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Arizona Legislative Update

Author: Janice Palmer, Vice President and Director of Policy, Helios Education Foundation

We’ve past the midway point in Arizona’s 100-day Legislative Session. Committees have completed work for bills in their house of origin and the bills are now making their way to the other chamber for consideration. While following numerous others, Helios has strategically engaged in seven bills this Session as we continue to implement our inaugural Public Policy Agenda.

Of utmost significance are two bills that we believe are important for passage. Senate Bill 1131, sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Allen, includes recommendations from the State Board of Education’s K-3 Literacy Ad Hoc Committee. Dr. Karen Ortiz, Vice President of Early Grade Success initiatives at Helios, serves as one of two literacy advocacy representatives on that Committee and was able to use our recent Move on When Reading research to help inform important changes to strengthen Arizona’s Move on When Reading statutes. We have also been able to share recommendations from the research with both the Senate and House Education Committees through public testimony. Success in the early grades  is critical to ensuring more students are academically prepared at every stage of the education continuum for ultimate success in college, career, and life. This bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously and the entire Senate on a 28-1-1 vote and  is now ready for House Committee of the Whole. 

House Bill 2385, sponsored by Rep. Paul Boyer, provides greater transparency in current school district and charter school financial matters. Specifically, four school-level funding data points are required: 1) detailed total revenues generated by weighted student count; 2) total allocated federal, state, and local revenue; 3) allocation of Classroom Site Fund monies; and 4) amounts allocated for teacher pay and benefits, classroom supplies, student support, and other expenditures. As was discussed at Governor Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council, Helios believes that it is important that all public schools are held to the same requirements. In addition, greater financial transparency will help guide us in our Arizona Latino Student Success Initiative work to improve quality, access, achievement, and greater equity across the P-20 education continuum, ultimately leading to more Latino students completing a postsecondary degree. This bill passed the entire House on a 36-22-2 vote and is now ready for the Senate Education Committee.

Further, there are two bills that we find detrimental to our public education system and are working toward their defeat. SB 1174, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Lesko, would require the 19 school districts that are under a current desegregation court order or Office of Civil Rights (OCR) agreement, to go out for voter approval to budget desegregation monies. Many of our key partners are among those school districts that are subject to a court order or OCR agreement and the desegregation resources are critical to address the issues of the court order or OCR agreement so that our students are able to succeed. To date, this bill has not been brought to the Senate floor due to lack of votes.

Senate Bill 1431, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Lesko, and House Bill 2394, sponsored by Rep. John Allen, both look to fully phase-in Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) by school year 2020-21. Helios has significant concerns about equity, along with funding and accountability parity within our public schools.  Arizona’s current state revenues have just now reached pre-recession levels – after a decade; focus needs to be on investing in our public schools.  To date, these bills have not been brought to the Senate or House floor due to lack of votes.

Helios has also supported three other pieces of legislation including one that looks to further Helios’ mission and/or work. All three of the following have passed the full House and are ready for action in the Senate Education Committee. HB 2184, sponsored by Rep. Diego Espinoza, allows a district or charter to set up a career and college readiness program for at-risk youth and appropriates $100,000 for a private entity to work with those public schools that choose to participate. HB 2210, sponsored by Rep. Heather Carter, creates a one-year pilot program within the Arizona Department of Education, for school year 2017-18, to allow districts and charters to apply for a portion of the $300,000 appropriated to offset the costs of providing a nationally recognized college readiness assessment for every 11th grader. Finally, HB 2361, sponsored by Rep. Reginald Bolding, requires high schools to provide college accessibility awareness about college admissions and financial aid information, as well as an annual report card for a student in grades 9-12 that shows his or her progress toward Arizona university admissions requirements.

With bill work within its second phase of the process, efforts will begin to more heavily focus on the Fiscal Year 2018 budget. Helios will engage in budget priorities with the same strategic manner that we have engaged in legislation – focusing on those items that further our work to ensure every individual in Arizona and Florida has the opportunity to attend and is prepared to succeed in postsecondary education.

Click here to read the first post in the Arizona Legislative updates series. 

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