Thursday, April 11, 2019

AZ: Kelly Townsend Wants To Shut Teachers Up

Arizona's #RedForEd movement was long overdue. The state has been one of the nation's top playgrounds for charter profiteers, but at the same time, they have starved public schools for resources, with low and stagnant teacher pay along with the worst level of per pupil spending in the country.

The state was lucky that its teachers walked out en masse last year, because they were already walking out one at a time and not coming back. In 2017, 74% of Arizona's superintendents reported unfilled teaching positions. Arizona's leaders seem determined to destroy their public education system; the state's teachers were doing the families of the state a favor by pushing the state to take even the tiniest steps toward saving its public education system.

Two out of three isn't bad.
Of course, not all the members of the legislature saw it that way. There's this dipstick-- GOP House Leader John Allen who theorized that teachers were working two jobs because they wanted boats and bigger houses.

But perhaps no legislator has been more angry with teachers than Kelly Townsend. After a stint as in the Navy, Townsend became a small business operator and a doula. Townsend landed in the House in 2013 and has now risen to position of majority whip.

Right on the front page of her election website, she weighs in on #RedForEd:

Since elected in 2012, I have been advocating for more dollars in the classroom, and have been consistently supportive of teachers. was not able to vote for the Governor's plan in the end, however. It was adding too much to the budget without assurance that in an economic downturn we wouldn't face a serious deficit. The taxpayers would ultimately be on the hook for that deficit, which I believe is the ultimate goal of the RedForEd movement. I came to the Capitol to represent the taxpayer, not sell them out in order to please the loud minority. You can count on me to do the right thing in the end.

Additionally, I cannot support or negotiate with the RedForEd leaders who are openly espousing Socialist ideas, exposing students to those ideas, encouraging other teachers to read socialist material, and inserting politics into the movement. 

She can't support a raise in education spending because it might lead to a deficit, someday, which means she can't support any such increase ever. She thinks the goal of #RedForEd is to soak the taxpayers which makes perfect sense because they are SOCIALISTS!! And are trying to indoctrinate our children.

Townsend did not take last year's strike well. When a constituent reached out to encourage here to find a way to fund necessary raises for teachers, Townsend's response was...well...

I'm sure we can take it from the correctional officers pay who make minimum wage in some cases, release some of the prison population, take it from the developmentally disabled and close adult homes from the disabled, freeze Alzheimer's research, take it from Veteran's services, dental services for the underserved, desperately needed road funds, the university funding, and put another freeze on Kids Care health insurance. We'll find it somehow.

Townsend reached out on social media to ask teachers who didn't support the walkout but felt intimidated to contact her, apparently to help bolster department of education action against striking teachers (striking is illegal in Arizona). And then Townsend decided that somebody should sue the teachers. Townsend envisioned a class action lawsuit on behalf of everyone affected by the strike. She announced that she was consulting a law firm, and liked the idea of being plaintiff herself, since her son was a high school senior. And she continued to hammer the notion that this was all some sort of Socialist plot.

The lawsuit was never filed, but Townsend certainly hasn't forgotten about all those naughty teachers and their improper behavior.

Another representative proposed a teacher gag law based on a template being circulated nationally. Townsend has followed that up with more legislation aimed at putting those uppity teachers back in their place. Last year's walkout was not technically a strike-- teachers called in sick and many schools closed either or necessity or in sympathy with the #RedForEd movement. Townsend's proposed bill would forbid schools to close on a scheduled school day and fine the responsible individuals $5,000 per person. While the bill was aimed at the teachers, Townsend later said she'd be game to fine the school district, too. The bill also empowers pretty much anybody to file suit against an alleged violation. It does allow exceptions for things like natural disasters or invasions, and it also applies to charter schools.

The bill--HB 2017-- was paired with three others-- one (HB 2016) that directs the state's attorney general to investigate any school board member or district employee that breaks the law, and another (HB 2018) that forbids teachers from "harassing" any parents, students, or fellow teachers.

There's also HB 2015. Much like the other proposed gag law, HB 2015 forbids anyone employed by the school district to "espouse a political ideology or religious belief, unless it is germane to the subject matter of the class or activity." It's already illegal in Arizona to advocate for one side of a legislative issue in the classroom; this bill simply clamps the gag a bit tighter. Townsend says she doesn't want teachers indoctrinating students with their beliefs; once again, this sort of naughtiness could result in an up-to-$5K fine. This bill (now tagged SB 2032) was stalled, but is now out and up for consideration by the full Senate.

If you're wondering if this is supposed to be retaliation for the strike, well, Townsend has not been coy:  

“People are saying, ‘Oh, you know, this is just a response to Red for Ed.’ Who’s saying it isn’t?” Townsend told the Arizona Capitol Times. “So many parents were inconvenienced. The students were inconvenienced and scared of what was going to happen if they had to stay beyond graduation day. Absolutely – and I don’t apologize – it is a response to Red for Ed.”

How stifling would this be? Well, here's a supporter explaining:

"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.

So wearing a red shirt to school would open a teacher to a $5,000 fine.

Teachers are supposed to be quiet and compliant and not speak up if the public education system is under attack. But a law like this has many consequences. Is it now a $5,000 fine for a school employee to pray in school? Is it a $5,000 fine to have a Christmas party for the class? Is a fund drive to collect money for, say, a child who lost their home to a fire-- is that a socialist activity that's now illegal? Are school fundraisers an implicit endorsement of capitalism, and therefor illegal? If a politician takes a stance on any issue at all-- like, for instance, claiming that schools do not need an infusion of money to upgrade and maintain buildings-- is a teacher now a lawbreaker if she points at a hole in the roof? Given today's charged climate, is the school engaged in an illegal activity if it requires vaccinations for students? And just how heavily will teachers have to suppress all student discussion of controversial issues to avoid liability?

The answers to some of these questions is, of course, that Townsend and her supporters don't want to suppress all viewpoints-- just the ones they disagree with.

How do you raise good citizens when they never encounter a discussion of a controversial topic? Of more immediate importance in Arizona-- how do you recruit teachers to fix your teacher shortage when your pay is poor, your schools are starved for resources, and your recruitment motto is "Come to Arizona! We'll fine you 15% of your annual take home pay if you say or do anything we don't approve of!"

Last year's wave of strikes were an opportunity for legislators in several states to learn something important about the condition of education. Some did. But some have learned all the wrong lessons and somehow come to the conclusion that when thousands of teachers take to the streets, the problem must be that teachers haven't been beaten down hard enough yet. It appears that some of Arizona's elected leaders still have more lessons to learn.

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