The Senate Education Committee approved on Tuesday a bill to fund education for people under 21 years of age in Arizona county jails, and the House Education Committee approved a bill that would require failing schools to partner with high-performing schools to improve students’ academic achievement, consolidate or close.
Senate Bill 1683, sponsored by Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, would appropriate $114,000 for the 2022-2023 fiscal year to offer alternative educational services through an accommodation school as agreed upon by the sheriff and the county school superintendent for all persons 21 years of age and younger confined to the county jails who do not have a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma or who have a disability.
House Bill 2808, sponsored by House Education Chair Michelle Udall and Sen. Tim Dunn, would require any school operated by a school district with a letter grade of D or F for two consecutive years to initiate either a district partnership school or a fresh start school operated by another high-performing school district, and if the State Board of Education in consultation with the school district determines that is not practicable the school district may instead vote to install a new superintendent subject to review and approval by the State Board of Education or close or consolidate the school.
Video by Mingson Lau/ AZEdNews: Legislative Legit: Hot topics at the Education Committees
Video shot and edited by Mingson Lau/ AZEdNews
Senate Education approves bill to educate youth in county jails
The Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 1683, sponsored by Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, to offer alternative educational services through an accommodation school as agreed upon by the sheriff and the county school superintendent for all persons 21 years of age and younger confined to the county jails who do not have a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma or who have a disability.
Senate Bill 1683 was approved with a vote of 8 aye and 0 nay and would appropriate $114,000 for the 2022-2023 fiscal year for theses alternative educational services to the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the County Jails.
“This bill is really just trying to apply the appropriate funding for all students that are in our juvenile institutions,” Sen. Gonzales said.
Sen. Gonzales noted that Senate Education Chair Paul Boyer and sponsored this bill in another session.
Senate Education Chair Boyer said, “I’m grateful you picked this up, and we will have to be fighting for this in the budget.”
Pima County Superintendent of Schools Dustin Williams said, “We’ve been really working on this for a while, and we do want to see it make it to the home run.”
“We are served with educating the students who are incarcerated, and they deserve every bit of education that every other student does,” Supt. Williams said.
Arizona Capitol Television video: Senate Education Committee Meeting – 2/15/22
“We want to make sure we give them an out, something positive to look forward to,” Supt. Williams said.
“When they leave us for the time being in the juvenile pod, it doesn’t mean they leave the facility. They just go at midnight, plopped right out of their cell into the adult facility right next door down the hall,” Supt. Williams said. “It’s a sad thing to watch, but it is a reality.”
“We still have them locked in education and this is that population that we’re talking about,” Supt. Williams said.
“It’s a great bill. It’s going to help them with recidivism. It’s going to help our communities and it’s going to help the kids,” Supt. Williams said.
Megan Kintner, senior legislative associate with the Arizona Association of Counties, spoke in support of the bill and said, “This has been an issue we’ve been working on for a few years.”
Kintner noted that many of the 18- to 21-year-olds have just a few classes to take to get their diploma.
House Education approves bill to partner, consolidate or close low-performing schools
The House Education Committee approved House Bill 2808, sponsored by House Education Chair Michelle Udall and Sen. Tim Dunn, which would require any school operated by a school district with a letter grade of D or F for two consecutive years to initiate either a district partnership school or a fresh start school operated by another high-performing school district, and if the State Board of Education in consultation with the school district determines that is not practicable the school district may instead vote to install a new superintendent subject to review and approval by the State Board of Education or close or consolidate the school.
There are 180 D and F schools in Arizona right now.
House Bill 2808 received a vote of 6 aye, 4 nay and 0 not voting, and House Chair Udall said she would be meeting with stakeholders on Wednesday and in the weeks ahead to refine and adjust details of the bill. If approved by the House and Senate, House Bill 2808 would go into effect immediately on June 30, 2022.
“This is a work in progress,” said House Chair Udall. “We’ve got a lot of work left to do on this bill, but the overarching goal is that every child deserves to attend a high-achieving school. Every child deserves an excellent education, and that’s the underlying goal of this bill.”
Under House Bill 2808, schools with a C letter grade and 60% of students participating in the free- and reduced-price lunch program would also be able to participate in targeted school improvement, participate in either a district partnership school or fresh start school, or close or consolidate.
House Bill 2808 would require the Arizona State Board of Education to adopt any rules policies and procedures to ensure the state is classifying schools for school improvement consistent with the Every Student Succeeds Act, and says the Arizona Dept. of Education may not have a separate accountability system to identify the performance of school.
“This bill establishes Project Excellence ,” House Chair Udall said.
Schools that had a D or F letter grade before the pandemic and still have one after letter grades are released again in the Fall “would enter Operation Excellence, and they’ll have several choices. I assume the vast majority of them will chose to embark on school improvement,” House Chair Udall said.
“There will be funding provided to them – $150 per pupil – for three years, or if they’re a really small school there’s a floor on what they would get around $30,000 per school, recognizing they don’t have those same economies of scale,” House Chair Udall said.
Arizona Capitol Television video: House Education Committee Meeting – 2/15/22
Under House Bill 2808, low-performing schools “would have three years to do targeted really serious school improvement, look at data, work with their teachers and leaders to make serious improvements,” House Chair Udall said.
“It would be a continuous program like what we’ve seen with Project Momentum, Beyond Textbooks maybe there are some other programs in the state that have shown great promise in school improvement,” House Chair Udall said.
“After those three years if they do not improve, they would have to either partner with another district or school or charter that is high-performing so they could partner with someone else to come in and basically take over operations of their school for a time to help them get there or they could become what’s called a fresh start school, where that school would be replaced with a high-quality school,” House Chair Udall said.
“Replaced by a charter or, well, I think in that case it would have to be a charter because you can’t really have a district buying another district’s school, but that building, that school would be replaced in place with a high-achieving school,” House Chair Udall said.
Under House Bill 2808, if a school district has half of schools in the district assigned a D or F letter grade, then the school district could be subject to public hearing to determine if an alternative operation plan may be implemented and run by a governmental, non profit or private organization or person to manage the school district’s affairs, investigate the district’s educational affairs and provide a report that details how the district will raise the level of academic achievement to earn school letter grades of A, B or C, a timeline to do so, and when administration of the school district will return to the locally elected school district governing board.
As part of House Bill 2808, during the time managing the school district, the governmental, non profit or private organization or person leading the alternative operation plan may override any decisions of the school district governing board and superintendent, supervise and reassign school district staff, hire and terminate personnel, cancel existing employment contracts, attend any meetings of school district governing board and administrative staff, and cancel or renegotiate any contract as allowed by law other than contracts of certified teachers who have been employed for more than a year with the district.
In addition, House Bill 2808 creates an Arizona Achievement District within the Arizona Dept. of Administration governed by a board that approve or deny applications from schools who had received an A letter grade for two consecutive years to join the Arizona Achievement District to qualify for the Arizona Public School Credit Enhancement Program and enter into contracts to operate schools with a D or F letter grade and have control over those schools staffing, leadership, day-to-day operations, instructional programming, school schedule and budgeting of those operations.
To fund this, House Bill 2808 creates an Arizona Expanding Excellence Fund established with legislative appropriations of $58 million in fiscal years 2022-2023 through 2024-2025, gifts, grants, donations and any other monies transferred to the fund that are exempt from lapsing appropriations and run by the Arizona Achievement District Board. The fund would also be able to accept and spend federal money. The $58 million appropriation would also provide for seven full-time employees at the State Board of Education to operate the program during the same fiscal years.
“If any of the fresh-start or district partnership, they did not meet performance goals or metrics within the next few years, that partner would be out,” House Chair Udall said.
“Again, the goal is to have only high achieving schools in this state. The goal is to have no D and F schools in this state, so that every child can attend a school that is high quality and get the education they deserve,” House Chair Udall said.
“There are still some details that need to be worked out, but that’s the underlying goal, and I’m hoping that it doesn’t end up with a bunch of school takeovers, that actually the schools do the very difficult work to make those improvements,” House Chair Udall said.
“We have seen it work in several places through Project Momentum throughout the state, and I know they are capable of it, but again I know that it is hard work,” House Chair Udall said.
Rep. Quang Nguyen asked “Do we have examples of other states doing this work?”
Utah did something similar to this with their failing schools and 23 of those 25 schools were able to turn it around in three years, House Chair Udall said. One school had very low attendance and they decided to close that and consolidate with some of the nearby schools, and another received a two-year extension because they were really close to reaching their goal, House Chair Udall said.
Schools in Virginia who were part of Project Momentum saw similar results as well, House Chair Udall said.
Cami Anderson, founder and CEO of Thirdway Solutions spoke in favor of the bill, saying a similar plan was implemented in Newark, N.J., with reboots, restarts, consolidations and partner schools with charters and hand-offs of schools to charters.
In the end, “we added 1,000 pre-K seats, we increased enrollment in the district for the first time in three decades overall, which is a vote of confidence, we had no red schools left, which was our version of the D and F, we were identified as the Number One city for high-performing, high poverty schools in the country in 2017 and we raised graduation rates about 20 points,” Anderson said.
Rep. Judy Schwiebert asked how they funded this work.
“We did a host of things. One was to create more flexibilities in the existing resources that we had. Some of them were wrapped up on long-term contracts and pieces that were not serving kids,” Anderson said.
“The other piece was in Jersey the authorizing body is the state and not the district and so we did a continuum of interventions and it was a matter of being more efficient and bold with our dollars,,” Anderson said.
“In the case of the partner schools as an example, we were able to find resources we were spending on programs that weren’t getting results to bring the charters in to teach us about reading as an example and as a case of the school where we worked with the charters where the money followed the student and our role became a partnership and accountability and making sure that the families who wanted to stay could stay and that we all had one metric against which we were being measured,” Anderson said.
Meghaen Dell’Artino spoke against the bill on behalf of the Education Finance Reform Group made up of about 40 school districts around the state the majority of which don’t have any D or F schools.
“We have worked with Chair Udall for some time now on addressing D or F schools throughout the state, so we share her vision and her goal,” Dell’Artino said. “No matter where you are in the state, you should have the same great access to a high quality education.”
“But what we also know and what the data shows is that it doesn’t matter if you are in an A school or D school, kids in poverty are failing at the exact same rate,” Dell’Artino said.
“The reason why you’re not seeing it though in an A school versus why you’re seeing it in a D school is just because the amount of kids that are in poverty that live in some areas that don’t live in other areas throughout this state.”
“Although I think there is an element pf this bill that sparks to get out with this Project Momentum I think that the other pieces of the bill just aren’t quite there,” Dell’Artino said.
Dell’Artino said Avondale Elementary, which was one of the pioneers in the Project Momentum program in Arizona, did not see all their schools rise to A, B, or C in three years, but are seeing that it’s more of a six-year process.
“Although they have had tremendous success, they still do have one D school,” Dell’Artino said. “If this bill was in place when they started, that D school would be taken over whether it’s through the achievement district or through fresh start through that process.”
“For us, when you’re having Success doing the things that you’re doing, we would like to see language in here that allows you to continue to do that and I’ve expressed that to Chairman Udall and I think that she is willing to work on that as we move forward,” Dell’Artino said.
Dell’Artino noted that both Utah and Virginia have a poverty weight “that is something that we’ve been advocating for down here for a really long time.”
“As we sort of move forward with what we want to do with D and F schools, we also think that you need to have a legitimate conversation about poverty and how those kids are coming to school and trying to meet their needs beyond professional development and actually with services,” Dell’Artino said.
Rep. Schwiebert asked where most of the D and F schools are in the state.
Of the 100 Arizona schools with a D of F letter grade, 75% of them have students on free- or reduced-lunch, and “a lot of those are in your rural communities where schools don’t have as much access to the local property taxes and even more of your schools are near or in and around tribal reservations,” Dell’Artino said.
“A lot of this isn’t just a school doing a terrible job, but with students who come in with more need than students in other middle class or upper class areas maybe,” Rep. Schwiebert said.
“Yes,” Dell’Artino said.
In the past three years, the Arizona Legislature has restored a lot of the cuts to education funding and schools have stepped up with that restored funding; although, there are some schools that need more help, Dell’Artino said.
Rep. Jennifer Pawlik said she finds it alarming that school buildings paid for with taxpayer money from bonds and overrides could be taken away under this bill from the school district.
“We also have concerns just over like what would happen to the assessed values, what would happen to buildings that were voter-approved like a bond building versus a state building that could be handled a little differently,” Del’Artino said. “We have similar concerns that need to be worked out as the bill moves forward.”
Mathew Simon, vice president of advocacy and government affairs of Great Leaders, Strong Schools spoke in favor of the bill, saying this bill would “ensure Arizona students are not perpetually trapped in schools with bad track records and low expectations for students.”
Simon spoke in support of the Arizona Achievement District and how they can help low-performing schools.
“There are areas for improvement in this legislation, and we look forward to engaging in stakeholder conversations to ensure no student is without access to a great school,” Simon said.
Rebecca Beebe spoke against the bill on behalf of Arizona School Administrators, saying, “We understand the concern and the desire to do something to address low-performing schools and under-performing schools, but we do think that this bill is the wrong approach.”
“We shouldn’t tie high-stakes policy proposals to the letter grade system,” Beebe said.
For many years, Arizona school leaders and teachers have advocated for additional funding for low-income students and for schools that serve higher than average percentages of low-income students, Beebe said.
“We need to keep in mind that Arizona is one of only seven states that does not fund for low-income students,” Beebe said. “What we would like to see and what we have advocated for is a weight in our funding formula that provides additional funding for every single student living in a low-income home and in poverty.”
That poverty funding would really help Arizona students and their schools to provide the services they need, Beebe said.
“True poverty funding is not tied to academic performance it is allocated based on poverty,” Beebe said. “It’s meant to help these kids perform at the same level as their peers who come from more affluent families.”
“We know that our letter grades are strongly correlated to poverty,” Beebe said. “What a D tells you about a school more than anything is the economics of the families whose kids who attend the school. Frankly, we should not be assigning one summative letter grade to schools at all.”
For the 2018-19 school year, 80% of the letter grade for K-8 schools is based on test scores, and for high schools 60% of the letter grade is based on test scores, and while some of that is for growth,Beebe said.
“With this bill we are telling the neediest , the poorest kids in Arizona that they have a mere three years to go from an F to an A or B, completely, throwing the concept of growth and progress out the window with this bill,” Beebe said.
There are 180 D and F schools in Arizona, Beebe said. Utah worked with 25 of the lowest performing schools in their state.
“Is there an entity out there that is prepared to take on 180 schools?” Beebe asked. “The requirements and obligations in this bill are just too much for districts to take up.”
“Replacing the management of schools is not addressing the underlying issues that the kiddos in that school are facing,” Beebe said.
If low-performing schools – many of which are in rural, remote or in Native American nations – can’t find an operator to help them they have just two options to find a new superintendent or close, and “that is a scary message that we’re sending to these kids,” Beebe said.
“These takeovers disproportionately do impact not only kids in poverty but also communities of color,” Beebe said.
Rep. Daniel Hernandez asked if there was other funding that helped Utah or Virginia as they went through this process.
“We fund, frankly, per pupil lower than both those states,” Beebe said.
Beebe noted those other states also have poverty weights, provide more special education funding and have gifted funding.
She also said Arizona students have different demographics that both those states will more students living in poverty, more homeless students, more students living on reservations and in homes without electricity and children living with grandparents or other relatives.
Katie Dauphinais, a regional advocacy director for ExcelinEd, spoke in support of the bill saying every Arizona school needs to provide a quality education for every students.
She noted the bill would expand the access to high-performing schools for students.
Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association spoke in opposition to the bill, and said knowing there will be a stakeholder meeting he would keep his comments brief.
“We have on the books in Arizona, some statutes related to school improvement that are correlated to the A-F letter grade system, like solutions teams, other things available to school districts on paper in order to help facilitate school improvement; however, in practice the only thing that’s really available to school districts in this state is federal assistance funded through Title I set asides that are available that are required under the Every Student Succeeds Act,” Kotterman said.
“Those target some of the same schools obviously because the categories are low graduation rate, low achievement and then under-performing, but those programs are largely centered around technical assistance and trying to help schools plan and evaluate and things like that because the set asides are not sufficient to fund large scale interventions in order to improve outcomes for students,” Kotterman said.
“While the goal of the bill is laudable, I think we do have some work to do, because we have not since we implemented A-F letter grades and moved away from the old system of performing, performing plus, excelling and etc. undertaken a comprehensive look at how we do school improvement,” Kotterman said.
For example, the exit criteria for federal accountability is not an improvement in letter grade it’s improvement in student achievement, Kotterman said.
“Two years of improvement in student test scores will exit you from federal school improvement and accountability, and likewise two years of improvement in graduation rates will exit you from federal (improvement and accountability)” Kotterman said.
Then schools lose the support that they had and if they’re unable to maintain those gains then they drop back into federal improvement and accountability, and there are school districts that keep going into and out of these programs, Kotterman said.
“We need to take a significant look while we’re undertaking this policy issue as to how we’re going to align all of these disparate efforts in order to create an actual systemic policy approach that supports school improvement longitudinally, because right now we sort of chunk it up and we say, ‘Good job. You did it. You’re improved.’ and then we sort of walk away and the school is left to it’s own devices,” Kotterman said.
“We need to build, metaphorically, a ramp from F to B or A, and we haven’t done that yet,” Kotterman said.
F schools are automatically entered into federal accountability programs, but D schools are not, Kotterman said.
“Whoever comes in here is working with the same resources the district is working with now. That’s not to say there can’t be an efficient reallocation of resources, there certainly can,” Kotterman said. “But there is an almost mythical quality ascribed to an efficient reallocation of resources in some instances where there’s this idea that there’s cash laying around waiting to be extracted.”
“Part of the issues is that you have the ability to pay what you have the ability to pay,” Kotterman said. “You’re not going to be able to change the retirement system for employees such that 12% of their paycheck is still going to go to ASRS. All of those obligations still exist.”
“There is something to be said for whoever comes in may have managerial prowess and a lot of good ideas – there’s no knock against that – but they’re going to constrained by the same resources, so we don’t know exactly what that model would be like,” Kotterman said.
School improvement can be done locally said Rep. Myron Tsosie, noting that Chinle Unified School District has done it and is now working with other nearby school districts to help them improve as well.
House Chair Udall said the language of the bill needs improvement so that there is one system to determine if a school is in an improvement program. She also said she will be meeting with stakeholders tomorrow and going forward.
“When you start to make these improvements, teachers stay. They want to be part of these high-achieving schools,” House Chair Udall said.
“I hope we don’t see a single school takeover from this bill,” House Chair Udall said. “I hope we see schools step up to the plate.”