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House votes down Horne school discipline bill 

The Arizona House of Representatives rejected Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne’s plan to tie student discipline to school letter grades, with two Republican legislators siding with Democrats. 

Republican Reps. David Cook of Globe  and Alexander Kolodin of Scottsdale both voted against Senate Bill 1459 on April 4, alongside all of the chamber’s Democrats, striking it down by a vote of 29-30. Later the same day Kolodin asked for the option to bring the bill back for another vote within the following two weeks. 

The bill would require public school districts and public charter schools to report the total number of disciplinary referrals that their teachers make each year and how many of those referrals resulted in the administrators taking the disciplinary action that teachers recommended. On the flip side districts would also have to report how many referrals resulted in no disciplinary action from administrators. 


Horne, also a Republican, previously described the bill as a way to help retain public school teachers in a state where turnover is high and has an impact on student achievement. He said that the bill is a way to deal with  “permissive” school districts that were letting students act out and be disrespectful of teachers, and that teachers didn’t feel supported in disciplining them.

Under the bill, if the district does not implement disciplinary action for at least 75% of teacher referrals without a “reasonable justification,” the school would be notified that it did not adequately punish misbehaving students. It could be subject to a reduction of their school letter grade the next year if they don’t make changes. 

If the district doesn’t hand out the adequate percentage of punishments in the next year, the Arizona Department of Education could reduce the school’s A-F letter grades that are now based only on academic performance. 

Former teacher and Republican Rep. Matt Gress, of Phoenix, told lawmakers on April 4 that he wholeheartedly supported the bill as a way to help teachers keep control of their classrooms. 

“Having a commanding control of the classroom is fundamental to (student) learning and to the success of teachers,” Gress said. “When a kid gets sent to the office, discipline needs to occur if that reason is legitimate. But it seems to me that there’s a greater interest in ‘restorative justice’ which is code for ‘kids can do whatever they want inside of the classroom or inside of the school without any intervening action.’” 

But Democratic Rep. Nancy Gutierrez said during a discussion of the bill on March 27 that the Legislature was trying to overstep its boundaries by taking local control away from school boards. 

“This should be a school board issue, not a state House of Representatives issue,” she said. “It is my opinion that this bill has been put forward in order not to support teachers but in order to make it so there’s an easier way to have more public schools with D and F grades to support some of the rhetoric that we hear that public schools are failing our students.”

Democratic Rep. Judy Schwiebert, of Phoenix, said she agreed with Gutierrez and added that she believes that teacher retention problems are at least partly the Legislature’s fault for funding Arizona schools at one of the lowest per-pupil rates in the nation

“The job of our local schools and boards is to make direct decisions that apply most specifically to their schools,” she said. “We see the legislature criticizing public schools when we are not doing our job. Arizona ranks 49th in the nation in per pupil funding. We’re pointing our finger at public schools, blaming them for problems that we have created because of too large class sizes, failure to pay teachers enough, failure to provide support staff.”

Democratic Rep. Quantá Crews of Phoenix pointed out that Black and brown children are more likely than their white peers to be referred for disciplinary action for the same behaviors. 

“We don’t need to be treating them like criminals when they’re children who can be changed, who need to grow,” she said. 

During his annual State of Education address last month, Horne said that teachers feeling unsupported when it came to student discipline was a top reason that Arizona teachers were leaving the profession, in addition to low pay. However, several groups that represent teachers and children oppose the bill, including Arizona Education Association, Stand for Children, the ACLU of Arizona, Save Our Schools Arizona and the Arizona School Boards Association. 

Kolodin told the Arizona Mirror that he voted against the bill because it applies to charter schools as well as traditional public schools. 

“It goes against the entire principle of charter schools,” he said. “Charter schools are supposed to have a free hand.”

Kolodin, whose wife works at a Scottsdale charter school, said he has no issues with applying the law to public schools, and that he would vote in favor of the bill if charter schools were removed, calling Arizona’s network of charter schools some of the best in the world. 

“This is a system that is not broken and we need to stop the state from messing with what isn’t broken,” he said. 

Cook told the Mirror he voted against the bill because it might hurt public schools in the rural areas that he represents, where there aren’t many other schooling options to choose from. He added that it seemed pointless to back a bill that Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs is likely to veto anyway. 

“I’m not there to waste my time for my district,” he said, adding he was not a fan of “running up bills that the governor is not going to sign just to prove a point. 

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