grades. Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill into law on Wednesday.

School lunch

SB 1061 would have changed the state law about public school participation in the federal School Lunch Program by one word — from shall to may. It would have made it optional for elementary and middle schools to be part of the program, which provides low-cost or free meals to families that qualify. Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, said he brought about the bill to give public school leaders a choice (high schools already have that choice) to participate because of some mandatory changes coming from the feds. Though there was mixed support, Crandall eventually held the bill in committee.

“I have 10 key education bills that really help to move the needle. School lunch (change from) 'shall' to 'may' was not in the top five. Even though I had the votes, I held it so it would not distract from the bills I really needed to pass,” he told the Tribune.

Parent trigger

A bill modeled after California’s own “parent trigger” bill passed the Senate Education Committee by a close vote, but the House committee chairman never gave the bill a hearing. SB 1204 would have created a way for a majority of parents at a poorly performing school to demand the school board close the school, fire the principal or turn the school over the a charter school operator. Many other states are still trying to put the same law into place, but even after three years in California, not one school has changed.

Partisan teaching, teacher language

Lawmakers wanted to mandate the firing of teachers who lead partisan lessons in class or use any language that the Federal Communications Commission considers profane. Both bills, SB 1201 and SB 1205 by Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, died in the Senate.

Bible education

HB 2563 will allow public schools to offer an elective English or history course that uses the Old Testament and New Testament to show how the Bible has had an influence on culture. The bill passed the House and is still moving through the Senate.

School choice measures

The governor has already signed off on a bill that creates a new private school tax credit. The law now allows individuals or married couples to donate up to $500 or $1,000 to a school tuition organization. With the changes, they can also donate up to another $500 or $1,000 to an STO that can only be used for scholarships to student switching from public schools to private schools.

The Education Savings Accounts that now give a voucher-like scholarship to special needs students to change from public schools to a private schools may also undergo a facelift. HB 2626 has passed the House, as well as the Senate finance committee. The changes would allow gifted students, students from poorly performing schools or children of military families to also qualify for a scholarships.

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