Plan provides more funding, instruction flexibility as schools re-open - AZEdNews
Sections    Friday March 24th, 2023

Plan provides more funding, instruction flexibility as schools re-open

An Empty Classroom With Desks Spaced Three Feet Apart. Photo Courtesy Brenda Maurao

Gov. Doug Ducey issued an Executive Order and unveiled a plan with the Arizona Department of Education today that provide instruction flexibility and more funding as schools re-open with COVID-19 precautions in place.

“We are expecting the Governor’s Executive Order this afternoon to give some budgetary stability to school districts and charter schools who are worried about fluctuating attendance due to COVID-19 this fall,” said Leigh Jensen, governmental relations analyst for Arizona School Boards Association.

“Having the funding question answered will help districts focus on the many other logistical concerns that school leaders are considering right now as they prepare to safely open this fall,” Jensen said.

Click here for ASBA analysis of the plan & order

Gov. Ducey’s and Supt. of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman’s AZCares: Flexibility and Funding for Schools and Families Plan provides for $270 million in one-time funding coming from the Governor’s Office and was developed in consultation with superintendents and school leaders from around the state, and the education community.

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Gov. Doug Ducey says Arizonans need to take action to reduce COVID-19 cases during a June 25, 2020 news conference. Photo courtesy of Arizona Dept. of Health Services

This plan provides schools with the flexibility to ensure Arizona students continue to receive a quality education ⁠— whether through distance learning or in the classroom, and provides parents with options that work best for their families,” said Gov. Ducey.

The plan and the funding it provides will help Arizona public schools safely open while allowing for remote learning, addressing the achievement gap and bridging the digital divide.

“The plan provides some options for school districts that will allow districts that don’t have approved Arizona Online Instruction programs to develop their own distance learning programs to meet the needs of some of the students who aren’t able to or their parents don’t want them to attend school, said Dr. Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

“However there’s still a problem with school districts having the resources they need to pay for the additional pupil transportation expenses that may be required because of COVID-19,” Essigs said. They didn’t include anything in there for transportation funding.”

The plan helps schools follow guidance and recommendations from the Arizona Department of Education’s Roadmap to Reopening and includes:

  • $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 to assist with the teacher shortage;
  • $1 million in microgrants to support innovative programs to continue educating Arizona students;
  • $1 million for vehicles for the Arizona School For The Deaf And Blind;
  • $700,000 for leadership development through Beat The Odds Leadership Academy; and
  • $500,000 for tutoring from Teach For America to provide tutoring to kids most in need, in schools most impacted across the state.

“Our schools need as much stability and certainty as possible during these most uncertain of times,” Supt. Hoffman said. “This plan will help schools provide adaptable and flexible learning environments for students, families, and teachers and help operationalize the guidance provided in our Roadmap to Reopening schools.”

In addition, the Arizona Department of Education is providing more than $25 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help schools.

“While many unknowns remain, our school communities are resilient, and I know they will rise to meet this moment for public education,” Supt. Hoffman said.

In total, $850 million in one-time new funding is going to education in Arizona as a result of the CARES Act passed in March, according to a Governor’s Office press release.

A change in how student attendance is counted, which drives state funding, would help K-12 public schools.

“We’ve been told that school districts and charter schools will be guaranteed the funding generated from 98% of their prior year’s enrollment,” Jensen said. “Districts where enrollment declines more than 2% from last year will get extra help from CARES Act funding.”

The AZCares: Flexibility and Funding for Schools and Families Plan includes a grant program to keep school budgets stable for charters and districts.

The grant program guarantees funding that is the greater amount of 98% of a school’s 2019-2020 enrollment or their 40th-day student account.

Eligibility for the grant is contingent on the following accountability measures:

  • Student attendance data;
  • Financial compliance with state and federal transparency requirements;
  • Student achievement monitoring data submitted to the state; and
  • In-person education is provided the same number of days per week as last year.

Many school districts were waiting to hear if Gov. Ducey’s Executive Order would allow schools to start the school year offering distance learning or a hybrid model of part-time in-person instruction and part-time online-learning that would allow schools to accommodate the social distancing required to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The Executive Order allows for distance learning options and provides details about what schools must do to offer these learning opportunities.

Schools were concerned since they normally receive just 95% of ADM funding for students learning online, but the enrollment stability grants schools can apply for through the AZCares: Flexibility and Funding for Schools and Families Plan funds online learners at 100% ADM just like their in-person peers.

That gives school districts and charter schools flexibility to generate full funding for offering distance learning or hybrid models, regardless of whether or not they currently operate an approved Arizona Online Instruction (program), Jensen said.

“In anticipation of the governor’s announcement, PVSchools is developing a flexible instructional model that combines in-person and online instruction while allowing for smaller class sizes.” said Becky Kelbaugh, communications specialist for Paradise Valley Unified School District, in an ABC 15 Arizona article.

Many schools, including Dysart Unified, have surveyed parents in recent weeks for their preference for in-person, online learning or a hybrid approach that blends the two by alternating in-person classes and online-learning on different weekdays for each of their students.

“We are and will continue to work on a hybrid option if the Governor makes it feasible with funding,” said Renee Ryon, director of communications and public relations for Dysart Unified School District in an ABC 15 Arizona article.

School districts have said one of their biggest concerns is the lack of devices and the lack of reliable internet access for all students, particularly in rural Arizona, Jensen said.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s Executive Order also streamlines the purchasing process schools to obtain personal protective equipment and deal with other COVID-19 related costs.

The possibility of these changes came up during a Roadmap for Reopening Schools webinar yesterday sponsored by the Arizona Dept. of Education, Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona Association of School Business Officials and Arizona School Administrators.

School districts are focusing on what if the level of COVID-19 in the state and their communities reach a level where the health and safety of students and staff can’t be maintained and school campuses can’t be kept open and there’s a sudden shift to remote learning again, said Tracey Benson, associate executive director of Arizona School Boards Association.

“The public will expect us to be a little better prepared if there is a second wave,” said Dr. Mark Joraanstad, executive director of Arizona School Administrators during the webinar.

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“While we are still in somewhat of an emergency, we’ve had some time and we’ve learned,” said Kate Wright, chair of the Reopening Task Force for the Arizona Department of Education. “This gives us an opportunity to hone in on what we’ve learned, make those plans and be prepared to take strategic and intentional action.”

School districts should reflect on what went right during the Spring 2020 campus closures for COVID-19 and identify where they can improve as they develop their continuity of operations plan for the next wave of COVID-19, said Jim Lee, an emergency preparedness advisor for the Arizona Department of Education.

“The Arizona Dept. of Education’s continuity of operations plan template is intended to be used as a guide or a roadmap,” Lee said. “It’s not necessarily meant to be used directly as written verbatim so please keep that in mind.”

Holbrook Unified School District Supt. Robbie Koerperich said collaborating and sharing ideas has been critically important in developing plans for student learning throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel really confident that we’re going to come out of this better as an education system than we were before,” Koerperich said.

Koerperich said they started the process to develop their continuity of operations plan in March when they realized that this could happen again.

During the school closure, Holbrook’s Food and Nutrition Dept. served 100,000 meals from March to May, which is unusual for a school district with only 2,000 students, Koerperich said.

Through that, Holbrook Unified learned they couldn’t run those 39 bus routes to drop off meals every day and moved to a Monday through Thursday model, Koerperich said.