After three years of declining student achievement, increased absenteeism, and rising dropout rates, the Arizona Senate is considering a bill to address all those issues.
The bill will expand a program that is proven to increase the number of students graduating and going on to succeed in college or programs that prepare them for the workforce. The bill is good for students and teachers, it passed two Senate committees with broad, bipartisan support, and it is a cornerstone of Gov. Katie Hobbs’ proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget.
The bill, SB1717, will support school districts in low-income areas to expand dual enrollment programs, which provide opportunities for students to take college classes and earn credit.
These programs are growing across the county, but the number of Arizona students participating in them has stagnated since 2017, according to research by the Helios Education Foundation.
Only one-quarter of Arizona high school students are enrolled in dual enrollment programs. About 200 school districts don’t have dual enrollment now. Most of them are in low-income areas, and SB1717 is designed to help them.
Dual enrollment also requires teachers to upgrade their content knowledge and instructional skills to teach, which will benefit all students in the school.
Dual enrollment works. Students in rigorous dual enrollment classes are twice as likely to attend college. Once they enroll, research has documented that they have higher GPAs and are more likely to earn a degree than those who started college without credits.
SB1717 addresses the problem head-on with three separate funding streams that will prioritize expanding access to college courses for our low-income students:
• $15 million to pay for up to six college credit hours for freshmen and sophomores and an additional 12 hours for juniors and seniors
• $5 million to incentivize schools and teachers to successfully educate students in dual enrollment programs
• $500,000 to support teachers to earn certifications to teach college-level courses and provide them with a stipend for completing their certification.
The bill is a win-win for students and teachers in low-income areas. A stand against this bill is a stand against students and teachers.
Expanding dual enrollment will expand students’ access to high-quality, college coursework while still in high school. By giving students the chance to earn college credits in high school, they become more invested in learning because they know it’s relevant to their future. These experiences are especially necessary for students who will be the first generation of their families to enter postsecondary education.
Teachers will have more access to professional development that will challenge them to learn and improve their skills — and they will be rewarded for getting it.
Some have said that Arizona schools are unfairly funded, and they argue incorrectly that SB1717 will only perpetuate existing inequities. They also object to creating small teacher stipends based on their students earning a C or better in the course instead of raising salaries for all teachers.
In fact, the bill will expand dual enrollment programs to new schools and reward teachers who learn new skills and successfully put their students on a path to college success.
To be sure, SB1717 will not solve all inequities in Arizona’s high schools or change the fact that Arizona has one of the lowest average teacher salaries in the country. But it will provide greater and more equitable access to low-income students who will benefit from it.
Education Forward Arizona has supported increases in education funding, including the record $1.1 billion increase for the 2023-24 school year, and will continue to do. We are ready to work with education groups to solve systemic inequities and to increase low teacher salaries.
But first, let’s all agree to pass SB1717 so that low-income students across Arizona have access to college-level coursework and get on track toward earning a college diploma or a postsecondary certificate that leads to success in the workforce.
Rich Nickel is president and CEO of Education Forward Arizona, a nonprofit organization working to improve the quality of education as a way of improving the quality of life for all Arizonans.