On Wednesday, June 24, Governor Ducey issued an executive order and a plan to use federal funds to address some of the questions and concerns of public schools who are grappling with the task of how best to proceed with the 2020-21 school year. The announcement was made in partnership with Superintendent Hoffman, and Governor Ducey indicated the plan was informed by listening sessions with superintendents and school leaders.
The Governor announced one-time federal funding investments of $270 million from the Governor’s Office and $25 million from the Arizona Department of Education. All of this funding is from the federal CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) which was passed by the federal government in late March.
Here is a breakdown of how the funding will be allocated:
- $200 million to increase funding for remote learning and to protect schools against budget shortfalls due to declining enrollment;
- $40 million to expand broadband in rural communities to bridge the digital divide;
- $20 million to bring in extra support for high-need schools;
- $6 million for the Arizona Teachers Academy, managed by the Arizona Board of Regents, to assist with the teacher shortage;
- $1 million for microgrants to support innovative programs to continue educating Arizona students, administered by A for Arizona;
- $1 million for vehicles for the Arizona School For The Deaf And Blind;
- $700,000 for leadership development through Beat The Odds Leadership Academy, administered by the Center for the Future of Arizona; and
- $500,000 for tutoring to kids most in need, in schools most impacted across the state, provided by Teach For America.
The Governor’s Executive Order also streamlined the purchasing process for schools to obtain personal protective equipment and other items needed to address health and safety concerns. The order also provides flexibility to schools to offer virtual learning opportunities for families who choose not to physically return to the classroom.
Why this is important
Schools receive funding based on the number of students they’re serving 100 days into the school year and how many days/hours those students spend in instruction time. There are budgetary weights (increased or decreased funding) for special considerations, including special needs students and for students receiving online instruction.
School leaders need funding predictability to continue to innovate ways to provide instruction during the pandemic, as well as the ability to offer online instruction, which typically requires a lengthy approval process. The current situation could create devastating budget shortfalls for schools as students opt for virtual learning or homeschooling. Illness and virus concerns could also create attendance drops.
The funding plan and executive order begin to address these issues.
To be clear, there remain countless unanswered questions. The executive order requires policies and procedures to be adopted by the Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and the State Board for Charter Schools. Additionally, local schools still have many decisions to make in response to an ever-changing pandemic environment.
Student, parent and teacher voices are critical to the process and every effort should be made to make the decision-making process as inclusive as possible. Many school districts have held listening sessions, sent out surveys, formed community committees and more in an effort to make sure all ideas and concerns are heard.
At the same time, school leaders are in an unenviable situation, as they attempt to create a concrete plan for the return to school while the pandemic continues to create additional uncertainty. There is unlikely a scenario in which everyone will be pleased with the decisions that are ultimately made.
In the end, students will be best served if we all focus on working together, being patient and respectful, and assuming good intentions, as everyone works toward creating safe environments to support success for all students in these unprecedented times.