What education advocates hope to see this legislative session - AZEdNews
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What education advocates hope to see this legislative session

Arizona Education Association's Joe Thomas, Left, And ASBA's Chris Kotterman, Center, Discuss What Education Advocates Hope Will Happen This Legislative Session With Arizona Horizon Host Ted Simons, Right, On Jan. 4, 2022. Photo Courtesy Arizona Horizon

See what education advocates would like to see happen during this session of the Arizona Legislature that starts Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas and Arizona School Boards Association’s Director of Governmental Relations Chris Kotterman shared their thoughts with Arizona Horizon Host Ted Simons earlier this week.

Video: Arizona Horizon – January 4, 2022

Click on arrows in video above to enlarge to full screen

Simons asked them both what they expect and want to see from the Arizona Legislature this session.

“Well, the first thing I want Legislators to understand is that every time they write a bill, and it gets heard in committee, they’re speaking to educators,” Thomas said. “They’re saying this is what we want to see you do or this is what we want to see schools do.”

“This is not the year maybe to try grand new initiatives,” Thomas said.

“We need to focus on having safe schools, on having accessibility to them, being responsive to parents, and we need to focus on working inside the community,” Thomas said, noting this would be a good year to see fewer education bills.

“But of those that we do, I would hope that the Legislature and the Governor would focus on retention of the employees that have been loyal, that have stayed with us – 5-year, 2-year, 10-year, 20-year veterans. We need to be focusing on keeping them where they are,” Thomas said.

“How do we create the flexibility at the district level to do what they need to do – closer to the students than the Legislators are – to make sure that we can effectively educate our children, but do so where we’re minimizing the risk that we put students and our teaching staff up against,” Thomas said.

Simons asked Kotterman if he could realistically expect change in the state school funding formula this session and “if so, what would you like to see as far as that formula.”

“What we do really need to work on is making sure that the formula is adequate for students to meet their needs where they’re at,” Kotterman said.

“The two main ways we can do that are looking at special education and looking at what we call a poverty weight or an opportunity weight. Those two issues if you can address them –  and third would be English Language Learners I think that we still have some work to do there,” Kotterman said.

“Those three areas in Arizona schools statewide, if you can bump those levels to where they need to be in order to serve those students needs in combination with federal funds, you free up a lot of money that should be going to regular ed students that needs to go to those students,” Kotterman said.

“And that’s not their fault. That’s the way it’s designed. They have rights. They have the right to an equitable education, and we have to give it to them, but the students who end up sort of shortchanged in that scenario are the students without additional needs,” Kotterman said.

“I think if we really concentrated on those issues, we could solve some of these retention problems, we could solve some of these other pay issues, because we would be able to have resources there,” Kotterman said.

“Those are some things that we should be able to work on because they are special populations that I think everybody recognizes the need there, instead of saying oh, we need more money, we need more money, which we do but recognizing that we have a limited opportunity here, focusing on those populations I think would be smart,” Kotterman said.

“I don’t know that it’s going to happen, because the sort of political winds are not there in the Legislature to be partners with schools as Joe was talking about,” Kotterman said.

“But if they were to take that issue up, we’d be right there with them,” Kotterman said.

“Is it money? It seems like it always comes down to money with education because Arizona doesn’t spend as much money on education as the vast majority of other states,” Simons said.

Critics say the achievement gap is not lessening, so what’s going on, Simons asked.

“When you have one of the largest class sizes in the nation, when you have some of the lowest teacher pay in the nation, when you have the highest student to counselor ratio in the nation, you’re trying to do a lot with a very, very few number of people,” Thomas said.

“We need to make sure we are using strategic investments,” Thomas said. “Let’s remember it’s been 12 years since we’ve had full funding for full-day kindergarten. That would be a very easy fix legislatively and it would bring about $215 to $250 million into our schools that would impact all grade levels,” Thomas said.

“The Legislature has an amazing opportunity this session to actually fund what we created in Invest in Ed by themselves,” Thomas said.

“They could change it up a little bit. They have almost $900 million in ongoing revenue that will be there year after year after year, and in excess of $1.5 billion that’s one-time money that you can use a little bit, you can send some of that back to the citizens of Arizona, but we can invest in our schools,” Thomas said.

“Now is the time when we really need to consider that,” Thomas said.

Then Simons asked if there is a way to get a coalition going at the Arizona Legislature that is more focused on education.

“I think that there is but it’s very, very, very slim,” Kotterman said. “The politics of the moment have made it so that not everyone at the Legislature views school districts as the best way forward, and that’s really unfortunate.”

“I think there are enough Republicans and Democrats there where you could form a coalition to at least do what Joe was talking about, which is make sure that things proceed as normal and don’t go completely off the rails, but it is a very slim coalition,” Kotterman said.

What education advocates hope to see this legislative session 1000-Joe-Thomas-and-Chris-Kotterman-with-Ted-Simons-on-Arizona-Horizon-1-4-2022
Arizona Education Association’s Joe Thomas, left, and ASBA’s Chris Kotterman, center, discuss what education advocates hope will happen this legislative session with Arizona Horizon host Ted Simons, right, on Jan. 4, 2022. Photo courtesy Arizona Horizon