As chair of the Arizona Senate Education Committee, I passionately work toward bettering the education of every child in the state and I fully support Arizona parents and their school choice rights, including public, charter, private, and home school.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about changes in the way Arizona’s children have been educated for the last three months of this school year. My concern is for any child who might have fallen through the cracks or who was behind before the shutdown and is now continuing to struggle, especially our little ones with reading and our high school students who struggle with math or those at risk of dropping out. What has been the learning outcome, and what will this mean for the next school year?
On March 27, President Trump signed the CARES Act into law, which includes education stabilization funds of more than $30 billion. According to initial figures released by the Congressional Research Office, Arizona is eligible to receive approximately $634 million of those funds. Most of the money will be split between local school districts and institutions of higher education, meaning local school districts in Arizona can expect more than $257 million for relief measures. Some permissible uses for the funds include professional development, summer learning programs, mental health services, and purchasing technology. A portion of these funds, roughly $68 million, can be spent at the discretion of the governor.
I believe it is important that there is transparency and accountability in the distribution of these dollars. There is flexibility within the CARES Act allowed for all schools in the expenditures of their dollars. I would encourage that some of these dollars are targeted for children who were struggling before the shutdown and who now could be further behind. These dollars could be used for summer school, personal tutoring, and even grants for parents for remote learning.
Ideally, benchmark testing would be accomplished in early June so that schools can identify those children who are behind and prepare for summer school and the beginning of the 2020/2021 school year.
I am also concerned with the low-income students who are attending our state’s private schools. In contrast to public schools, private schools lack the guaranteed security to remain open. These federal dollars have been appropriated for an emergency and for that reason I feel they should be available for all education institutions that have been affected by this emergency, including our private schools. I would ask that the governor set aside a portion of these discretionary dollars in grant money that private schools could apply for.
The nationwide, mandatory shutdown of all schools was unprecedented and unpredictable. The COVID-19 crisis has called upon the education community to think outside of the box and to use extraordinary efforts to continue to educate our children. I thank all sincerely and know that going forward we will be successful, and Arizona will continue to offer the best education for our Arizona families.