Starting this Friday, low-income families with K-12 students will be able to apply online for up to $7,000 in immediate relief to support educational opportunities which will close the achievement gap and better equip underserved students.
Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday an initial $10 million investment for Arizona’s COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit program. The funding – on a first come, first serve basis – will provide choice for families facing financial and educational barriers due to unnecessary closures and school mandates which do not comply with state law.
“Our COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit will empower parents to exercise their choice when it comes to their child’s education and COVID-19 mitigation strategies,” Ducey said. “It will also give families in need the opportunity to access educational resources like tutoring, child care, transportation and other needs.”
According to the governor’s office, Ducey has been working for weeks to create an additional program to provide more education options for families.
Eligible families can have a total household income up to 350 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. In addition, applicants must demonstrate the student’s current school is isolating, quarantining, or subjecting children to physical in-school COVID-19 constraints such as mask mandates or preferential treatment of vaccinated students.
“We know that historically disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of excessive and overbearing measures, and we want to ensure these students are protected,” Ducey said.
The COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit program has the full support of Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers.
“Educators, families and state leaders are working hard to get students back on track, and the Educational Recovery Benefit program will make sure kids have every opportunity to grow and thrive,” said Fann.
Bowers noted the desire to keep children “safe, healthy, and achieving” during the pandemic, adding that with the new program, “we can do it all at the same time.”
When the State House voted Friday to pass HB2898, the K-12 Education budget bill, it marked the end of a grueling process that resulted in passage of a $12.8 billion budget package for Fiscal Year 2022.
A key provision of HB2898 is the establishment of new academic standards for K-12 students in the area of civics. There was also funding for a number of special programs for students and a variety of new rules for school board and school districts.
But much of the debate about the bill centered on whether more money should have been allocated.
Rep. Aaron Lieberman (D-LD28) acknowledged HB2898 includes “a lot of money,” but he argued it was not enough. Lieberman noted 2,000 classrooms across the state do not have assigned, permanent teachers, something he said could be remedied by spending one-fourth of the state’s $2 billion surplus.
“It’s clear now more than ever we need every dollar,” Lieberman said in voting against the bill.
However, Rep. Bret Roberts (R-LD11) questioned why more focus is not on the decisions of school boards who spend the billions of dollars provided each year through federal funding and from the legislature.
“Why are we not asking the school boards why they’re not giving the money that the legislature sends to the school boards to the teachers?” he asked on the floor. “Why are we not holding the school boards responsible for the money that we send them to give to the teachers? When are the teachers going to hold the school boards responsible?”
Rep. Walt Blackman (R-LD6) expressed similar frustration, noting that many of the chamber’s 24 Democrats who were present Friday complained the funding in HB2898 was too low. So they simply voted against the bill.
Blackman acknowledged K-12 funding in the bill “may not be enough” but said those representatives who vote green -yes- are demonstrating they “support education by action.” Which is why he was disturbed to see so many red -no- votes.
Democrats may give myriad reasons for what is wrong in HB2898 or what could be done differently, he said, “but if we are really dedicated to teaching our children K-12, and that is a non-partisan issue, then why do we have red votes?”
“This can’t be an issue where we are upset and we take our marbles and we go home because we don’t have enough marbles to play,” Blackman said, adding that all of the votes should be green because “nothing is perfect.”
The House K-12 Education bill will now be transmitted to the Senate, which last week passed its own education bill. There is now one significant difference between the bills which will need to be reconciled.
That difference involves a major expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) which is currently available to about 250,000 students. The Senate’s budget bill added two eligibility criteria which would make ESAs an option to 700,000 students, including children from Title 1 schools where at least 40 percent of the families are considered low-income.
However, three Republicans in the House voted against an amendment which would have included the ESA expansion in HB2898. The amendment died without those votes and the three Republicans also voted against a later attempt to insert the failed amendment into the main bill just prior to final voting.
Sen. Paul Boyer (R-LD20) is a teacher and a major supporter of ESA legislation. He took to Twitter after the House vote to express his disappointment with the ESA decision.
“Meanwhile, minority students are 6 to 12 months behind their white counterparts. This defeat of ESAs for Title I students makes sure those same students never leave the school that’s failing them,” Boyer tweeted.
Two topics that arise year after year, teacher’s salaries and public-school budgets, are often misunderstood and misrepresented. In fact, many say the RedForEd movement was created and nurtured with those misunderstandings and misrepresentations.
The misunderstanding and misrepresentation has led to frustration for taxpayers and parents. Many of whom feel that no matter how much they pay in taxes, nothing seems to get better in kids’ classrooms.
A new study by the Goldwater Institute indicates those feelings and frustrations might be justified.
According to Goldwater, the “20×2020” plan, approved by Arizona lawmakers in 2018, was designed to provide enough funding to give Arizona teachers a 20% raise. However, Goldwater has discovered that schools are not allocating the funds the way lawmakers intended them to be.
So what are schools doing with the extra funding that is being provided?
“District spending on administration, for instance, has risen by nearly $2,000 in inflation-adjusted terms per class of 20 students, even as teacher salaries were no higher through fiscal year 2020,” according to Beienburg.
Each year, teachers use their own money to buy supplies and decorations for their classrooms and to help offset the consistently growing list of “must buy” supplies sent to parents at the start of the school year. Yet, during the 1983-1984 school year almost 2,000 managers, supervisors, and directors were inexplicably added to Arizona school districts’ payrolls.
Many teachers have expressed frustration about not being a priority and tend to put pressure and blame on lawmakers as part of their demands for more money. It seems, though, that it is the school district administrators who need to feel the pressure and are to blame.
This last year has also placed additional stress on teachers and parents, with virtual and hybrid learning due to COVID-19.
Members of the state legislature requested that the COVID-19 stimulus revenue funds were given for school district use but the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has declined to distribute much of the millions of dollars.
While it may be easy to blame political leaders and taxpayers for lack of support and failing to prioritize teachers, it seems to many observers that the attention should be on the ADE, school district administrators, and school boards who need to review and reconsider their budgets and priorities.