State House rejects controversial education bill in close vote

Jeremy Beren

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State Representative Joel John speaking with supporters outside the Arizona State Capitol building.Gage Skidmore/Flickr

By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Phoenix, Ariz.) — A key vote in the Arizona House of Representatives on Monday halted the progress of a bill that would have altered the relationship between Arizona's parents and schoolteachers.

Senate Bill 1211 was struck down in a 30-28 vote, with two state representatives abstaining. The measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Nancy Barto, would have significantly changed the nature of online and in-person instruction.

SB1211 was moved quickly through committee on Monday. It would have required teachers at charter and public schools to post curriculum information and lesson plans within a week of their introduction. These materials ran the gamut, from textbooks to assemblies to guest speakers. The seven-day deadline for educators to post would have been cut to three on certain materials, like those relating to discrimination or race.

The proposal passed the state Senate by three votes last month, with all Republicans voting "yes."

“Some of you know that parents, not all of them, but some of them do distrust their school districts. This bill helps to alleviate that,” Republican State Sen. Paul Boyer said on the Senate floor last month.

Democrats though were concerned that the process of posting this information in an online space each day, each week, was overly time-consuming. These lawmakers worried about the potential reduction in face-to-face time spent with students.

"For now, SB1211 is stopped in the House," Democratic Rep. Mitzi Epstein tweeted following Monday's vote. "It would have been an unfunded mandate. It would have caused teachers to spend more time on red tape."

Unlike in the Senate, where the measure advanced strictly along party lines, one Republican broke with his party Monday to oppose SB1211.

District 4 Representative Joel John called the bill "burdensome," explaining that approving a statewide statute this significant would take the matter too far. He sided with the Democrats, voting "no" while saying the majority of Arizona's teachers would suffer unnecessarily.

Republican colleague Teresa Martinez, representing Legislative District 11, was uneasy about the perception that voting down the bill would deny parents the opportunity to review what their children are learning — though parents have ostensibly always had this right.

"Sadly some people think it's ok to talk about sexuality at school," Martinez tweeted Monday afternoon. "I am not one of those people. I would rather the schools focus on reading, math, and science."

After the vote concluded, nonpartisan pro-public education organization Save Our Schools Arizona issued a social media statement expressing appreciation toward the lawmakers who voted the bill down.

"We are so grateful for all lawmakers who voted today against SB1211, a harmful bill that would have created undue burden, more red tape and onerous requirements for our teachers," the organization tweeted.

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Jeremy is a freelance journalist covering health, energy, labor, and local politics. Reach him at jeremy.beren@newsbreak.com.

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