Arizona lawmakers revive teacher penalty proposal

Posted at 1:38 PM, Apr 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-03 19:15:54-04

PHOENIX — An Arizona Senate panel has revived a proposal from a Republican lawmaker that would fine educators who try to influence students' political or religious views up to $5,000, a push Democrats said was aimed at retribution for last year's teacher strike.

The proposal, known as Senate Bill 2032, from Rep. Kelly Townsend had stalled in the House but was revived late Tuesday by the GOP-controlled Senate appropriations committee over the objection of minority Democrats, who called it a slap at public school teachers.

Townsend said she was just trying to ensure that teachers don't try to indoctrinate students with their religious or political beliefs.

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"The ultimate issue here and the goal here was to prevent proselytizing, trying to prevent trying to persuade a student," she told the committee after listing several examples she said show some teachers went over the line. "We're just trying to get us to the place where kids can go to school and learn the things that they expect to learn when they go to school, parents can feel safe sending their children to school so they're not ridiculed or punished for their beliefs."

Republicans who control the committee, however, made it clear they were targeting last year's "Red for Ed" movement, which saw red-shirted teachers go on strike for six days and march by the tens of thousands on the state Capitol. They ultimately won raises that will boost pay 20% by 2020, but didn't win other demands including raises for support staff.

"When everybody wore red last year in the classroom, that was not a left or a right -- that was political action," GOP Sen. Vince Leach said while explaining his backing of the proposal. "That's what Rep. Townsend in my mind's eye is trying to say. No. Knock it off. That is political action."

Democratic Sen. Lisa Otondo, herself a former schoolteacher, said school districts don't allow teachers to try to sway their students' political or religious views. She also noted that the Red for Ed movement had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with low pay and school funding that has plagued the state for years.

"I think at a time when we should be lifting our teachers up, supporting our teachers, this feels like an attack," Otondo said.

The proposal is the only bill moving forward out of several this legislative session that are seen as pushback on the Red for Ed movement by Republicans who felt strung by the teacher strike. It now moves to the full senate for action.