With the legislative session hitting its midway point, we wanted to provide an update on several key pieces of legislation that Expect More Arizona has been and will be advocating for this year. The following are highlights of important issues from our 2017 advocacy agenda that we are working to advance down at the Capitol and with our partners.
Empowerment Scholarship Accounts
There are currently two bills, Senate Bill 1431 and House Bill 2394, being considered in the legislature, which would expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), also known as school vouchers, to every K-12 student in Arizona over three years. While we are supportive of school choice where it advances an excellent education for every student, we are concerned about the proposed rapid expansion of ESAs as it lacks strong academic accountability and does not address issues of transparency of taxpayer funding. Therefore, we strongly oppose these bills and are actively engaging our network on this issue.
This bill had stalled, but as of March 10, 2017 we are hearing that it may start moving again.
We believe all students should have the support they need to read at grade level by the end of 3rd grade. To that end, we are supporting Senate Bill 1131 and House Bill 2202.
SB1131 will make it possible for students to receive high-quality interventions, increase communications to parents about how their child is doing, and give the students who are struggling the most the ability to use another assessment to demonstrate proficiency. This issue has been one of our top priorities because because 3rd grade reading proficiency is an important milestone that indicates a child’s likelihood to graduate from high school and be successful in the future. As of March 23, 2017 this bill has passed out of the legislature and awaits the Governor’s signature.
HB2202 directs the Department of Education to create a handbook for students, parents and teachers about how to identify and address dyslexia, with the goal of improving academic achievement among students with dyslexia. Improving awareness of the resources and services available to help children with dyslexia is critical to the goal of improving literacy. As of March 23, 2017 this bill awaits a final vote in the House before heading to the Governor.
Teacher Recruitment and Retention
Recruiting, retaining and supporting Arizona’s teachers is another top priority this year. We are supporting bills that will increase funding for the teacher student loan forgiveness program (Senate Bill 1034) and expand it to serve more teachers (Senate Bill 1040), as well as one that creates a pilot for professional development that would give teachers access to $2,000 for additional credentials and certifications to teach in high-need content areas (Senate Bill 1038). With more than 2,000 teacher vacancies in Arizona’s classrooms and neighboring states like Nevada actively trying to recruit Arizona teachers, it’s time to take concrete steps like these to support educators. As of March 10, 2017 these bills have made it out of the Senate and are making their way through the process in the House.
Career and Technical Education
Career and Technical Education (CTE) provides an additional pathway for students to continue their education after high school. Tens of thousands of students in Arizona opt for the CTE path, and research shows they are more likely to score higher on state tests, graduate from high school and go on to higher education.
House Bill 2229, provides more flexibility for JTED and CTE programs to focus on career readiness which prepares the students for employment in an industry where a relevant certification or license does not exist. Currently only courses that lead to industry certification or licensed employment are allowable by law, but this prevents programs that specialize in areas of employment like engineering, bioscience, carpentry and more. We believe it is important to respond to the needs of Arizona’s economy by allowing more unique and valuable JTED and CTE programs that lead to high-quality job opportunities. As of March 10, 2017 this bill made it out of the House and awaits action by the full Senate.
Local funding, known as desegregation funding, provides more equitable services and opportunities for nearly a quarter of a million low-income and minority students in Arizona public schools. Senate Bill 1174 puts more than $200 million in desegregation funding at risk. The loss of this funding would be devastating to the school districts that receive it, resulting in school closures, teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and more. Therefore we oppose this bill. As of March 10, 2017, this bill has stalled.
We are encouraging support for House Bill 2361, which aims to improve awareness of college accessibility in high schools. The bill made it out of the House, but failed to receive a hearing in the Senate.
We are also supporting House Bill 2385, which requires school districts to provide for the easy display and search of accounting information online and for the eventual comparison of school level data. Having better and more localized data gives us the opportunity to know where we need to focus our energy on important education topics, like teacher pay. As of March 10, 2017 this bill has made it through the House and awaits a hearing in the Senate Education committee.
We will continue to keep you in the loop as these bills and others move forward. To get the most up-to-date information and alerts on the issues you take care about, visit expectmorearizona.org/takeaction to sign up for our alerts and to contact your policymakers.