State releases $269.2 million funding plan to reopen schools in pandemic's wake

(Community Impact Newspaper staff)
(Community Impact Newspaper staff)

(Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Arizona schools will receive $269.2 million to reopen safely under a plan from Gov. Doug Ducey and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman released June 24.

The funding plan is meant for schools to put the Arizona Department of Education’s Roadmap to Reopening guidance into place. It brings the state to more than $850 million received in one-time funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

The first $200 million under Ducey and Hoffman’s plan is to increase funding for remote learning and to protect schools against budget shortfalls due to declining enrollment.

Another $40 million will go to help rural communities with less access to computers and the Internet.

Additional money will go for extra support to high-need students ($20 million); the Arizona Teachers Academy to assist with the teacher shortage ($6 million); microgrants for innovative programs to educate students ($1 million); vehicles for the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind ($1 million); leadership development through the Beat the Odds Leadership Academy ($700,000); and tutoring from Teach for America for students most in need ($500,000).

The remainder of the $850 million from the CARES Act has gone to the Elementary and Secondary Education Relief, or ESEER, fund ($277 million) and the Higher Education Emergency Relief fund ($304 million).

In addition to the $269.2 million in funding from the governor’s office, the Arizona Department of Education is providing $25.8 million from CARES Act allocations.

The money includes $14.5 million for relief funds to local education agencies that were not eligible for previous federal recovery aid. Another $5 million is for special education compensatory education, $6 million for a high-quality distance learning grant program, and $300,000 for developing social-emotional and trauma-informed systems and instructional frameworks.

Ducey also issued an executive order June 24 streamlining the purchasing process for schools to obtain personal protective equipment, or PPE, and other COVID-19 related costs. The order also provides flexibility to schools to offer virtual learning opportunities for families that do not return to the classroom.

“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 in a release. “It was informed and developed in close consultation with superintendents, school leaders, and the education community.”

Said Hoffman: “Our schools need as much stability and certainty as possible during these most uncertain of times. 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.”

Dubbed AZCares: Flexibility And Funding For Schools And Families Plan, it provides predictability to schools and helps them plan for the coming school year.

The plan also is meant to ensure distance learning remains a priority by boosting funding for online learners up to the same level as in-person peers. 

The plan includes a grant program, called the Enrollment Stabilization Grant Program, to keep school budgets stable for charters and districts partnering with the state to strengthen student achievement and transparency.

The grant program guarantees funding that is the greater amount of 98% of a school district’s 2019-20 enrollment or its 40th-day student count as enhanced by funding online learners at the same level as in-person peers.

Eligibility for the grant is contingent on the accountability measures for student attendance data,
 financial compliance with state and federal transparency requirements, 
student achievement monitoring data submitted to the state and in-person education provided the same number of days per week as last year.

Ducey’s executive order allows districts and charters without an approved Arizona Online Instruction certification to continue offering distance learning to students whose parents choose that option with no impact to their funding.

To be eligible for this option, districts must submit a plan to the state department of education, and charters must submit a plan to the state board for charter schools.

Additionally, the executive order exempts districts and charters from existing procurement rules for the purposes of obtaining PPE and any other COVID-19-related purchases.

Districts and charters must submit documentation to their respective governing board describing the details of the purchase.
By Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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