AZ legislators move to shutdown progressive teachers ‘political speech’

One year after a historic wave of teacher resistance surged nationwide, including in the” Grand Canyon State,” Arizona lawmakers have re-introduced legislation designed to crack down on future teacher organizing.

Beginning in West Virginia last February, teacher strikes and protests swept the country raising demands for higher pay and school funding, better classroom and teaching conditions and push-back against the privatization of public education. The movement has yet to subside, with 2019 seeing the strike wave spread from parts of the country under the political control of the conservative ruling class to parts of the of the country under the political control of the liberal ruling class, such as Los Angeles and Oakland in California.

Last April, Arizona educators protested for several days until Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was forced to make concessions. Fifty thousand teachers and supporters participated in the #RedForEd strikes.

Concerned about the dangerous example of victorious and community-backed striking workers in this “right-to-work” state, right-wing lawmakers have introduced House Bill 2032, which has already passed the Senate Appropriations committee. HB 2032 broadly threatens Arizona teachers accused of using “political speech” with “the intent of influencing or changing a student’s political ideology” with a $5,000 fine, which amounts to 10 percent of the average teacher salary in Arizona.

Of course, HB 2032 will not be used as a weapon against all “political speech” that influences students. It will be a weapon exclusively used against progressive teachers organizing at their workplaces for better working condition and learning conditions, as well as those trying to creatively teach beyond the curriculum of test-obsessed technocrats, especially educators committed to teaching ethnic studies.

In 2010, the Arizona state Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state Board of Education essentially banned teaching about Mexican Americans in K-12 public schools, later ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2017. No HB 2032-style law to protect “student’s political ideology” was deemed necessary to shield students from the harmful impacts of a white-only curriculum, or the openly racist and discriminatory “political speech” coming from top administrators and setting policy in every classroom in the entire state.

Rooting out “political speech” only arrived on the agenda of Arizona’s pro-apartheid lawmakers in the aftermath of the massive and progressive #RedForEd teachers strike of 2018. The obvious intent is to create a witch-hunt against progressive teachers.

State Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa introduced HB 2012, and is also responsible for introducing several other anti-union and anti-teacher bills over the last year. These bills are part of a growing procession of reactionary bills aimed at cracking down on future teacher and student organizing.

In December, Townsend introduced HB 2017 which would levy hefty fines against educators accused of coordinating the closure of a school, for instance, by striking or walking out.

Another bill introduced in December, HB 2002, revives the assault on teaching about Mexican Americans, this time by banning teaching of “controversial” subjects. HB 2002’s sponsor, state Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley), idiotically equated ethnic studies with “singling out one racial group of students as being responsible for the suffering or inequities experienced by another racial group of students.” If passed, the bill would further open the door to suppression of Mexican American history and all oppressed peoples’ accounts of U.S. history.

Exemplifying how anti-socialist red-baiting is back in vogue for the political right-wing, on February 18, HB 2032 sponsor Townsend exclaimed: “I don’t want my child coming out with a poster with a Marxist fist with a pencil on it thinking, ‘That’s great.’”

In spite of these attempted crackdowns, the movement of teachers, students and families for better public education shows no sign of slowing down. Until our starved public schools are fully funded and the proponents of apartheid in Arizona are overcome, the struggle will continue to grow.

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