Fri, Feb. 21

Anthem senator pushing to give parents more control of schools

PHOENIX -- State senators voted Monday to let parents of students in low-rated schools force the governing board to shut it down, convert it to a charter school or replace the principal.

Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, said SB 1204 is necessary because many students are trapped in failing schools. More to the point, she said that there is little parents can do other than pull their children out and send them elsewhere, something that many not be an option for some families.

"This legislation allows for parents to take control of their child's education and demand reform when a school is persistently failing,' Klein said. "This legislation puts political power into the hands of the parents, the people with the strongest incentive to help their children.'

Senators also gave preliminary approval to several other Klein measures aimed at exercising more control of public schools including:

• Requires revoking the teaching certificate of anyone who promotes partisan doctrine or conducts any "uni-partisan exercises;'

• Mandates firing teachers who use language the Federal Communications Commission considers obscene;

• Forbids teachers from using any texts or supplemental materials in classrooms that have not first been approved by the school board.

Klein said "parent empowerment' bills to let them force changes in schools have been approved in California, Texas and Mississippi and being considered in 32 others. She said a law like this is necessary to force changes in underperforming schools.

She acknowledged Arizona has an extensive system of charter schools.

These are public schools that can be operated by nonprofit or for-profit companies. They are prohibited from picking and choosing among applicants and cannot charge tuition, instead having to rely solely on state aid.

"Most of those really good schools are full and you can't get in for a year, two years sometimes,' Klein said. "This would give parents the ability, in a failing school, to make the changes necessary for their kids.'

But her legislation also would allow any student in a school rated D or F under the scoring system be allowed to get an "empowerment' scholarship of state funds. And they could use those funds to attend a private or parochial school.

Of the 1,502 Arizona schools that already have been graded, 182 of them have been given a D. There are no schools rated F because it requires several years of evaluations -- and failure to make changes -- before that can occur.

No one spoke out against Klein's legislation, which, after its 16-14 Senate vote, now goes to the House.

That, however, was not the case with Klein's other bills which were subject to floor debate.

Sen. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, objected to SB 1202 which forbids partisan instruction.

"What, exactly, does 'partisan instruction' mean?' Lujan asked.

"It's entirely too broad and will chill a teacher's ability to educate their students,' he said, especially with an educator determined to be guilty of the offense automatically being fired. Lujan said these questions are best left to local school board.

But Klein said she has received complaints about "political indoctrination in the classroom.' She said the legislation is designed to ensure that students are given a balanced view on what they are being taught.

She acknowledged, though, the measure is aimed at least in part at the Tucson Unified School District. While the district was forced to give up its Ethnic Studies program under threat of loss of state aid, Klein said there still is evidence of biased teaching.

Lujan was no more satisfied with SB 1205 which uses the FCC standards of obscenity, indecency and profanity to determine what a teacher can and cannot say in the classroom. Here, too, he said, this should be left to local school boards.

"Unfortunately, a lot of schools don't have the standards' of proper language, Klein responded.

Those measures, along with SB 1203 requiring pre-approval of teaching materials, require a final roll-call vote in the Senate before going to the House.

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