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Democratic lawmaker seeks boost for school grant program

Rep. David Schapira (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Rep. David Schapira (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

A Democratic lawmaker is pushing to add philosophy to a list of courses that qualify schools for grants under a program intended to make Arizona students more competitive.

“Logic, argument style and knowledge acquisition are excellent skills for our students to have in order to be successful in college, work and life,” Sen. David Schapira, D-Tempe, said in an e-mail interview.

Making that change, which he proposes with SB 1064, would make private donors and businesses more likely to donate to the American Competitiveness Fund and make it easier for schools to qualify, he said.

“I’ve been approached by donors interested in private and nonprofit programs out there to make schools more competitive,” Schapira said.

The Senate Education Committee unanimously endorsed the bill this week, sending it to the floor by way of the Rules Committee.

Established in 2007, the program requires schools seeking funds to offer foreign language, world history and international business courses. The Arizona Department of Education manages the money and parcels out funds as grants.

But there hasn’t been much to hand out. In June, the fund’s balance was just $800. In the previous year, it was $3,200.

And $14,160 has been issued since the fund’s creation. That money came from a $15,000 donation in 2008 from the Longview Foundation for World Affairs and International Understanding, a national organization.

Gary Catalani, superintendent of the Scottsdale Unified School District, said his district constantly looks for options to make students more competitive, as do parents.

Scottsdale high schools have curriculum in philosophy, business and less common languages like Mandarin Chinese, which was just added this school year.

But Catalani said he didn’t expect that community members or businesses would donate much funding to support these non-required courses through the American Competitiveness Fund.

“It’s an interesting concept,” he said. “We certainly have partnerships with corporations and businesses across our community, but to the point that they would fund an entire program, no, they don’t do that.”

Schapira said the fund’s low balance is because of a dragging economy, but expanding its criteria could help it come back and create options for schools suffering from budget cuts.

“This broadens the criteria to allow other [schools] to apply when there’s a few more dollars in the fund,” he said.

Facts about the American Competitiveness Fund:

• Established in 2007.
• The Department of Education may solicit and accept donations, grants, gifts, contributions and devices from individuals, corporations and nonprofit organizations for the fund.
• Dispensed to date: About $14,000.
• Funds are appropriated as they come in.

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