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Set aside the politics – our schools and students need flexibility, gap funding now

We can all agree that there has been nothing conventional about this past year.  Our schools transitioned more than a million students from in-person to virtual, and back again, all with the help of our teachers, staff, parents and students who have had to adapt and remain committed to providing a quality education even in unprecedented times.

In many communities the first step was providing devices to every student. But a device at home meant nothing if they didn’t have internet access, so these schools needed to expend massive financial resources to provide hot spots to their students, which they were only able to do because of federal stimulus dollars. In elementary-only school districts, they needed to ramp up an entire online program, buying the software and training their teachers to teach in a way they never had before.

Meghaen Dell'Artino

Meghaen Dell’Artino

While teachers quickly learned how to provide education in this new environment, the administration was hard at work dealing with supply chain issues on items like PPE and packaged food, as well preparing their school to return in person at a reduced capacity both on buses and in the classroom. Again, all of this takes substantial financial resources.

Some communities were hit harder by the effects of Covid, and we saw parents in low-income areas choose to keep their children at home at a higher rate than those of their affluent peers.  Being open or remaining closed became a political football and the communities were nearly split evenly on either side of the line.

It’s easy to get bogged down by the politics, the criticism or the should haves, but our children don’t have the time for this. So, we forge forward, providing the best opportunities we can with the hand no one would ever want to be dealt; and, with that, we turn to advocating for our children so we can meet their needs moving forward.

This means asking policymakers to consider a funding floor, so that all children are provided with some academic strategies to meet their individual needs to recover the missed learning opportunities they have encountered over this past year. The federal government stepped up to provide funding for our schools, which has helped tremendously, but the way it was distributed was based on the poverty level of the community. While we understand and agree that children in poverty have less disposable income to access early childhood education, tutoring services, devices, supplies and other resources to assist in their academic achievement – and therefore require a greater financial investment – we are hopeful the state can support a level of funding for those students who are not receiving it through the federal program. We refer to this as “GAP funding” and we are asking the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey to come together to meet this need.

Secondly, we hear the word innovation constantly in education. Well innovation isn’t new to district schools, which is why as a parent you have so many options for your child – from STEM to dual emersion, from a fine arts path to traditional academies. But all of these models are tied to seat-time. What schools really need is the flexibility to continue to innovate. During the April 13 Arizona Capitol Times Morning Scoop, you heard various school leaders talk about how children today can learn English concepts during a science lab report or how they can learn calculus concepts through coding or the ability to deliver evidence based strategies when servicing ELL students. These are examples of the flexibility schools will be given with the passage of HB2862. If we want to move toward more focused, individualized learning, then we can’t tie the hands of our educators to a 50-year-old model.

We have heard Gov. Ducey talk a lot over the past year about how Arizonans are resilient. Well none are more resilient than Arizona’s children. With a little help from the adults, their resilience will be fostered into achievement.

Lobbyist Meghaen Dell’Artino represents the Education Finance Reform Group.

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