Republican lawmakers target Arizona school board group

the Arizona School Boards Association, who successfully sued the Arizona legislature to strike down key parts of the state budget last year, is now the target of Republican lawmakers who have long opposed his efforts to lobby councils local schools.

A Republican-controlled Senate committee on Tuesday introduced a bill that would ban the more than 200 association-member school boards from using taxpayer money to pay annual dues.

The sponsor, Republican Senator Kelly Townsend, said it was simply wrong that taxpayers’ money was being spent lobbying partisan issues in the Legislature.

Townsend and Republicans on the Senate Education Committee also pointed to a letter sent this summer to President Joe Biden by the National School Boards Group as a key driver for the legislation. The letter called on Biden to use federal law enforcement to quell the growing number of threats against school board members from parents who oppose mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions. .

The wording of the National Association of School Boards letter led to a national backlash against the group and its member states, some of whom even left the organization after apologizing.

Republican Senator Paul Boyer, who chairs the Senate committee, argued with the association’s lobbyist over why the organization did not end its affiliation with the national group. Boyer pointed to the letter’s request for Biden to invoke terrorism laws to prosecute parents who threatened board members.

“You said the speech was problematic,” Boyer told Chris Kotterman. “Certainly, equating parents with domestic terrorists is more than problematic.”

Kotterman agreed, noting that the language of the letter was an “extreme problem”.

But Kotterman, school board members and people who testified Tuesday said cutting association funding would leave school boards without the training, insurance and many other services it provides to members due of an ill-advised letter that provoked a backlash from the public.

It would also leave elected school boards without a unified professional voice in the legislature.

“If we have the ability to weaponize legislation against people or groups that we have philosophical differences with, I think we’re heading down a very slippery slope,” said Craig Hazeltine, a Scottsdale resident who testified. against the bill. “I believe it takes us…to a place of retaliation and disdain where we shouldn’t (go).”

In the background is the lawsuit the association filed last year against four state budget bills that members opposed in part because they prohibited school boards from passing mandates to mask and other COVID-19 restrictions. The association won, with the Arizona Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature unconstitutionally packed the budget with unrelated political elements.

“I would like to remind the committee here today that the ASBA has weaponized many bills against parents and families,” mother Merissa Hamilton told the panel. “Last year, when this Legislature passed bills to protect the parental rights and medical freedom of our students, they sued to have those bills defeated.”

She said the provisions of the bill that were blocked put thousands of families opposed to these rules at risk of losing their livelihoods. She was one of many parents who testified in support of the legislation.

Many public bodies affected by the legislation are members of groups like the association that provide resources and advance their priorities in the Legislative Assembly. Townsend said she ultimately wants everyone to be stopped from using public money to lobby.

Townsend pointed to a series of positions by school board associations opposing Republican legislative proposals to justify the targeting of the group.

But Gilbert Public Schools board member Jill Humpherys said she and her district have benefited greatly from both the association’s services and its advocacy in the Legislative Assembly.

“As school boards, we need to be able to lobby the Legislature for our priorities,” Humpherys said. “We set our political agenda together at the assembly of delegates, and we all vote on it.

“And so if you take away lobbying opportunities, you take away the voice of our districts, our children and our families,” she said.

Townsend said she also wants to target groups such as the League of Cities and Towns of Arizona, which lobbies under the leadership of its members.

“This is a first step in efforts to remove taxpayer money being used by an organization that has a partisan bias,” Townsend said.

The committee approved the bill on a 5-3 party line vote, and it now goes to the entire Senate for consideration.

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