The House Education Committee approved a bill Monday that lets county superintendents apply for a grant to help consolidate school resources and develop new services.
House Bill 2111, sponsored by House Education Committee Chair Rep. Michelle Udall (R-LD 25), Rep. Daniel Hernandez Jr. (D-LD 2) and House Majority Whip Rep. Becky Nutt (R-LD 14), would appropriate $10 million from the state general fund in Fiscal Year 2021 to establishes a five-year resources and consolidation grant program administered by the Arizona Department of Education.
A county superintendent or a group of county superintendents could apply for a grant if a proposal is submitted that explains how the grant could help school districts consolidate resources and develop new services, demonstrate the need for resource and service consolidation, show that local education agencies have requested resource and service consolidation, and provide the cost savings or efficiencies that will result from the proposal and show that the proposal will be self-sufficient in five years.
Arizona Capitol Television video of House Education Committee hearing HB 2111 (2/3/2020)
The Arizona Department of Education would be required to award the grants before Feb. 2, 2021, disburse grant monies each year for five consecutive years or until it is determined that the proposal is self-sufficient, whichever is sooner. The grant program would end on July 1, 2026.
House Education Committee Chair Udall said she worked with stakeholders over the interim on this bill.
This bill would not consolidate school districts, which has been talked about over the years, but has failed repeatedly, “because people want to maintain that control, that local control,” House Education Committee Chair Udall said.
“What this would do would allow county superintendents of public instruction to help consolidate some resources and make those available for the schools under their jurisdiction. Those would be used on a fee for service basis,” Udall said.
The grant could be used for start-up money to provide services like central transportation, substitute teacher lists, services for students with special needs, or anything else that is needed by public district and charter schools within the county, House Education Committee Chair Udall said.
Those services soon become “self-sufficient based on the fees they get from the schools,” House Education Committee Chair Udall said.
Rep. Aaron Lieberman (D-LD 28) thanked Udall for bringing the bill forward, then said he hoped it could be used for small, rural or remote school districts to get training for their leaders, which Udall assured him they could.
Yavapai County Education Service Agency School Superintendent Tim Carter told legislators that he appreciated their work on this issue.
“There are about three counties in the area that have the capacity to bring more services to the table, because we have been doing this for several decades,” Carter said. “We have lots of counties that would love to do this kind of thing, they simply do not have the current capacity to do that.”
When YCESA consolidated the substitute teacher caller system for the 26 school districts in the county it took about 3 ½ years to do that, and “I know that 10 other counties would love to do it,” Carter said.
The program helps districts save money, Carter said.
We have more substitutes than we ever had before,” Carter said. “Our fill rate is higher than it’s ever been – 97% – and in a rural county that’s pretty awesome.”
Cochise County School Superintendent Jacqui Clay was at the House Education meeting before the bill came up and she spoke with Legislators and other education advocates there.
“If Cochise County had the capacity, they would start that program as quickly as they possibly could,” Carter said. “This simply gives us a window and a funding mechanism to resolve whatever the issues are that come to our attention.”
“The districts gush about what they’ve been able to do with this and how much support it has been for them,” House Education Committee Chair Udall said. “Other counties are very jealous of that at this point, so we’re trying to give them the opportunity to build similar programs.”
“And we support that,” Carter said.
House Education Committee Vice Chair John Fillmore asked if districts already have the ability to create consortiums.
“The districts already currently have the ability to create consortiums as Navajo County and many other counties have, the issue is that school districts sometimes don’t have the kind of funding that they need even co-operatively to be able to do that,” Carter said.
“We spoke a lot with Superintendent (Jacqui) Clay in Cochise County and she is very interested in doing this, but again, she does not have any funding to start up one of these programs and she is working with the districts and trying to find a way to consolidate some of these resources, but without some start-up funding for it, it’s very difficult to do,” House Education Committee Chair Udall said.
Rep. Gerae Peten (D-LD 4) asked, “What do you project the average start-up cost to be?”
“It really depends on what services they’re trying to provide. If you’re doing a Beat the Odds Leadership, it’s going to be very different than a substitute teacher list, so I really don’t know what that would be and that’s why we leave it pretty open depending on the needs,” House Education Committee Chair Udall said.
Callie Kozlak, associate superintendent of policy and governmental relations for the Arizona Department of Education, said, “We are supportive of this effort. We believe in maximizing resources and talent across the state and especially in rural areas.”
“When we were doing the school safety grant, we saw some really creative solutions coming through from counties on trying to share that resource, so we want to promote that across the state,” Kozlak said.
As he explained his vote, Vice Chair Fillmore said, “I’m going to vote aye on this, but I think it is a poor attempt at school consolidation, which is required for us to truly move forward.”
“I believe that what we are doing is kicking the can down the road, giving $10 million more for … just throwing the money away, because I don’t think that we’re going to achieve much from it,” Vice Chair Fillmore said.
The House Education Committee approved HB 2111 with a vote of 12 ayes, 0 nays, 0 present and 1 absent.