Included in the $10.4 billion budget passed by Arizona lawmakers and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey last week are massive changes to how public schools will be allowed to hire builders for large construction projects, as well as harsh new penalties for malfeasance that occurs during the selection process.
Emails obtained by AZCIR from four school districts show the depth of the relationships construction company executives have cultivated with school district administrators. School district officials also regularly sought out the companies to ask for money for various projects, the records show.
Amid a teacher strike over K-12 funding that has closed hundreds of schools, Arizona lawmakers are sending $7.5 million to so-called “freedom schools” designed to teach conservative values. Since 2016, $12 million has been directed to the schools, which still have $9.8 million on hand.
As state policy makers weigh their options in response to the “Red for Ed” movement that is organizing the teacher protests, some conservatives and their allies have pointed to bloated administration costs as a reason teachers in Arizona have among the worst pay in the nation.
The Arizona Attorney General’s office filed a complaint Thursday against Scottsdale Unified School District asking a court to prevent further construction on Hohokam and Cheyenne elementary schools, following investigations into possible procurement and conflict of interest violations.
A small group of companies dominate the K-12 design and construction sector. The same companies also largely finance the campaigns aimed at persuading the public to approve bond and override proposals to fund the projects, even funding a “dark money” group to conceal the support.
The Arizona State Board of Education violated federal student privacy law by disclosing the names of more than a thousand Arizona students, in some cases along with their birthdays, and their scores on the AzMERIT exams in response to a public records request filed by AZCIR.
The Arizona Department of Education was alerted in March 2015 that it was improperly distributing federal funds intended to help low-income students, but the department didn’t undertake serious efforts to fix the problem until early 2017.
Seventy-three schools are appealing the letter grades they’ve been given by state school officials, citing a variety of reasons that their grade should be improved.
After refusing to release school letter grade records distributed to Arizona public schools and claiming that no list of all scores existed, the Arizona Department of Education has reversed course and released the school letter grades to media outlets who sought them.
The Arizona Department of Education physically removed an AZCIR reporter out of its Capitol Mall offices today in response to a request to inspect the latest school letter grade records.
The state’s two largest public universities have for years been represented at the state Capitol by powerful lobbying firms, though neither Arizona State University or the University of Arizona has records of hiring a contract lobbyist.
Instead, each school’s nonprofit foundation has contracted directly with outside lobbyists to advocate at the Legislature on behalf of the schools. Neither university foundation responded to detailed questions about the nature of the relationship between it and the lobbying firms, and neither would provide a copy of its contract with the lobbyists hired to represent a public body.
As a result, it is impossible for the public to know how much lobbying firms are being paid to represent the interests of public universities.
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