Author: Paul J. Luna, President and CEO
As the 2017 Arizona and Florida legislative sessions have come to a close, I am reflecting on the critical role that public policy has in creating an environment of success for students.
I am reminded that the lens through which we evaluate education policy rests upon our four fundamental beliefs:
- Education changes lives and strengthens communities;
- Education is an investment and not an expense;
- Every student, regardless of zip code, deserves a high-quality education; and
- We will achieve our mission through partnership and collaboration.
Through our Arizona Latino Student Success efforts, Helios is working to prepare all students – especially Latino students – for success in college and career. With the majority of our K-12 students being Latino, it is an economic imperative that we focus on closing the achievement and degree attainment gaps.
In Florida, focusing on the link between Florida’s economy and the success of first-generation, low-income, and minority students is our goal. Our work is focused in the metropolitan areas of Tampa, Orlando, and Miami, as those are the areas with the highest concentration of our student populations. We are working to strengthen the conditions needed to drive large-scale, sustainable change and improve educational outcomes throughout the state.
The 53rd Arizona Legislative Session concluded on May 10th, and 1,079 bills were introduced. Of those, 342 were signed into law. The Florida legislative session concluded on May 8th with only 211 bills passed, the fewest in at least 20 years. Education was a significant topic of conversation in both states for our elected leaders.
As we evaluate our policy work and our investment decisions in both Arizona and Florida, we work hard to ensure our fundamental beliefs are at the forefront of our decision-making.
While we are encouraged to see the focus on education in both states, we have significant concerns about some decisions that were made and how they will impact our commitment to ensuring educational equity for all students.
In particular, in Arizona, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) were expanded – with much contentious debate. Helios was opposed to the expansion of this program because we believe ESAs will exacerbate the equity issues we already face in Arizona. We will be doing some further analysis to fully understand the impact on low-income and minority students.
We are appreciative of our elected leaders and their hard work and commitment over the past few months. We know there are difficult decisions that have to be made, but we also know that providing equitable educational opportunities for all students must be at the forefront of all policy decisions. The future of both Arizona and Florida depend on it.