Arizona Legislative Session Begins

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

January 26, 2017

With our first-ever Arizona and Florida Public Policy agendas adopted, Helios Education Foundation has begun its active participation in key  policy arenas and is ready for the 2017 Legislative Session.

In November last year, we hosted an informal Arizona legislative meet and greet, which resulted in an invitation from Senate Chairwoman Sylvia Allen to be one of the first education spotlights before the Senate Education Committee.  We talked about Helios’ mission that all students have an opportunity to succeed in postsecondary education and shared some details about our College Knowing & Going initiative.  We also highlighted how philanthropy and public policy can collaborate through three of Helios’ examples: FosterEd; Great Schools, Great Leaders; and Achieve60Az. Helios made it clear that we are here to be a partner with policy makers in thought leadership, research, and our community investments.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey opened the 53rd Legislature, First Regular Session by giving his State of the State Address, which was a much more inclusive and education-focused speech than in previous years. Whether it was the statement that all students deserve a high-quality education regardless of zip code to acknowledging Helios’ efforts of College Knowing & Going and Achieve60Az, we were encouraged by the Governor’s willingness to better align his focus on issues of equity, college readiness and postsecondary degree attainment.

This can be seen in the Governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget, where the need for additional resources for education is acknowledged in a thoughtful way with the current resources we have. Key items of alignment in the Governor’s FY18 budget include:

  • Expansion of Helios’ College Knowing and Going efforts by proposing $114,700 to the Commission on Postsecondary Education to expand FAFSA completion.
  • Expansion of Great Schools; Great Leaders (a partnership between the Governor’s Office, Center for the Future of Arizona, Burton Family Foundation, and Helios) by proposing $250,000 for School Leadership Training that would fund the 50-100 principals that come out of the initial cadre of school leaders funding in our initial investment.
  • Heightened investment (above the $76 million in baseline funding for enrollment growth and inflation) in K-12 and Higher Education in FY18 amounting to $165 million in Fiscal Year 2018 and $453 million over the next three years, many of which are ongoing, especially in K-12.
  • A focus on teacher recruitment and retention through targeted investments and the Teacher Academy, which requires the universities, in collaboration with the community colleges, to create a plan within 90 days to ensure that a student who enters into a teaching college will graduate with a teaching position and no debt upon completion (year to year match; one year debt forgiven for one year of teaching in low-income Arizona school). The plan is for the Academy to launch in Fall 2017.
  • Investment in full-day kindergarten and early literacy with  $10 million in Fiscal Year 2018 ($20 million in Fiscal Year 2019 and beyond) to schools that have more than 90% of Free and Reduced Lunch-eligible students, with use of these monies being flexible (could be used for full-day kindergarten, preschool, longer school day, longer school year, literacy items, etc.).
  • Enabling the University Capital Investment Program by redirecting $36.8 million in state ($30.3 million) and local ($6.5 million) sales tax monies to allow the universities to bond for $1 billion in capital.

At the same time, there’s no question Arizona’s public education system is in need of significantly more resources than what is available in current state resources -- from early education to K-12 to postsecondary education -- and we must continue to work to address this. The establishment of appropriate, equitable and sustainable funding throughout the birth-16 continuum is a crucial tenet to our 2017 Arizona Public Policy Agenda and will be a major focus of our work this Session and beyond.

This is the first in a series of blog updates that we will provide during legislative session.  We look forward to working with all of our partners to ensure every individual in Arizona and Florida has the opportunity to attend and is prepared to succeed in postsecondary education.

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