By Daniel Stefanski |
A popular and effective program to improve Arizona schools found itself on the wrong side of Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs’ widescale efforts to claw back earmarked funds by her predecessor, but Arizona Republicans are raising awareness and taking corrective action.
Last week, the Arizona Senate Education Committee heard a presentation from Dan Parris of Project Momentum. Parris told the committee that Project Momentum Arizona “was made possible through a unique public/private partnership initiated under former Governor Doug Ducey in 2015,” and that its goals include “increasing student achievement in mathematics and English Language Arts at a rate higher than that of the state and raising performance-based school letter grades.”
According to Parris, “all participating districts (in Project Momentum) have made objective improvements in student achievement outcomes as measurable by the state assessments in English Language Arts and mathematics. Performance growth rates across the project have been two to three times greater than that of the State.” For example, “results from the 2021-2022 school year show the Project supported seven schools with a D or F State rating for performance; and after one year under Project Momentum Arizona, all seven schools earned an A or B rating in the State.”
Parris informed Senators during his presentation that “on February 14, Project Momentum Arizona received notice that ‘the State has determined that the Agreement is not compliant with applicable Arizona law and is, therefore, invalid. Please immediately stop any and all efforts undertaken pursuant to the Agreement.’” This coincides with Governor Hobbs’ February decision to invalidate 19 grants totaling $210 million from former Governor Doug Ducey at the end of his final term as Arizona’s chief executive. In answer to a question from Senate Education Chairman Ken Bennett, Parris said that this project required around $6 million for the fiscal year to accomplish its designs.
The presentation also revealed that “on March 7, districts participating in Project Momentum Arizona received email notice from the Governor’s Office of Grants and Federal Resources that existing grant awards, contingent upon funding, would be continued until August 31. This statement is in compliance with the current binding governing agreements for this school year. Furthermore, participating districts were informed that ‘The Governor’s Office is finalizing a competitive solicitation that will address similar activities as allowed by the U.S. Treasury’s Final Rule for ARPA State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. These include remedying student learning loss through provision of professional development and support for teachers and paraprofessionals. Districts will be made aware of this competitive solicitation, application procedures, and the award process in the coming weeks.’”
At the end of the presentation and time for questions, Chairman Bennett reflected on his previous experience in the Senate with then-Governor Janet Napolitano, stating that “one of the things that we are quickly learning – both in the governor’s office and with the legislature – is how to work in a shared government situation.” He hoped that resolving the stoppage in funds to Project Momentum is “one of those things that we ought to work out because it is really helping students in Arizona.”
Earlier this month, the Governor’s Office announced a “redesigned grant opportunity that will designate $100 million for schools and local education agencies in Arizona to address COVID-19 recovery and mitigation efforts.” Additional grant solicitations would follow for another $87.5 million, according to the release.
One prominent Arizona Republican isn’t waiting for Hobbs to correct her funding cut for Project Momentum. The Arizona Department of Education, led by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne released the following statement Saturday morning, announcing that Project Momentum would soon be receiving funds to resume its worthy operations: “Since its inception, Project Momentum has achieved incredible outcomes, and we were saddened to see its funding cut. Nevertheless, ADE is committed to Project Momentum’s work and is now announcing that it will step up with funds to both facilitate its uninterrupted service and expand to an additional 24 schools.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.