Republicans continue to oppose extending operations for the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind

Photo via Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind | Twitter/@asdbazgov

Senate Republicans continue to thwart efforts to allow the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind to operate for more than just the next few years. 

As senators discussed a bill reauthorizing the board that oversees charter schools in Arizona earlier this week, Democratic Sen. Priya Sundurashen proposed an amendment to secure an eight-year continuation for the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind.

“What I’m offering as the amendment is a fix to what occurred last year. I think there were many of us who were surprised and confused… we continue to have opportunities to fix that issue, this is that chance,” Sundareshan, D-Tucson, said. 

State law requires lawmakers to reauthorize state agencies at least once every 10 years. The process, known as a “sunset review,” includes an audit by the Arizona Auditor General’s Office and a review of the agency’s operations by lawmakers, who can reauthorize the agency for up to 10 years.

Last year, ASDB narrowly avoided closure after lawmakers within the Senate went back and forth debating how long the continuation should be for. The original bill proposed an eight-year continuation, but was reduced to two years by an amendment in the Senate Government Committee

As the committee heard the bill, ASDB Superintendent Annette Reichman told the panel that she was unsure as to why they were hesitant to continue the school’s funding. 

“This is the first time that ASDB, in its 112 year history, has had this kind of questioning, we are genuinely puzzled,” Annette expressed. “We were not consulted (about the amendment reducing it to two years), that means that next year, we would do it all again, we would do another review with the auditor general, and we’d be right back again in two years talking with you.”

Republican Sen. Jake Hoffman, who introduced the amendment, said that he proposed the reduced continuation not in response to anything alarming found in the schools review process, but to allow the legislature to keep a close tab on the school’s operations and performance for unspecified reasons. 

“I think it’s in our best interest to ensure that we are getting optimal service delivery, and that those students are being served as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Hoffman said. “I think that serves not only the stakeholders here, I think it also serves the taxpayers that are funding these services.” 

When senators questioned the efficiency of repeatedly subjecting ASDB to the sunset review process, Hoffman responded that he actually would have preferred extending the school’s operations by just one year. Doing so, he said, would mimic the way public school districts are reviewed annually.

However, Sundareshan said she still does not understand why Hoffman feels as though ASDB is in need of more rigorous government oversight. 

“That’s the question we keep asking, as well,” she told the Arizona Mirror. “There was nothing to point to, nothing in the House that was raised, nothing in the auditor general’s report that really merited this kind of treatment.”

Ultimately, lawmakers extended ASDB for four years; it will undergo a sunset review in 2027. In a letter sent after signing, Hobbs called ASDB a “cornerstone” of the visually and hearing impaired communities in Arizona, and denounced the manner in which legislators handled the matter by calling out those members who were less than cooperative throughout the process. 

“Parents, teachers and students were made to worry about the continuing existence of their school while caught in political games being played by a fringe minority of the legislature,” Hobbs said. “I encourage the legislature to reflect on the passage of HB2456 and send me a bill next session that includes a full eight-year continuation.” 

This year, Sundareshan has made numerous efforts to get a continuation for ASDB passed. Earlier this session, she introduced Senate Bill 1001, which was never assigned to a committee by Senate President Warren Petersen. 

On the Senate floor on March 26, Sundareshan offered an amendment to House Bill 2172, a continuation bill for the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, to extend ASDB for seven years, answering the governor’s request by reauthorizing the school until 2031. 

Republican Sen. Ken Bennett, who last year said he would have voted for the eight-year continuation if given the chance, voiced his support for the Sundareshan amendment. 

However, despite this show of bipartisan support, the amendment failed. 

“I saw Senator Bennett vote for it and I was hopeful, especially since this was an amendment on a very similar agency…I was disappointed ultimately.” Sundareshan told the Arizona Mirror. “I will continue to raise the issue as much as I can, because I think it was a real tragedy and a real mistake that we didn’t give (ASDB) an eight year continuation, and more than that, we put them through a really difficult process.“  

As the legislative session nears its end, time is running out to get the extended continuation passed this year. Sundareshan said that hopefully next year’s legislature will be more open to the idea. 

“I’ll keep trying and, ultimately, if I keep failing, then it’ll be next year when hopefully we have a legislature that is more receptive,” she said. “Maybe it requires a different majority to fix this issue, I don’t know.”

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