June 19, 2019

2019 Legislative Session Wrap-Up: a look at its impact on Arizona schools!

It’s official, with the Governor signing (and vetoing) the last remaining bills, the 2019 legislative session has come to an end. This edition of Arizona Extra Credit will examine how key pieces of education-related legislation fared this year:

  1. Budget Breakdown
  2. Teacher Pay
  3. Results-Based Funding
  4. English Language Learners
  5. Charter Reform & Accountability

Budget Breakdown

This year’s $11.8 billion budget included a round of new investments in K-12 schools for many different programs and needs. In total, the budget included $660 million in new K-12 funding for teachers, classrooms and school facilities. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the key new investments:

  • $136 million in District Additional Assistance – this money is used by district and charter schools to pay for anything from classroom resources to payroll. The funding is flexible and many schools spend it on textbooks, instructional materials, curriculum, technology, and school buses and other capital funding needs. It was suspended during the recession, so the restoration of this money is a huge step forward for Arizona’s public schools. There are two more increases coming in the next two years to complete the restoration.
  • $165 million in teacher pay increases – see story below for more on this.
  • $20 million for the School Safety Program – this money will expand the grant program to include school counselors and social workers, and allow for local school leaders to apply for and use money from this program in a way that best fits their community’s needs.
  • $30 million in Results-Based Funding – this program provides some additional funding to Arizona’s high performing schools, with a focus on schools serving low-income communities. See story below for more on this.
  • $15 million for the Arizona Teachers Academy – dedicated funding to ASU, NAU, and UofA to continue addressing the teacher shortage. The program offers a year-for-year tuition waiver scholarship to students who commit to teaching in Arizona’s public schools. The universities recently announced that, with this new investment, they will be able to fund as many as 3,000 additional students to become teachers. 
  • $800,000 over the next two years for additional staff at the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools – this money is critical in that it will allow the Board to conduct greater oversight and hold charter schools to an even higher level of accountability.
  • $10 million dollars starting in School Year 2020-21 to support high school students earning an industry certification in a high-demand field such as computer operations (IT).  
  • $163 million for school building renewal grants and new school construction.
  • $142 million in enrollment growth and inflation funding

Teacher Pay

This year’s budget included an additional $165 million for another 5 percent pay increase for teachers, which means the 20 percent teacher pay increase by 2020 (20×2020) plan is right on track.  As part of the 20×2020 plan, this is the second round of teacher pay increases. Combined with last year’s increase, schools now have the funding for as much as a 15 percent increase for their returning teachers and it is fully expected that the 20 percent goal will be met by 2020. It’s another big step forward in ensuring that Arizona’s hard-working teachers are getting paid what they deserve. We will keep monitoring and reporting on the status of teacher pay increases to ensure that Arizona’s school districts and charters are delivering these dollars to where they belong – our teachers.

Results-Based Funding

Results-Based Funding is the only funding of its kind in Arizona – it provides a bit of an additional boost in revenues for high performing schools, with a focus on rewarding schools serving low-income communities so they can continue to expand to serve more students and retain teachers closing the achievement gap.

This year’s budget includes an additional $30 million in Results Funding and an expansion to even more mid-to-high poverty schools. Despite claims from some that this money is simply being funneled to schools serving wealthy families, the data shows these claims are absolutely false.

Under the budget, roughly 210 additional high-poverty schools that are outperforming their peers and closing or narrowing the achievement gap will receive Results Funding this upcoming school year. And using the number of students participating in the free and reduced lunch program, at least 65% of schools that will now receive Results Funding are considered low-to-high poverty schools. The data speaks for itself: the majority of these dollars are going to high-performing schools serving low-income families. But all of the schools that have earned Results Funding are being asked to serve more students and to support lower performing schools so that all kids can go to a good school.

The Arizona Department of Education is expected to release the list of eligible schools in the fall.

But if you really want to know why the proposed expansion is a step in the right direction for Arizona’s schools, watch the video below to hear what school leaders have to say about the program.

English Language Learners

In an overwhelming show of bi-partisan support, a bill that reforms and gives schools more flexibility in how schools educate English Language Learner (ELL) students passed both chambers unanimously with all Democrats and all Republicans voting “yes” for this bill. SB1014 will reduce the number of required hours of segregated English immersion and allow schools to submit their own research-based models to the State Board of Education for evaluation and approval. The bipartisan support of this bill was an acknowledgement that the archaic (and often politically entangled) methods of ELL instruction weren’t working – they were bad for students, teachers, and administrators alike.

The passage of SB1014 represents a huge step forward for Arizona’s ELL students. Our ELL population now has a viable chance to learn the language through high quality programs and social interaction with their peers, something that was severely restricted before. The bipartisan work on this bill culminated with a signature by Governor Ducey to sign it in to law and should be applauded by all Arizonans.

Charter School Reform & Accountability

The results were a mixed bag in this category. On the one hand, as noted in the budget breakdown, the budget did include an additional $800,000 for new staff at the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools. These new positions will be focused on providing enhanced oversight of charter school operations, which will result in the ability to identify potential problems before they get any further. This is a very positive development for the ongoing efforts to continually improve Arizona’s charter school environment.

However, the key piece of legislation focused on charter school reform – SB1394 sponsored by Rep. Kate Brophy McGee – ultimately stalled in the House and never made it to the Governor’s desk. Some key provisions of this bill include:

  • Clarified the Arizona attorney general’s authority to investigate and prosecute charter school financial abuses
  • Enabled the state auditor general to pursue criminal charges pursuant to audit findings
  • Mandated every charter school have a governing body of at least three members and prohibited family members from constituting a majority of that body
  • Created a trackable, online location to publicize critical charter financial data
  • Made information already available to the public easier to access
  • Updated charter procurement requirements and makes transactions more transparent

Though it wasn’t a perfect piece of legislation, it would have represented a major step forward in creating additional accountability in Arizona’s charter schools – something that people across the political spectrum acknowledge is necessary.

Big legislative changes often take time, so in all likelihood we will see renewed efforts for charter school reform legislation once again. Though this year’s bill only received Republican votes, it is hoped that a broader coalition will eventually give way. In the meantime, the State Board for Charter Schools is not waiting until next session to enhance oversight and is instead pursuing some of the reporting and transparency reforms through Board rule. The proposed new rules for these items as well as the Financial Framework requirements that schools will have to comply with or be shut down, are available for public comment through this link: https://asbcs.az.gov/public-comment

We will continue to report and monitor the status of these critical efforts for our readers. 

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