By B. Hamilton
PHOENIX — Rep. Michelle Udall, chair of the House Education Committee, sent a letter to Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction asking why the state is holding on to $85 million, that Udall says could help school districts avoid teacher layoffs.
Udall also noted in her letter to Superintendent Kathy Hoffman that “in addition to withholding these millions from our schools, ADE is also spending more than $7 million of it to simply administer the funds (the maximum allowed).”
Udall’s questions come in the wake of several districts announcing layoffs due to declining enrollment. Declining enrollment means declining funding as school dollars are allocated based on attendance.
“Unfortunately, as we see from the current events in Gilbert and other districts facing similar decisions in the coming weeks, this money has not been allotted where it is needed most,” wrote Udall referring to reports of teacher layoffs.
From the Yellow Sheet:
The AZ Dept of Education plans to use some of its Covid relief dollars for a marketing campaign to bring families back to the fold. The campaign, which will cost about $150,000, is aimed at students who left district and charter schools for alternative options during the pandemic or who delayed enrollment.”
“Instead of allocating all of the available money to districts who need it, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) is for some reason holding onto nearly $85 million of discretionary money from the initial $1.5 billion allotment that should be put to use to help stabilize Arizona schools so that they don’t have to make premature reductions in staffing when many of those students may be returning in the coming school year.
Across the state, districts are seeing dramatic declines in enrollment as parents go in search of educational opportunities other than the hybrid-online type that the teacher’s union pushed even as the pandemic waned, and evidence showed that children were not super-spreaders. In fact, over 55,000 K-12 students have disenrolled for the state’s traditional public schools.
Despite the decline, which has been occurring over a number of years and was only exacerbated by the teachers’ recent refusal to return to in-classroom learning, Udall believes that students may return, and premature layoffs would lead the districts to rely on long-term substitute teachers.
Even though the ADE has received over $1 billion in CARES Act ESSER and ESSER II funding, Udall told Hoffman that the Legislature “is currently working on a state budget that, I believe, will help alleviate the intense fiscal pressure some of these schools are facing.”
“But that won’t happen until the budget process is finished,” warned Udall. “You currently have on hand millions in discretionary funds that could, and should, be made available immediately – discretionary funds that were given to the Arizona Department of Education for precisely this purpose.”
Hoffman responded on Twitter that the money was not enough.
It’s no secret that Arizona public schools need funds to stabilize their budgets and ensure that all students have access to high-quality educators and programs. Other school leaders and I have been ringing this alarm for months.
— Kathy Hoffman (@Supt_Hoffman) April 5, 2021
Udall and Hoffman may not believe there will ever be enough money for schools. On the other hand, parents who have fled the schools believe that there will never be again enough students to fill the schools and employ the teachers that abandoned their kids at such a critical time.