The Arizona Department of Education this week announced $1 billion more in federal pandemic relief funding will be sent to schools.
The flexible funds will help schools cover extra costs incurred through the pandemic, like money spent on hand sanitizer and Plexiglass, as well as cover costs for recovery, including intervention for learning loss, special education, technology and possible mental health support.
Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman said in a statement that the federal funding was helpful but echoed a sentiment she’s expressed before: Schools need a reliable source of funding from the state, not the feds.
“While this significant infusion of federal recovery dollars is good news for Arizona’s schools, it is not a substitute for sustainable funding from the state as they move through and beyond the crisis of this pandemic,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman and other Democrats have put the pressure on state legislators to increase annual funding to schools and not just to rely on federal money. In addition to the $1 billion announced this week, schools in Arizona received about $700 million in 2020 through the federal CARES Act.
School leaders say federal funding is helpful and fills in financial gaps from the last year, but bigger problems may lie ahead.
Arizona public schools lost an estimated 50,000 students this year. Because funding is calculated per student, that means they’ve lost funding. They’ve also lost funds because distance learning is funded at a rate lower than in-person learning. All told, schools have lost about $389 million.
If students don’t return, neither will the funding.
Gov. Doug Ducey proposed using that $389 million elsewhere in education, instead of sending districts what they would have received without the enrollment drop. He said it would be better spent on targeted support for students struggling academically because of dramatic disruptions over the school year.
The Department of Education also announced that it would send extra discretionary money to schools, targeting rural school districts and charter schools, particularly in remote areas. Every school district and nonprofit charter school is guaranteed to receive $150,000 out of the discretionary funds. Rural schools and charters are guaranteed $175,000. Schools considered the “most remote” in the state are guaranteed $200,000.
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