2021 State of the State Summary

Rather than the usual pomp and circumstance involved with the annual State of the State address, Governor Ducey delivered a shorter than usual speech virtually, acknowledging that Arizona is still in the midst of a raging pandemic. And, as expected, most of the remarks centered around the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy – the heroes of the last 10 months, the sacrifices that have been made by many, the urgency to quickly vaccinate Arizonans, and more.

The Governor noted that even more resources have been made available for vaccinations and that teachers are among the essential workers receiving priority access.

Two important acknowledgements we were pleased to hear:

  1. The Governor recognizes that parents and teachers have done their “resourceful best” as it relates to delivering learning in new and challenging ways.
  2. He also spoke plainly about learning loss schools face as a result of the pandemic, acknowledging that low-income students, students of color, and other marginalized students have been disproportionately impacted.

Governor Ducey suggested he will commit necessary resources to support the success of all students. He specifically mentioned summer school, longer school days, one-on-one support for struggling students and tutoring.

One remark addressed school choice, indicating that many parents have found temporary educational options they may want to make permanent and that public policy should be in place that allows parents to make those choices. The Governor also stated “we will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure,” raising concerns in the education community that he intends to limit funding for schools that don’t return to in-person instruction. His staff has responded to the concerns, clarifying that the Governor did not mean to suggest schools should return to in-person school, but that the state would not be making up for funding schools lose because of drops in enrollment. Instead, funding will follow students to the public school of their choice.

The Governor also addressed economic recovery and expressed a desire to work on reforming and lowering taxes.

As always, the devil is in the details. On Friday, Jan. 15, the Governor will release his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year (July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022). He also has the ability to use existing state resources, such as the Rainy Day Fund, for one-time funding allocations.

A complete transcript of the Governor’s speech can be found here.

Expect More Arizona’s Take

We’ll be looking for profound investments in the budget proposal.

Education, at every level, is key to Arizona’s recovery. But let’s be clear, the goal is not to get back to ‘normal’. Normal wasn’t good enough before, and it certainly won’t be sufficient moving forward. The goal of the 2021 legislative session should be to make policy and budget decisions that profoundly address both the short- and long-term needs of all students. Pilot programs won’t get us where we need to be.

No one should assume they have all the answers. Make decisions for students, families and educators WITH students, families and educators.

It’s critical that Arizona’s leaders really listen to students, parents and educators so that policy and budget decisions can meaningfully address the disparate impacts of COVID, longstanding inequities, and other systemic barriers that inhibit low-income students, students of color, and other marginalized students from thriving. A one-size-fits-all approach will not close the numerous and diverse opportunity gaps faced by Arizona’s students and families.

Addressing these issues will not only allow us to meet the goals of the Arizona Education Progress Meter, it will enable Arizona to meet our full potential.

85% of Arizona families choose their neighborhood public school.

Expect More Arizona believes parents should decide what school setting is most appropriate for their child, and 85 percent of Arizona parents choose their neighborhood public school, for a variety of reasons. As such, Arizona’s public schools should receive the resources needed to ensure every single student receives the best possible education. It is our hope that Governor Ducey and the state legislature consider policies and funding that prioritize the success of every student. Options like smaller class sizes, which we agree have a significant positive impact on teaching and learning, should be available for all students.

Investments in students, educators and classrooms will help our economy recover and transform our state.

Tax reform and lower taxes sound great, but we should instead be thinking about what resources are necessary to ensure every student has equitable access to high quality education. Further limiting state revenues will surely come at the expense of critical state infrastructure – and will be to the detriment of our students and teachers, among others. All of education – from early learning through postsecondary – needs additional investments.

In fact, Arizona voters support MORE investments in teachers and education. According to our recent poll, the top issue facing education in Arizona is general lack of funding for schools, with teacher pay coming in second. An overwhelming majority of voters (79%) believe teacher salaries are too low and 66 percent of voters surveyed believe K-12 funding in our state is too low. Check out more poll results here.

A strong P-20 education system will create and support a talent pipeline that attracts diverse businesses to Arizona. A more educated and skilled workforce will also increase business and personal income, grow revenues for the state to invest in other critical needs and decrease the dependence on social safety nets. The long-term prosperity of Arizona depends on greater levels of educational attainment that will lower crime rates, improve personal health and create more resiliency to changes in the economy.