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Board of Ed to sit on $20M earmarked for cops and counselors

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Arizona schools may  have to wait another school year to hire new counselors and cops.

Lawmakers this year appropriated an additional $20 million to the state’s school safety program, which must be spent on school resource officers, counselors or social workers. The Arizona Board of Education is responsible for distributing the funding as grants, while school district leaders will get to decide which position they want to hire for at the local level.

But the Board of Education voted Monday to delay awarding new grants, possibly until all schools have a chance to apply.

At issue is the lifecycle of the school safety grant program.

Grants are awarded every three years, and by law, the next round of applications are due by April 15, 2020.

Schools that previously applied for a safety grant did so more than two years ago, at a time when the program exclusively funded school resource officers.

The Board of Education tabled a proposal Monday to spend the additional $20 million immediately at schools that previously applied to hire school resource officers. There’s $16 million earmarked in existing funds to pay for school resource officers, but that’s only enough money to hire officers at 114 schools.

Another 87 schools applied, but were put on a wait list until more money became available.

The Board of Education considered a plan to spend that $20 million this year by allowing all 201 schools that applied for a school resource officer grant to hire a cop, a counselor or perhaps both.

Chris Kotterman, director of government relations at the Arizona School Boards Association, said the proposal made sense given Gov. Doug Ducey’s initial budget proposal. In January, the governor proposed more than $9 million specifically to hire school resource officers at those 87 schools.

But most board members balked at distributing any of the $20 million before all schools have an opportunity to apply for the new funding. Board Member Michele Kaye said that the 201 schools whose previous applications were approved applied at a time when the funding was only available for school resource officers, not based on requests for counselors or social workers.

“That wasn’t the purpose of the grant at the time,” Kaye said.

And Board Member Patricia Welborn noted that there are entirely new schools up-and-running in the last two years – since the last grant application deadline – that wouldn’t have the same immediate access to the new $20 million in grants. Nor would schools who didn’t bother to apply because they didn’t want or need to hire school resource officers, Welborn added.

The Board of Education ultimately voted to set aside the $20 million in new funding until officials can create criteria and accept new applications. That may mean the state will have that $20 million sitting in the bank for another year, and schools won’t see additional cops or counselors until schools start in August 2020.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman was the lone board member to vote against stashing the money. Hoffman said that school safety is too pressing an issue, and “it makes me anxious to sit on [that funding].”

Catcher Baden, the Board of Education’s deputy director, later said that tabling the proposal doesn’t necessarily mean that the $20 million won’t be put to use during the upcoming school year. It’s up to board staff to research options for the Board of Education to consider, perhaps as soon as their next regularly scheduled meeting on August 26, Baden told the Arizona Capitol Times

“The $20 million they tabled until they got more complete information… nothing precludes the board on August 26 from approving” a way to spend the money, he said.

What’s unclear is how they’ll do that, considering state law requires the grants be distributed on a three year cycle, with the next round of applications due by April 15, 2020.

“It is challenging that the April 15 deadline is still in statute. However, I feel like that shouldn’t prevent us from trying to find ways to get dollars to schools,” Baden said.

Hank Stephenson contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comments from Catcher Baden.

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