Governor Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced a new funding plan last week intended to help public school districts across the state safely open at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
The plan includes $200 million to help districts bolster their remote learning capacity, and protect against any budget shortfalls next year. As COVID-19 cases surge across the state, the possibility for schools to return to normal operations in the fall is slim to none.
“Our schools need as much stability and certainty as possible during these most uncertain of times,” Hoffman said in a press release. “This plan will help schools provide adaptable and flexible learning environments for students, families, and teachers and help operationalize the guidance provided in our Roadmap to Reopening schools. While many unknowns remain, our school communities are resilient, and I know they will rise to meet this moment for public education.”
The money to provide distance learning capabilities was provided in order to allow parents to have a choice whether to send their children back to school in the fall or not. While local districts are still working out their specific plans, the Governor’s Office provided a set of guidelines earlier this month for the best practices for a reopening.
An additional $40 million will be put toward expanding broadband connectivity in rural communities, where students have no opportunity to access online instruction at home. Specifically, $28.6 million will be spent on broadband conduit and fiber on Interstate 17 from Sunset Point to Flagstaff and is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. Similarly, broadband conduit and fiber will be installed along Interstate 19 from Tucson to Nogales.
Another $20 million will be disbursed through Acceleration Academy Grants intended for “high-need” schools. These dollars will bring in math and reading specialists, paraprofessionals, and other types of support for students in need of extra help.
Eligibility for the grants will be based on “indicators of academic need and accessibility to resources developed in partnership with the Arizona Department of Education,” the release states.
Districts and charters can apply for the one-time funding to support their existing teaching staff through contracted services and training. Once selected, schools will be able to begin the contracts immediately.
Additional funding will go toward addressing the teacher shortage in Arizona.
The funding plan was released along with a new executive order from Gov. Ducey that intends to streamline districts’ purchasing process for obtaining personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 related supplies.
“This plan provides schools with the flexibility to ensure Arizona students continue to receive a quality education—whether through distance learning or in the classroom and provides parents with options that work best for their families,” Ducey said. “It was informed and developed in close consultation with superintendents, school leaders, and the education community.”