The Arizona Department of Education’s Guidelines to Reopen Schools means It is time to Fully Fund Public Schools

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Picture from Community Impact Newspapers

The Arizona Department of Education’s guidelines to reopen schools for the 2020/21 school year is impressive.

It involved stakeholders from teachers, school leaders, parents, students, the health community, administrators, technology specialists, strategic planning, and school finance.

It contains general guidance for schools and customized advice for teachers, school leaders, students (the longest sub-section,) and parents.

It considers scenarios ranging from opening the school year on time with full faculty and student physical attendance to a blended/hybrid/staggered format to one where everyone is conducting distance learning to one where there are periodic openings and closures throughout the year.

It provides recommendations for contingencies in reference issues like communications, attendance reporting, professional development (especially for distance learning,)  student participation in extracurriculars, class sizes, and social distancing, safety measures, and attending to students with social and emotional trauma.

It is flexible in that they recognize that Mesa Unified will handle reopening differently than San Carlos Unified or BASIS Charter will need different procedures to comply with the guidelines then the New School for the Arts.

It is open (“a living document”) in that the people who drafted these guidelines realize that the COVID 19-Coronavirus situation is fluid and what was released yesterday may need to be adapted to fit the reality of different intervals of the new school year and afterward.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, in her letter introducing the guidelines, wrote:

“Dear School Leaders,”

“I know that the past few months have been among the toughest of your careers. The last part of this school year was filled with unexpected circumstances that few of us could have imagined. Despite the challenges, we must recognize that Arizona’s schools have risen to the occasion to support their students, staff, and families in the face of these uncertain and challenging times. I have never been prouder to be a part of Arizona’s education community, and I am continually inspired by the work our schools have done during this emergency. While our coming school year will also look different from years past, and as the entire world grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I take heart knowing that our schools will continue to be bedrocks of support, comfort, and stability.”

“There are still many unknowns about the future of this virus and its impact on our state. Still, the Arizona Department of Education remains committed to providing the field with as much guidance, support, and clarity as possible.”

“With input from public health experts and education leaders across our state, we have developed Arizona’s Roadmap for Reopening Schools. It provides a series of recommendations for how schools can approach the 2020-2021 school year and offers adaptable considerations to meet each community’s unique needs. Given the fluidity of the public health situation, this will be a living document that will be updated based on the most current information.”

“Please continue to reach out to the Arizona Department of Education with your questions, feedback, challenges, and success stories. We will continue to provide you with as much clear and timely support and guidance as possible. Together, we will get through this and make sure all our students and their families have what they need to succeed.”

Moving forward, there is one recommendation at the end of the School Finance portion of the general guidelines section (page 18) that leaders need to start planning for NOW in order to plan for the resumption of children’s education and the safety of all education stakeholders.

In considering what will need to be done to financially prepare for the coming school year, the drafters of the guidelines recommended that:

“To support school planning for SY20-21, Arizona Department of Education, the Arizona State Board of Education, and Arizona State lawmakers are advised to evaluate and consider adjustments to statutory rules and requirements regarding reporting attendance, timelines for determining average daily membership (ADM), and any other related issues tied to student enrollment and school financing.”

Translation: It is time for Arizona’s education, financial, and political leaders to get together and build a budget that meets the need of the new reality in the state’s schools. That budget should not have any cuts in it as many fear because of the Coronavirus. 

As Laurie Roberts as already reported in her June 1, 2020, AZ Central column, the guidelines call for smaller class sizes, equipping all children with technology devices, and having more staff to meet the mental health needs of the students at a time when Arizona has some of the largest class sizes in the nation, a digital divide among the students (especially in urban and rural areas where broadband levels is inconsistent,) and a 905 to 1 student to counselor ratio (as well as a teacher shortage.)

Readers should also remember that Arizona schools, in 2020, are still being funded at pre-2008 recession levels.

David Lujan, the head of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress offered his insights on the difficult situation, writing, in response to a request from Blog for Arizona:

“Smaller class sizes, more teachers and classroom aides, increased reliance on technology, additional counselors and health professionals are all things that public schools have been aspiring to get funding for years and which will now be a necessity under these guidelines. However, there is simply no way that a state that is 48th in per-pupil funding will ever be able to provide those things. Three decades of underfunding our public schools have taken us in the opposite direction resulting in one of the worst teacher shortage crises, deteriorating school buildings, and under-resourced classrooms. Keeping children and teachers safe during the COVID pandemic will be much more challenging because our state that has done such a poor job of funding public education.”

Stacy Pearson, a Senior Vice President for Strategies360 who is helping to spearhead the Invest in Ed Ballot Movement, commented in response to a request for Blog For Arizona that:

“The guidelines make one thing abundantly clear – Arizona schools need more funding to reopen safely and effectively. Smaller classes require more teachers. Additional mental health support requires more counselors. Additional distance learning requires better technology. Maintaining a healthy environment requires more support staff. The list goes on and on.”

“Educators are doing their best despite being starved of resources. The Invest in Education campaign is working to both restore and protect K-12 funding and voters know how important this is to Arizona’s future.”

Please click here to access more information on Invest in Ed and how to help place it on the November ballot.

Siman Qaasim, the head of the Arizona Children’s Action Alliance has, along with others, issued a letter, calling for the people to contact Arizona’s Senators and Representatives in Congress to fight for more federal funds for the state and nations schools. Please click here to access the link.

Dawn Penich-Thacker, the Co-Founder and Communications Director for Save our Schools Arizona also issued a statement which read:

“Save Our Schools Arizona appreciates Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman’s attempt to provide guidance for re-opening Arizona public schools next month, but the fact is virtually none of this guidance is achievable due to the Arizona State Legislature’s continued underfunding of public education.”

“Without adding up to $645 million* in new dollars to the education budget during the anticipated special session, Governor Ducey and the Legislature are endangering 1.1 million Arizona students, more than 100,000 public school teachers and staff, and countless millions of parents, grandparents and community members with whom they will be in contact.”

“Currently, Arizona public schools have the second-most crowded classrooms in the nation, and such low capital funding that leaking roofs, malfunctioning ventilation, and unsafe buses are common across the state. Many Arizona districts cannot afford to employ school nurses or aides, while Arizona teachers leave the profession at higher rates than teachers of any other state. In other words, public schools cannot afford to reduce class sizes by hiring more teachers or adjust learning spaces for social distancing.”

“By refusing to adequately fund public education, Gov. Ducey and the Legislature have set up Arizona schools for failure, which in this time of unprecedented global pandemic can lead to students, teachers, and families suffering illness and death if a huge influx of new dollars is not immediately allotted to school districts to ensure the safety of students, educators, their families, and the community.”

“Save Our Schools Arizona calls upon the governor and Legislature to prioritize the lives of 1.1 million Arizona children by adding $645 million to the existing public education budget to allow school districts to implement basic CDC recommendations and invest in digital infrastructure for communities, children and families for whom returning to school is not a viable option.”

*The Learning Policy Institute calculates Arizona’s education budget will require an additional $645 million to minimally address the impact of COVID-19.

Public School Funding can no longer be done on the cheap.

It is time for Arizona’s Governor and the members of the Legislature to fully fund the state’s schools.

If children are to be educated safely and have their physical and social and emotional needs met, it is time for Arizona’s Governor and members of the Legislature to fully fund schools.

If teachers are to be expected to learn new teaching techniques and spend more time helping students practice their academic and non-academic skills, it is time for Arizona’s Governor and members of the Legislature to fully fund schools.

If new counselors and school psychologists need to be hired to help students overcome social and emotional trauma, it is time for Arizona’s Governor and the members of the Legislature to fully fund schools.

If school buildings and classrooms need to be renovated and daily schedules modified to ensure student safety, it is time for Arizona’s Governor and members of the Legislature to fully fund schools.

If all students need laptop computers to learn from home if the Coronavirus is rampant in a community and Internet broadband needs to be improved across the state, it is time for Arizona’s Governor and members of the Legislature to fully fund schools.

What time is it again?

Please click here to read the general school guidelines. It is strongly recommended that all education stakeholders do because time, as well as funding, is vital in preparing for the new school year.

The link to the Teacher guidelines is here.

The link to the Education Leader guidelines is here.

The link to the Student guidelines is here.

The link to the Parent guidelines is here. 

 

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