PHOENIX – Governor Doug Ducey celebrated School Choice Week by focusing on education options and resources, and building on the commitments he made in his recent State of the State Address to Arizona lawmakers.
“If you want to see a governor’s values, take a look at a governor’s budget,” Governor Ducey said in an interview Wednesday with Telemundo about the priority he places on education. “The number one investment line in Arizona’s budget is K-12 education. ”
The Governor’s comments came during a visit to Phoenix Christian Preparatory School, where he was greeted warmly by kindergartners before speaking to upperclassmen and touring the campus with Superintendent Jeff Blake. Earlier that day Governor Ducey met with the leaders of Arizona’s 10 community colleges, and on Monday he visited the Arizona Autism Charter School.
“In Arizona, we’re committed to expanding school choice, ensuring students have all the tools they need to succeed, and supporting our hardworking educators,” said Governor Ducey. “We will continue to make targeted investments that put students — especially our kids in K-12 — on the path to success.”
In his State of the State Address on Jan. 10, Governor Ducey highlighted a number of innovative proposals aimed at strengthening education in Arizona. They included:
“We applaud Governor Ducey for his focus on real results for every Arizona student and targeting significant resources accordingly,” said Emily Anne Gullickson, president and founder of Great Leaders Strong Schools. “This budget proposal ensures Arizona continues to lead on innovation and protects school leaders’ flexibility to drive dollars and create programs that best meet the needs of each student and family."
The Governor and community college leaders discussed Wednesday how the workforce training centers with community college leaders will develop a highly skilled talent pipeline in the state. Combined with recently enacted authorization to offer four-year degrees, community colleges are essential education options for Arizonans. The leaders in the meeting emphasized that with more options for skills training, Arizonans would be prepared for the jobs of today and the future.
The Governor’s fiscal year 2023 Executive Budget spells out specific plans to sustain the state’s robust commitment to public education, expand school choice and get Arizona students back on track after two years of COVID-caused learning loss.
For an eighth straight year, the budget will increase per pupil state funding, completing an investment of $11.8 billion in K-12 education since 2015.
Combined federal, state and local spending has reached record levels throughout the pandemic. This year’s budget is expected to surpass the current fiscal year’s per-pupil funding of $14,656 – an all-time record for Arizona.
Governor Ducey will have increased funding for Arizona’s classrooms by 6.3 percent since 2015 – the greatest rate increase by any Arizona governor this century. Also on the Governor’s watch, construction for 37 new K-12 schools have been funded and funding for school repairs has increased by nearly 110 percent.
But it’s on school choice that Arizona has “set the standard”, as the Governor said in his State of the State, and that was apparent at Phoenix Christian Preparatory School. More than 550 of the school’s 600 students are able to attend thanks to the options provided to parents through Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) and School Tuition Organization scholarships (STO). Both programs provide funding for the student to attend the school that best fits their needs, providing greater flexibility for families.
Arizona Autism Charter School, the other school tour this week, is one of the state’s 550 charter schools. Governor Ducey toured the campus with school founder and Executive Director Dianna Diaz Harrison and then held a roundtable discussion with school leaders, community members and parents.
Arizona Autism Charter School is one of the recipients of the first round of funding for the School Transportation Modernization Grants. The fiscal year 2023 budget invests $20 million to renew the grant program which aims to modernize transportation options and strengthen school choice opportunities for kids and families in rural communities and all areas of the state.
The Executive Budget also invests in student success, with an additional $322 million in K-12 education to get kids back on track as they recover from the effects of the pandemic and remote learning.
Arizona kids will get caught up in math, reading and civics with the “AZ Back on Track” summer camp, an eight-week program. The $100 million investment of federal resources will help to further mitigate learning loss.
To help close the education achievement gap, the budget invests $58 million to support an evidence-based approach to chronically failing and underperforming schools. “Operation Excellence” will equip D-rated and F-rated schools with multiple pathways and resources to improve.
Schools will receive $150 per pupil every year for three years to help implement specific, high-yield, research-based interventions to dramatically improve student achievement.
Operation Excellence will build upon other ongoing initiatives aimed at providing influential results for students. A for Arizona launched Wednesday a $6 million grant opportunity to help Arizona public schools that are reimagining education models.
Arizona has bolstered its leadership in school choice options for students and families, expanding programs for greater open enrollment, new transportation models, more charter schools and more educational freedom for families.
In Arizona, families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, homeschooling and microschools.
Students and families may go to the school of their choice through Arizona’s open enrollment for public school districts. A resource for families especially during the pandemic, open enrollment empowers families to pursue the best education for their children.
Over the last seven years, Arizona has strengthened its position as a national leader in school choice. The state has more than 550 public charter schools teaching 230,000 students – approximately 20 percent of all students enrolled in public schools throughout the state.
Governor Ducey has worked to expand microschools throughout the state. Microschools provide a smaller learning community, tailored to the needs of each student. The Governor invested $3.5 million to create new microschools through the Black Mothers Forum. The Black Mothers Forum, led by founder Janelle Wood, helps create new, innovative learning models where students receive personalized support.
Open for Learning
In early January, the Governor announced the “Open for Learning Recovery Benefit” program, which ensures parents have the resources they need to get their kids in a classroom.
With this program, if a school closes for even one day, students and families will have access to instruction that best meets their needs. The program funds up to $7,000 for needs related to child care, school-coordinated transportation, online tutoring and school tuition.
The program builds upon the Education Plus Up Grant program which was announced in August 2021 to boost per pupil spending.