Photo via Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind | Twitter/@asdbazgov
The Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind was created the same year Arizona became a state, but its future is in limbo, as a bill to allow it to operate for the next eight years has been blocked in the Senate in the face of a looming deadline to consider legislation.
Legislation reauthorizing the school, which serves some 2,100 students at campuses in Phoenix and Tucson, unanimously cleared the state House of Representatives on Feb. 21, but has inexplicably stalled in the Senate, where it hasn’t yet been considered.
And if the bill isn’t heard this week, the final week for the Senate Government Committee to consider legislation, its road to passage becomes significantly more difficult.
School leaders say they have no idea why House Bill 2456 has stagnated.
“It boggles the mind that we are playing politics on the education of children who are deaf and blind,” ASDB Superintendent Annette Reichman told the Arizona Mirror. “We thought that the continuation bill would have no controversy.”
The first red flag that something was amiss, Reichman said, was that the bill was assigned to the Senate Government Committee and not the Senate Education Committee, which has historically considered legislation related to the school. (The bill was heard, and unanimously approved, by the House Education Committee in January.)
Reichman said she and school officials have heard nothing from Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, R-Peoria, the bill’s sponsor, or members of the Senate Committee. Pingerelli and Senate Government Committee Chairman Jake Hoffman did not respond to the Mirror’s requests for comment.
“ASDB is where deaf children learn to succeed and thrive,” Kotsur said in a video about the bill. “To all the senators on the Senate Government Committee, and especially Senator Hoffman, please add HB2456 to your agenda, as Arizona School for the Deaf and Deaf Blind is the most valuable, as well as the only, statewide academic program specializing in education and services for the deaf blind in Arizona.”
Hoffman told Arizona Republic reporter Mary Jo Pitzl that the bill will be getting a hearing on March 29, but refused to elaborate on possible changes to the bill, only telling the reporter to “watch the hearing.”
Whether the committee will be able to advance the bill remains unclear. Under Senate rules, the deadline for committees to hear bills that originated in the House is March 24. Senate President Warren Petersen can give special permission for the panel to consider legislation after that date, but he has not yet done so.
“We plan to be there, we plan to listen to what they have to say and we plan to provide feedback to what we can,” Reichman said about the potential March 29 hearing, adding that she still is unsure about what issues Hoffman or others may have.
When the bill sailed through the House in January and February, no lawmakers raised any objections.
The ASDB serves approximately 2,100 students across the state, which makes up about 85% of the state’s deaf and deaf blind youth population, Reichman said. The services the school provides goes beyond teaching.
The school also has teachers that go out to public schools, do training, help teach parents with newborns that are blind or deaf and much more.
But that all would come to an abrupt halt on July 1 if the bill is not passed. Under Arizona law, state agencies, like ASDB, face automatic termination at least once a decade. Lawmakers are required to evaluate the agency, and most are subjected to performance audits, and can reauthorize it for up to 10 years.
The sunset audit of ASDB raised no serious red flags.
“We will continue to work with the state legislature until we have exhausted all possible options,” Reichman said. If HB2456 dies, there are other options to revive the ASDB extension, including a strike-everything amendment that would allow the legislation to avoid Hoffman’s committee.
Spokespeople for Gov. Katie Hobbs did not respond to questions about ASDB or the legislation to reauthorize it. The state constitution says that lawmakers must enact provisions for students with audio or visual impairments, but the future is still unclear to Reichman.
“This is uncharted territory, we’ve never been in this position before,” Reichman said. “I don’t know what options there may be.”
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