That's a Wrap on Arizona's Legislative Session

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

June 2, 2017

The Legislature adjourned sine die on May 10th, 2017 after a 122-day legislative session. The end of session provides a good opportunity to reflect on Helios Education Foundation’s first Arizona Public Policy Agenda and what was accomplished.
Overall, we had an extremely strong inaugural Legislative Session that saw Helios’ priorities highlighted and included in:  the enacted Fiscal Year 2018 budget, legislation that was passed or defeated (with the significant exception of the universal ESA expansion), and regulatory policymaking efforts.

Helios Priorities Highlighted
Building on last fall’s Legislative Meet and Greet, and with deep gratitude to Senate Education Chairwoman Sylvia Allen (R-6) for the invitation, Helios was one of the first “Spotlight on Success” presenters at the initial Senate Education Committee. We highlighted who Helios is and our Arizona focus on Latino Student Success, focused on our College Knowing & Going investment, and showcased how philanthropy and public policy can partner through three Helios’ examples: FosterEd, Great Schools; Great Leaders, and Achieve60Az. Helios made clear that we are here to be a partner with policy makers in thought leadership, research, and our community investments, and we were well received by all committee members.

Fiscal Year 2018 Enacted Budget
We recently illustrated the Fiscal Year 2018 enacted budget through the lens of Helios Education Foundation priorities and believe that the FY2018 Budget is an overall solid stride forward in taking that next step to continue to prioritize education – from early education through postsecondary. While there is much more that must be done to establish appropriate, equitable, and sustainable funding in Arizona – a cornerstone of Helios’ Public Policy Agenda – the steps taken in the past year, with the passage of Proposition 123 and the enacted budget, are heading in the right direction.

Legislative Advocacy
Senate Bill 1131 (Chapter 67, 2017 Laws) included the recommendations from the State Board of Education’s K-3 Literacy Ad Hoc Committee, on which Dr. Karen Ortiz, VP of Early Grade Success, served as one of the two literacy advocacy representatives. Many of the items included were influenced by our research brief, “Move On When Reading: Implementation of a Third Grade Retention Policy in Arizona,” including: requiring more than one intervention strategy to be used for students at risk of being retained (currently, at least one is required); requiring intervention strategies be evidence based; allowing for a collection of assessments to be used for student proficiency (rather than just AzMERIT); providing parental notification of specific student needs; and adding a statewide reporting requirement for schools on who is subject to retention, who is retained, who is promoted, and the reading strategies used. This was a champion item of ours, and Janice Palmer, VP and Director of Policy, testified in support before both the Senate and House Education Committees and lobbied legislators for passage.

House Bill 2385 (Chapter 211, 2017 Laws) provides greater transparency in current school district and charter financial matters. Beginning in Fiscal Year 2021, district and charter school report cards must include five school-level funding data points: 1) detailed total revenues generated by weighted student count; 2) total allocated federal, state, and local revenue; 3) allocation of Classroom Site Fund monies; 4) amounts allocated for teacher pay and benefits, classroom supplies, student support, and other expenditures; and 5) a comparison of the school’s funding information to other schools in the local education agency.
This effort was elevated mid-session to a priority of ours as it is important ensure fair, reliable, and equitable accountability throughout the birth-16 continuum. In addition, the information provided will help us to better understand and address financial equity issues that Helios seeks to address as part of our Latino Student Success initiatives.

SB 1174, which would have required the 19 school districts that are under a current desegregation or Office of Civil Rights (OCR) agreement to garner voter approval to budget desegregation monies, was stymied in the Senate. Helios assisted many of our partner districts in defeating this bill, as desegregation resources are critical to address the issues of the court order or OCR agreement for students to be able to succeed. 

SB 1431 (Chapter 139, 2017 Laws) fully phases-in Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) in school year 2020-21. The current cap (an additional .5% increase from the previous year) is extended through 2022, and, beginning in Fiscal Year 2023, the number of approved ESAs are capped at the number approved in school year 2022. Further, ESA funding is based upon whether the student was previously attending either a charter or district school; however, those students receiving an ESA prior to June 30, 2017 are prohibited from reduction. Those students classified as “low-income” (defined as a ward of juvenile court or a student of a family making less than 250% of the federal poverty level) will receive additional monies. Helios worked as a strategic thought leader with key legislators to stop the legislation due to concerns of equity, real choice, and transparency and accountability; unfortunately, amendments were agreed upon that secured the legislative votes necessary to pass.

Two of the bills Helios was supported, HB 2210 and HB 2184, were included in the enacted FY18 Budget, which were included in the previous blog. Unfortunately, HB 2361, which would have required high schools to provide college accessibility awareness, did not get a hearing in the Senate.

On April 24, the State Board of Education (SBE) approved the Ad Hoc Committee-recommended A-F School Accountability Models for grades K-8 and 9-12 that will be implemented for school year 2016-17. Janice Palmer, VP and Director of Policy, served as one of two education policy representatives on this SBE-appointed Ad Hoc Committee and helped shape the final product.

While details of Helios’ advocacy work were outlined in our May 3rd blog, “Arizona State Board of Education Adopts New A-F School Accountability Plan,” there is an update on next steps. The SBE must now: 1) determine the cut scores for what the various letter grades mean, which is slated for an August 4th Special Meeting, 2) address alternative, small school, and Arizona Online Instruction models, which are also planned for August, and 3) decide when school letter grades will be released (there has been discussion of releasing them after Labor Day to delaying the release until October; however, no decisions have been made).

As we begin our work on the 2017-18 Policy Agenda, we look to build upon these successes, always guided by our vision that every individual in Arizona and Florida has the opportunity to attend and is prepared to succeed in postsecondary education and grounded in our beliefs:

  • Education changes lives, and strengthens communities;
  • Education is an investment, not an expense;
  • Every student, regardless of zip code, deserves a high-quality education; and
  • We will achieve our mission through partnership and collaboration.

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