House defeats bill letting lawmakers spur attorney general public school probes
PHOENIX – A handful of Republican House members joined with all minority Democrats Wednesday to defeat a bill that would have allowed a lawmaker to request an attorney general investigation of public schools they believe are violating the law.
Opponents said it would have unfairly penalized students and teachers for policies out of their control.
Republican Rep. Steve Kaiser of Phoenix said the measure he sponsored was needed to ensure that local school boards follow the law. Many Republicans have been angered by school board actions to address the coronavirus pandemic, although he did not specifically say that’s what prompted his legislation.
The measure would have added public schools to the list of government entities that can lose a portion of the state-shared tax revenue if the attorney general finds they are violating a state law and they refuse to change the policy. Counties, cities and towns are currently subject to the 2016 law that has led to more than 20 investigations.
The penalty for schools would have been the loss of 10% of their classroom site fund money, a pot of about $600 million per year in sales tax revenue K-12 schools get for things like teacher salaries and operations.
“Nobody should be above the law, but in particular no government entity should be above the law,” said Republican Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills. “This is about keeping government entities within the law.”
Kaiser's bill initially would have cover public charter schools. But Kaiser removed them from the proposal.
Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler of Paradise Valley said just the threat of an attorney general investigation that could put school funding at risk could prompt a school district to change a legal policy.
“I’m just worried that could create a situation where any member of this body could basically harass a school for a rule that they think is wrong,” Butler said.
Five Republicans voted against the measure, including House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Rep. Michelle Udall, who is seeking her party’s nomination for Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Udall noted that in addition to teacher pay, the classroom site fund money can be used to reduce class sizes, intervention services, dropout prevention and other student support services.
“It is important that we hold people accountable, especially if they’re breaking the law,” Udall said.
“However, we should be holding the people who are breaking the law accountable, not the children or other adults that they are in charge of.”