Guidance for School Closures

The Arizona House and Senate passed a bill to provide immediate guidance for schools as they navigate the unprecedented closures related to COVID-19. The bill is expected to be sent to and signed by Governor Ducey on Monday. House Bill 2910 outlines the steps to be taken on testing, scheduling, and other process requirements, based on whether schools open again by March 29, or remain closed after that date. To be clear, there will be many more questions that need to be answered in the months ahead.

In the event that schools remain closed past next week, the bill:

  • Requires schools, beginning March 30, to offer general educational opportunities as determined by the public school or district for the duration of the closure or through the end of the school calendar year, whichever comes first.
  • Allows a school’s transportation fleet to be used for operations that support students and their families during the closure.
  • Requires each school to continue to pay all employees, including hourly employees, for the duration of the statewide closure, subject to some provisions.
  • Requires schools to attempt to ensure that each student with a 504 plan or IEP has access to educational opportunities.
  • Allows schools to use money generated in the current fiscal year (FY20) to provided summer school instruction in Summer 2020.
  • Cancels the statewide assessment (AzMERIT) for Spring 2020
  • Specifies school letter grades will remain the same as they are now through this school year. (The letter grade assigned based on the 2018-2019 school year will apply to the 2019-20 school year) 
  • Removes reading proficiency requirements for 3rd grade promotion in FY20 (also known as Move On When Reading)
  • Directs the Arizona Department of Education to apply for necessary federal waivers regarding food and nutrition, assessment & accountability and other issues that impact educational attainment that cannot be met this school year (2019-20) due to the statewide closures.

(The Arizona School Boards Association has compiled a full summary of the bill: http://www.ciclt.net/ul/azsba/HB2910v2.pdf)

FY21 Budget Proposal

It was anticipated by some that the legislature might pass a budget and temporarily complete their work this week. Senate Republicans and Democrats struck a deal to add a $50 million Crisis Contingency and Safety Net Fund to provide for a variety of programs that would aid Arizonans impacted by COVID-19.  The full ten-bill package flew through the Senate with bi-partisan support.  The main appropriations bill and the bills with related K-12 and higher education budget policy were the only three budget bills to pass the House before it adjourned for the weekend.  However, appearing not to have the votes to pass the package, the fate of the full budget proposal remains uncertain.

This so-called “skinny” budget appropriates about $176.8 million less in total state government spending in fiscal year 2021 (July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021) than in the current budget.

The proposal continues ongoing (or base) funding, which includes formula adjustments (for things like anticipated caseload growth, student enrollment growth, and statutorily mandated inflation).

Notably, the education related portions of the budget include the following general fund appropriations:

  • $329 million in new funding for K-12 formula adjustments
    • Includes the third and final installment of the 20×2020 teacher pay increase
    • Allocation of the existing results-based funding program pursuant to the results of the Spring 2019 statewide assessment. (Note: “Project Rocket” is not included)
  • $67.8 million in partial restoration of district additional assistance (leaving a last installment in about the same amount for FY22).
  • $5 million in one-time Career and Technical Education District (CTED) incentives (previously enacted in the FY20 budget)
  • $2.5 million for administration and oversight of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) to the State Board of Education, the AZ Department of Education and the State Treasurer
  • $31 million to the School Facilities Board ($28 million in the current year, and $13 million for FY21 new school construction)
  • $90.8 million for building renewal grants
  • $2.4 million in formula adjustments to rural community colleges (Maricopa and Pima will receive no state funding under the current proposal)
  • $500,000 for adjustments to the universities related to capitol infrastructure

The budget also allocates $35.4 million of earmarked federal funds to the AZ Department of Economic Security for the childcare block grant

Also of note, the proposal removes one-time funding that was received this year from the upcoming budget as follows:

  • – $2.4 million from K-12 (In FY20, these one-time monies funded American civics, gifted education, and school construction)
  • -$90 million from the school facilities board (for projects completed in FY20)
  • -$35 million from Community Colleges (allocated as one-time funding for rural school adjustments and specialized programs for Maricopa and Pima in FY20)
  • – $36 million from Universities (allocated as one-time operating funding in FY20)
    • We also anticipate that the universities may have additional reductions due to health insurance adjustments, as they have in recent years, but we have not been able to verify an amount.

This is obviously not an ideal budget for education and is far from what is needed to support the success of every student and develop the workforce pipeline we desperately need in Arizona. The investments needed in all of education will only be magnified as our state and the nation recover from the current pandemic. This “skinny” budget allows for some degree of certainty in the short-term (such as funding to ensure educators and school staff continue to receive paychecks), which is important. However, in the longer-term, Expect More Arizona will continue to advocate for additional investments – in all of education – as outlined in the Roadmap for P-20 Education Funding. COVID-19 is helping to shine a light on the many needs of Arizona’s diverse student population, as well as our amazing educators, child care centers, K-12 schools, colleges and universities.