October 19, 2021
By Matt Beienburg

Educational leaders around the country are disavowing the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) inflammatory claim that the parents of school children are perpetrating a form of “domestic terrorism,” just for daring to stand up to the rise of politicized curriculum in their kids’ classrooms. But in Arizona, school leaders who wish to distance themselves from the organization and its state affiliate may not be given their freedom without a fight.

Indeed, the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) has implemented tactics—such as declaring legal ownership over school districts’ publicly adopted governing policies and alleging potential copyright infringement against member districts who would break away from the ASBA—coercing member districts into continued financial submission even when they wish to cease supporting an increasingly radicalized political agenda.

As explored in a new Goldwater Institute report, Under Control: Arizona School Boards Are Being Forced to Fund Critical Race Theory at Taxpayer Expense, the ASBA has demonstrated its support for ideologically charged programming in public schools while at the same time holding hostage dissenting school board members by staking out outlandish claims of legal control over the board’s existing policy infrastructure.

In particular, the report highlights the following:

  • Like its national affiliate, the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) is using taxpayer-funded dues from virtually every district in the state to promote programming aligned with Critical Race Theory (CRT), even as its state and national leadership deny the existence of CRT in K-12. Like other proponents of this politically charged and racially divisive content, the ASBA has struggled to reconcile its avowed impartiality with the organization’s own actions and statements.
  • The ASBA has coerced governing board members who have sought to terminate their district’s affiliation with the association due to its political activism: In testimony before the district governing board of Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC) in August 2021, the ASBA declared that it legally owns the district’s publicly adopted board policies, rendering the district essentially captive to the association in perpetuity.
  • The ASBA asserted that member school districts would be guilty of copyright infringement for using the districts’ own previously adopted policies (or replicating those of other public bodies) if they ceased paying membership fees to the ASBA.

In other words, the ASBA claims that the framework of rules, procedures, and protocols that elected members of school districts—that is, public agencies—have adopted, are actually the private property of the association, and that any district that surrenders its membership in the ASBA could be sued for copyright violation unless that district replaces its publicly adopted suite of rules and policies with completely new ones.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already slapped down the idea that state codes could be copyrighted, and the ASBA ought to acknowledge that claiming legal ownership over district policies looks similarly absurd.

Meanwhile, board members who find the posturing of the NSBA and the political activism of its state chapters unworthy of their continued support must not be intimidated by the claims of these groups, and they should welcome the entrance of alternative, student-focused entities such as the newly established Arizona Coalition of School Board Members.

You can read the full report here.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy and the Director of the Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy at the Goldwater Institute. He is the author of the new Goldwater report Under Control: Arizona School Boards Are Being Forced to Fund Critical Race Theory at Taxpayer Expense.

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