Press Releases


Published: July 7th, 2020

Superintendent Hoffman’s Response to the White House Summit on Safely Reopening America’s Schools

“Educators, school staff, and families share the goal of reopening our schools and returning students to the classroom to ensure their physical, academic, social, and emotional needs are met. Like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC, teachers know that the best place for our students to learn is in the classroom. However, today’s discussion at the White House Summit on Safely Reopening America’s Schools did not reflect the magnitude or severity of Arizona’s growing public health crisis.  

“For Arizona to reopen school facilities for in-person learning, we must first get COVID-19 under control. In the last two weeks, our confirmed cases doubled from 50,000 to 100,000. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are up, and critical care services such as ventilators are at a record high use. The positivity rate in testing is between 25 percent to 30 percent – quadruple the 5 percent that experts recommend for making informed decisions about reopening. Today, Arizona has the highest infection rate per capita than any other state in the country – including New York during its April peak. 

“And while young students may be at lower risk for infection, the educators who make learning possible – including instructional aides, librarians, bus drivers, nutrition workers, and more – are at risk, as are students with medical conditionsThose valued members of our schools need more assurances that schools and communities have the resources they need to stop the virus from spreading widely through their communities. Given Arizona’s rising case numbers and the fact that Arizona remains open, I cannot provide those assurances for the adults and students who are medically vulnerable in our school communities at this time

“I welcome more aggressive action from Governor Ducey and our public health officials to help mitigate the virus’s spread. The reality of COVID19 in Arizona means that reopening schools will be a community effort in which we all have a role to play. Stay home, maintain physical distancing, wash your hands, and wear a mask when you are in publicIt is only with statewide action and personal responsibility that we will find a pathway forward for our students and educators to return to the classroom.”

Posted in Press Releases |
Published: July 6th, 2020

Superintendent Hoffman Convenes Technology Task Force to Address Digital Divide and Tech Needs for Schools

 

PHOENIX – Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman today announced the formation of the Arizona Department of Education Technology Task Force – a group of partners from across the state who are committed to addressing a variety of technology needs our schools and students have.

 

The group will work to find innovative solutions to address the extreme digital divide across Arizona, that has been exasperated due to the need for distance learning. The group will explore opportunities to strengthen public and private partnerships. Additionally, the group will work to support Education Technology and Computer Science Standards across the state.

 

“Access to technology and broadband internet is an issue of educational equity,” said Superintendent Hoffman. “These challenges existed prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic exposed the critical need to connect hundreds of thousands of students and their families to technology. I look forward to working with the leaders on our task force as we find ways to bridge the digital divide in Arizona.”

 

Arizona Department of Education Technology Task Force:

 

Shawnae Holguin Lead of IT Team, Baboquivari Unified School District
Mary Knight Director of Technology, Flagstaff Unified School District
Brian Nelson ASU, Mary Lou Fulton College
Jon Castelhano Executive Director of Technology, Gilbert Public Schools
Alex Lopez Director of Technology, Nogales Unified School District
Stephanie Parra All In Education
Tracey Beal School Connect
Rachael Parks Director of Technology, Leona Group
Gail Knight Balsz School District Governing Board
Stan Goligoski Yavapai County Education Service Agency
Amber Akapnitis AZ School for the Deaf and Blind
Mark Breen Director of Technology, Vail School District
Renee E. Levin Intel
Jeremy Babendure AZ SciTech
RJ Muller Cox Communications
Janice Palmer Helios Education Foundation
Ilana Lowry Common Sense Media
Matt Pittinsky Parchment.com
Jaime Casap Google
Daisy Murillo Student Representative
Dr. Traci Morris Director of the American Indian Policy Institute at ASU
Tom Osmun Dell Technologies
Kari Lipman Insight
John Kelly Triadvocates
Matthew Clark Verizon
Betsy Hargrove Superintendent, Avondale Unified School District
Robert Koerperich Superintendent, Holbrook Unified School District
Janice Mak Board Member, AZ State Board of Education
Chad Gestson Superintendent, Phoenix Union High School District
Glenn Wike Arizona Community Foundation
Jacqui Clay Cochise County Superintendent
Michelle Burke Software and App Design, Lake Havasu High School

 

Posted in Press Releases |
Published: June 2nd, 2020

Superintendent Hoffman: Black Lives Matter

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman released the following statement regarding #BlackLivesMatter and the demonstrations that have been taking place across the country over the last week.

“Like so many Americans, I have spent the last few days watching anger, pain, and frustration manifest through demonstrations in cities across our country. These demonstrations are a direct result of continued injustices that threaten and silence the livelihoods of people who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in our communities.

“Educators are often the first to see how these injustices and racist systems impact the lives of our students. In 2020, I recognize that the impact of COVID-19, coupled with police violence, has inflicted increased trauma and harm on BIPOC communities. It is critical that local and school leaders address the social-emotional needs of their students, staff, and families. I encourage schools to use and implement the social-emotional learning resources found in our Reopening Guidance and Considerations to support a healthy and safe return to our classrooms.

“Furthermore, I encourage all of us – but especially those of us in positions of power – to advocate for and enact trauma-informed policies and practices that uplift and protect BIPOC communities.

“Finally, I want to reflect on the most recent victims of this crisis: #GeorgeFloyd, #BreonnaTaylor, and #DionJohnson. Their loss is felt foremost by their families and loved ones– and their presence in our communities cannot be replaced. “

#BlackLivesMatter

Posted in Press Releases |
Published: May 14th, 2020

Complete the 2020 Census Today!

Has your family filled out the 2020 Census?

An accurate Census count is critical to Arizona’s families and school communities. Census data helps the federal government understand how much money our state should receive for school meals, technology, healthcare, and more! Amid COVID-19, this is more important than ever.

You can complete the Census online, by mail, or by phone! Learn more from our Student Advisory Council.

 

Posted in Press Releases |
Published: May 6th, 2020

Superintendent Hoffman Celebrates National School Nurse Day

PHOENIX– Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman today highlighted National School Nurse Day. National Nurses Week runs May 6 through May 12, to commemorate the birthday of Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing. This day of appreciation honors the hard work school nurses do every day, especially during this current period of school closures. School nurses are conducting outreach to families, participating in adjustments to student’s individual education plans (IEPs) and working with school meal staff to ensure that meal distribution is done in a healthy and safe manner.

“School nurses are a vital part of our school communities. Their dedication to the health, safety and social-emotional well-being of every student is something I am thankful for every day,” said Superintendent Hoffman. “Arizona’s school nurses have stepped up in incredible ways to continue serving their schools during this difficult time.”

The School Nurse Organization of Arizona is a leading voice on the Superintendent’s newly announced task force to discuss reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

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Posted in Press Releases |
Published: May 6th, 2020

Superintendent Hoffman Convenes Task Force to Plan for the 2020-2021 School Year

PHOENIX – On Friday, May 1st, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman convened the first meeting of a diverse set of stakeholders to discuss the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 academic year. This task force will work together to develop guidelines for how schools can safely resume operations in the coming months.

“While it is impossible to predict the future of this virus and what our public health situation may look like in July or August, teachers and schools must have a roadmap in order to safely plan for different contingencies,” said Superintendent Hoffman. “This group is committed to supporting students, educators, families, and school leaders as we navigate the on-going COVID-19 situation together.”

The task force is working closely with the Arizona State Board of Education, the Arizona Department of Health Services, and the Governor’s office. It is comprised of educators, principals, school nurses, superintendents, charter organization leaders, and education stakeholder groups, along with input from parents.

The group will first develop guidance and identify which essential supports will be needed for the 2020-2021 school year, with its initial guidance to be completed by the end of this month. The group will also focus on recovery planning, tracking schools’ on-going needs, and strengthening infrastructure for distance learning – with a focus on the equitable allocation of technological resources.

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Posted in Press Releases |
Published: March 12th, 2020

Arizona Department of Education: Pandemic Preparedness

 

 

 

 

 

To support district and charter leadership during this COVID-19 pandemic, the Arizona Department of Education has issued updated guidance regarding pandemic preparedness.

Please visit the Center for Disease Control & Prevention and Arizona Department of Health Services website for more guidance around keeping students and educators healthy in school settings. This document provides guidance around:

  • Emergency Operations Plans
  • Authority and Decision for School Closure
  • Prevention and Mitigation Strategies
  • Continuity of Operations (COOP) Planning
  • Continuity of Education Instruction
  • Funding Considerations & Make-Up Days
  • Continuity of Social Services
  • Continuity of Nutrition Services
  • School Reopening
  • Use of Facilities and Staff by Public Health Authorities

 

Posted in Press Releases |
Published: March 10th, 2020

COVID-19: Guidance and Suggestions

This page contains guidance and resources for Arizona’s public district and charter schools as they navigate COVID-19 response. The situation around COVID-19 is rapidly changing, so please continue to check this page for updates and guidance. This page was last updated on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, at 1:17 PM.

On June 29, 2020, Governor Ducey issued an Executive Order delaying the start of in-person instruction in school facilities until August 17, 2020. Schools can offer distance learning during this time, based on their regular academic calendars. The Arizona Department of Education will provide updated guidance to our districts and charter schools in the coming days and weeks.


If you need support from the Arizona Department of Education, please contact our Constituent Services team at [email protected] or 602-542-7378.

Please visit arizonatogether.org for more resources for navigating COVID-19 for families, individuals, businesses, and more.

Roadmap for Reopening Schools and CARES Act


Arizona Department of Education


Resources for School Leaders


Resources for Educators


Resources for Families


Recursos Para Familias


Resources for Students

 

Posted in Press Releases |
Published: February 11th, 2020

Superintendent Hoffman Delivers First Annual State of Special Education Speech

Chairwoman Allen, Vice-Chairman Boyer, members of the committee:

Thank you for having me and for the opportunity to deliver the first annual State of Special Education today. Last week, I spoke to the House Education Committee about the need for a comprehensive plan for our public education system.

But one specific area of this system deserves our immediate and intense focus — special education.

There are currently 150,000 Arizona students in special education whose needs range in severity and in the kinds of supports they need for success.

Whether a student faces mobility issues or speech challenges, emotional needs or learning obstacles – that student deserves access to quality professionals with the expertise and resources to support their individual needs.

As a speech therapist in our public schools, I worked with a team of educators to ensure that all students have access to a quality education and saw many students overcome extraordinary challenges.

For example, early in my career, I worked with one of my favorite students who I refer to as Mason, who had brain damage from severe seizures. His mother shared with me that Mason relied on using 5 picture cards to communicate at home.

Through intensive speech therapy, I taught him to use an iPad to communicate and significantly expanded his vocabulary. By the end of the year, for the first time, he was able to say “I love you” to his mom.

The skills taught in our special education programs extend far beyond the classroom – into homes, playgrounds, birthday parties, and eventually, into the workplace.

But in my conversations with school leaders, I have heard countless times that our underfunded special education system leaves many schools with difficult choices on where to make cuts in order to provide services – choices they should not have to make.

A 2007 cost study revealed a $100 million-dollar gap between what schools were receiving for special education and what they were spending. Today, any principal or special education director will tell you that gap is even greater.

I am encouraged to see bipartisan support for increasing funding for special education – and I again want to thank this committee for passing Senator Allen’s bill, SB1060 which takes an important step toward filling that gap.

But I think we can all agree that this is just a first step – with special education historically underfunded at the federal level, state resources are even more critical.

I’ve heard from so many people – parents and educators alike – who are frustrated by years of cuts that have resulted in an under-resourced system that is stretched thin.

As a result, our state is facing a severe shortage of certified and licensed professionals in all areas of Special Education.

Even though there are 16,000 certified Special Education teachers in Arizona right now, less than half are currently reported as teaching in our schools.

Shortages in these teachers, Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and School Psychologists are at crisis levels.

None of these positions were included in the 20×2020 raises – and many of these professionals are paid higher wages in other industries, like healthcare or in private practice.

Contributing to the shortage is the fact that special education teachers face higher rates of burnout as they balance teaching among high caseloads, mandatory paperwork, limited resources and high turnover of support staff.

Given this reality, it’s critical to provide comprehensive supports for special education teachers — especially during their first years in the classroom. This is why the Arizona Department of Education’s Exceptional Student Services team developed an exciting new program called Teach Camp.

Teach Camp was designed in partnership with the Arizona Council for Exceptional Children to improve the retention of new special education teachers. It offers an extensive, year-long system of supports, including ongoing professional development and connection to a network of peers. Last year’s Teach Camp assisted 140 educators – and is fast becoming a national model.

Our specialists at ADE have found innovative ways to support teachers. To build on that success, I’m grateful for your partnership with ADE in all the ways we serve the field.

Last year, with Senator Boyer’s leadership on SB1318, ADE created a Dyslexia Specialist position for the first time in Arizona’s history. We are thrilled that Michelle Hodges – a middle school interventionist and developmental preschool teacher – is now working with teams across ADE to ensure all of Arizona’s students receive effective reading instruction, and that schools know best practices for identifying students with dyslexic characteristics.

I want to thank Senator Boyer for sponsoring SB1491, which you are hearing today, and which includes funding for Michelle’s position as well as two more full-time employees who will provide trainings to K-3 educators across the state. I urge this committee to support this bill and allow ADE to build a team that, together, will help our schools meet the needs of struggling readers, especially those with dyslexia.

Another part of Michelle’s new role is supporting our Early Childhood team in educating preschool providers on how to identify language processing challenges.

Preschool is often the first time a student can be evaluated by a professional who can develop a plan that meets their unique needs and abilities. Increasing access to preschool means earlier diagnoses, greater prevention, and reduced gaps in intervention. Preschool is also one of the strongest predictors of academic success.

Programs like First Things First and Head Start have laid the groundwork for families to access early childhood services, but without dedicated state funding, too many families, in rural and urban areas alike, lack any access to preschool – a problem exacerbated by our state’s recent loss of $20 million in federal Preschool Development Grants.

I wholeheartedly support – and urge your support of — the bipartisan bill HB2806 which would help restore this funding. It is critical that our preschool programs serving families across the state have the resources they need to keep their doors open.

The success of our students with special needs indicates the success of the entire public education system and the success of our state. Across Arizona, we’re seeing Districts build more inclusive school communities.

For more than 17 years, this has been the case in Mrs. Jana Martin’s class at Miles’ Exploratory Learning Center in Tucson Unified – where 13 third through fifth-grade students who are deaf or hard of hearing are taught alongside their peers.

The school’s seven co-enrolled classrooms are led by one certified Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teacher and one general education teacher and supported by licensed speech therapists and classroom aides.

Like all dual-language programs, receiving instruction in both American Sign Language and English enriches the learning of all of the students in Mrs. Martin’s class and builds important bridges that ensure no child feels as though they are learning differently.

In today’s public education system, every child should feel that they are valued. And I know what our students are capable of when we give them the tools to succeed.

But it will take investment — in special education educator pay; in high-quality pre-school; in the services that students need, to make this a reality.

We can do this fairly. And we can do this now.

So, I ask you, our state leaders, to invest comprehensively in our public education system, in our students receiving special education services, and in the coming generations of Arizonans that will define the future of our great state.

Posted in News, Press Releases |
Published: February 4th, 2020

Supt. Hoffman Delivers 2020 “State of Education” Address

The below text is of the full speech that Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman delivered to the Arizona House of Representatives on February 3, 2020.

Chairwoman Udall, Vice-Chairman Fillmore, members of the committee:

I am honored to be here today and to share with you the State of Education in Arizona.

Our schools are communities of students, families, and an entire workforce of professionals who support and guide students throughout the day.

Ask any educator and they will tell you: I don’t do this job alone.

There is the bus driver and the crossing guard who make sure our kids get to school safely and on time. The classroom aide who walks students into class and gives a little extra care to the kids who need it to start the day strong.

There is the sign language interpreter who makes sure every student has access to learning – and the school counselor who helps address the trauma too many kids carry with them into the classroom.

There is, of course, the classroom teacher, whose expertise lays the foundation for students’ academic success.

And there is the principal whose leadership sets the culture of support and excellence for their entire staff.

All of these professionals are supported by the families that make up our education communities.

When I visit schools, I see this firsthand. In nearly one hundred school visits across each of Arizona’s 15 counties, I have seen how collaboration and passion for student success – at all levels of a school community – create transformative learning environments for students and teachers.

Importantly - I want to thank our educators for their talent, expertise, and commitment – all of which directly ties to the success of our students and schools.

Every day, Arizona teachers and students make incredible achievements in the classroom. We see these achievements in Lynette Stant, the first-ever Native American to be recognized as Arizona’s Teacher of the Year.

We see them in Victor Anaya, a student at Douglas High School who is already an advocate for healthcare access in rural communities and dreams of becoming an FDA Medical Officer.

We see them in Ashton Redd, a senior at Casa Grande High School who is passionate about water conservation and is already a leader in Arizona’s agribusiness industry.

I want to take a moment to recognize the accomplishments of both students, and thank Ashton Redd for being here today. In March, they will fly to Washington, D.C. to represent Arizona in this year’s U.S. Senate Youth Program.

It is the achievements of Victor and Ashton and students across our state that give me relentless optimism for Arizona’s future.

But when we look statewide, we also see that our schools are facing serious challenges.

With one out of every four teaching positions unfilled or filled with an underqualified candidate, our education system is in a state of emergency.

A few months ago, I was at a Chandler Chamber of Commerce meeting, when a business leader raised the issue of student literacy. I agreed that literacy is critical to our students’ academic success, and he asked what could be done to improve reading and writing skills across the state.

As an educator, and as State Superintendent, I have seen the root causes of the disparities found in literacy and student outcomes. And I wanted to frame the urgency of this challenge in parameters relevant to him and the other business leaders in the room.

So, I posed this question: if one out of every four positions in your company were unfilled, or filled by an employee who was not properly trained, what results would you expect? As a CEO, what steps would you take to keep your talented staff and to attract new, highly qualified employees?

This is the key issue Arizona public education is facing today. If every classroom does not have access to a highly-qualified teacher, we cannot expect every Arizona student to succeed.

Like our local business partners, the Arizona Department of Education is tasked with developing a plan that cultivates the long-term health of the system. And we cannot address student achievement unless we address the state of the workforce that serves them.

With nearly 2,000 unfilled teaching positions, it is imperative that we act quickly and develop a long-term plan.

The truth is, there are already thousands of qualified, passionate teachers in our state who could fill these positions. But years of cuts to education funding have built a system where inequities thrive – be it teacher pay, student resources, or community supports.

Arizona’s education workforce challenges are an issue of economic security.

ADE has already started the hard work of addressing these challenges by collaborating with districts, state agencies, universities, colleges, and community organizations.

Today, I ask for your continued partnership to make this a state priority so that - together - we can take a comprehensive approach.

When I took office a year ago, I realized that addressing these inequities needed to be our top priority. So, we established a team solely focused on educator recruitment and retention, and they have hit the ground running.

This team of specialists is dedicated to ensuring every school has access to tools and strategies that help them grow and retain educators. That includes collaborating with districts that have already begun to find solutions.

Take Vail Schools, for example, the first district in the state to offer its own certification program that trains aspiring educators within their community. Vail’s training and certification process builds a flow of new teachers and allows experienced educators to mentor the up-and-coming workforce.

That’s how Mr. Adam Nieto, a science teacher at Rincon Vista Middle School, found his way to the classroom. A product of Vail schools himself, he was working as a substitute teacher at Rincon when the principal – Ms. Cristela Cardenas recognized that she’d taught him in the first grade.

Ms. Cardenas saw his potential and passion and advocated for him to pursue Vail’s alternative certification program. Mr. Nieto has been teaching through the program for two years and hopes some of his students aspire to return to the community as educators just as he did.

I asked Mr. Nieto to join us today to celebrate his commitment to his community and to public education.

These types of Grow Your Own programs could be particularly helpful in districts that rely on long-term subs and teachers with emergency certificates, or in rural areas where it’s harder to access teacher pipelines.

They make educators out of paraprofessionals, moms, dads, neighbors, or any community member who is already committed to the success of their local schools by allowing experienced educators to share their knowledge and expertise.

Looking ahead to the professionals that we aim to recruit in the next decade, our work starts with inspiring the next generation to consider a teaching career. To do so, we must demonstrate through our words and actions that Arizona values teachers.

Educators are problem solvers, collaborators, and leaders in and out of the classroom. “Grow Your Own” is most effective when we all take responsibility to champion the profession and provide early opportunities for aspiring educators.

At Lake Havasu High School, Representative Biasiucci and I had the privilege of touring the Early Childhood Career and Technical Education program, led by Mrs. Cathy Bagby.

Mrs. Bagby, who is here today, runs the community’s only Quality First pre-k, where high school students work directly with children and gain invaluable hands-on experience.

Their high schoolers learn how rewarding it is to be an educator while learning how to provide quality instruction.

Lake Havasu is just one example of many CTE programs in our high schools across the state. Imagine if every high school offered a CTE Educator Preparation pathway!

Initiatives like the ones in Vail and Lake Havasu are essential to building our teacher pipelines. Our Educator Recruitment & Retention team will continue to work with districts and other key partners to see how we can scale these models and serve more of our state.

But our agency also needs the partnership of all of you, our lawmakers, to implement policies that allow teachers to follow best-practices and effectively lead their classrooms.

This starts with repealing the “English-Only” law.

For too long, educators have been handcuffed to a policy that inhibits English language learning for our multilingual students. Research shows this harmful policy drives the disproportionate outcomes we see among these students - particularly within high school graduation rates.

Last week, you passed HCR 2001 out of this committee - let’s keep this bill moving and send the “English-Only” law back to the voters to repeal it once and for all. By taking this step, Arizona teachers will be further empowered to lead all of their students to success.

We cannot talk about language and literacy without talking about quality early childhood education.

Anyone who’s worked in our classrooms will tell you that access to early childhood education is one of the absolute strongest predictors of students’ academic success.

And any economist will tell you about the Return on Investment on quality pre-K – an estimated four to nine dollars in return for every dollar invested.

On the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, the ‘Hman ‘shawa Early Childhood Development Center serves the community’s youngest members, from birth through age five. This tribally funded center serves 60 PreK and kindergarten students who receive high-quality instruction in both English and their native Yavapai language.

Every community should have a quality pre-k program like this that meets local needs and supports young families.

Programs like First Things First and Head Start have laid the groundwork, but without dedicated state funding, too many families, in rural and urban areas alike, lack any access to pre-k – let alone high-quality or affordable.

This problem is exacerbated by our state’s recent loss of $20 million in federal funding for preschool.

I’ve seen the impact of this firsthand in Prescott, where the waitlist for the Family Enrichment Center’s preschool is pushing 56.

I’ve seen it in Naco, a community on the border where there is no preschool at all.

It is numbers like these that explain why, despite a strong economy, Arizona has been ranked one of the ten worst states to raise a family.

Kindergarten faces a similar story. Because Arizona does not fund full-day kindergarten, the districts that offer it, often pull the money from other pots – moving funds from critical resources to provide another.

An hour east from Downtown Phoenix, the Superior Unified School District has prioritized offering free pre-k and full-day kindergarten because they know just how critical early childhood education is to the foundation of academic success.

But providing this service to their community and students comes at a cost. They can’t afford to offer programs like arts and music – and two years ago, they cut their certified Physical Education teacher.

To help students reach their full potential, our state must dedicate comprehensive funding that ensures every family – regardless of their location and income – have access to high-quality pre-k and kindergarten.

If early education lays the foundation for all later learning, our students’ physical and emotional wellbeing is the framework that ensures they’re ready to learn.

For too long, the work of a counselor and social worker have fallen on the shoulders of teachers as the state cut funding and inhibited schools from providing these vital services.

However, thanks to the expansion of the school safety grant last year, we were able to provide 383 schools with funding for new school safety positions including, for the first time, school counselors and social workers.

The expansion of the program has allowed our schools to hire highly qualified professionals who will work alongside our classroom educators to deliver the support and resources students need – especially when we are seeing alarming rates of mental health challenges.

One of those counselors is Katie Calvin who starts next week at the Eisenhower Center for Innovation in Mesa Public Schools and who has joined us here today.

We know how essential Katie’s work will be. In the east valley community where she will work, 35 young people have died by suicide in the past two years.

This is why schools should not have to compete for school safety positions – we must keep going.

I applaud Governor Ducey’s current proposal to fund all of the first-choice positions that nearly 900 schools requested last year.

And I wholeheartedly support bipartisan efforts including bills sponsored by Senator Bowie and Representative Pawlik to expand the Teachers Academy to include counselors and allocate enough resources to lower our student to counselor ratio over the next several years.

More counselors in our schools means more time for teachers to teach – and it means healthier and safer students.

In the last year, ADE has worked to leverage all of the resources available in our state by partnering with other state agencies.

I am grateful for our partnerships with the Department of Economic Security, Arizona Department of Administration, AHCCCS, Department of Health Services, Treasurer’s Office, and the Governor’s Office so that we as a state can offer more of the services that our schools need.

But we still have a patchwork of solutions for a problem that demands a comprehensive approach.

The current funding system – which too often forces schools to rely on one-time grants and bonds and overrides – is driving vast inequities across our state.

Between two neighboring counties, we can see how this patchwork of funding reaches some communities but fails many others. Too often, it offers a short-term solution to whichever crisis must be addressed first.

Take a look at Mohave Valley in Mohave County, a beautiful community that borders California, Nevada, and Utah. They couldn’t keep up with regional salaries and were losing teachers to neighboring states. After losing too many teachers, the community passed an override that allowed the district to increase base pay to $47,000 dollars.

The result? They started the 2018-19 school year with every single position in their district filled. The budget override helped them fill one need – but several critical needs remain.

Lake Havasu, also in Mohave County, passed a bond and override in 2016.

They used the bond to make critical infrastructure repairs in leaking roofs, plumbing, and their defunct H-VAC system.

They used the override to cover teachers’ benefits, a key part of their recruitment strategy, which had previously been covered with their maintenance funds.

In comparison, an hour and a half south of Lake Havasu, in La Paz County, is Quartzite.

This rural community has struggled and failed to pass a bond and override for years.

Their primary concern is their school building – portables they’ve been using for more than twenty years. But another concern is that they can’t afford to hire another teacher.

As a result, they currently bus their kindergarten, first, and second grade students down the interstate to an elementary school 18 miles away.

Principal Raquel Burton, Quartzite Police Chief William Ponce, and School Board member Monica Timberlake gave me a tour of Quartzite Elementary in October to share these challenges and their school’s story.

They are doing their best to provide their students a safe and high-quality education – but the current funding system is holding them back from delivering what they know their students need.

I cannot mention these inequities without mentioning their impact on our educator workforce.

Funding disparities drive our workforce gaps and result in unequal access to educational opportunities for our students—and they still exist despite the incremental wage increases from the 20x2020 plan.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have been offered a job as a speech therapist when I visit a school. In Greenlee County, a principal even asked if I might be willing to evaluate a student’s speech skills during a school tour.

Senator Allen’s special education funding bill, SB1060, takes an important step in filling the gaps that drives disparities in the achievements of our students with special needs and the workforce of educators that serve them – and I urge all of you to support this legislation.

These are encouraging first steps, but as a state, we need a bigger plan.

We need a plan that levels the playing field within our state, includes all of our educators, and allows Arizona to compete regionally.

In 2020, Arizona remains 49th in the country for teacher pay – and we run the risk of falling even further behind.

Last year, Utah signaled that they plan to increase their base teacher pay to $60,000 after a comprehensive cost analysis clearly demonstrated that their educator salaries were too low to keep their teachers in the classroom.

Just as Utah teachers deserve a living wage, so do our teachers in Arizona. If not, I fear we will continue to lose highly qualified educators to other states and industries that place a higher value on their leadership skills.

Together, we can overcome these challenges. Visit any school in our state, and their resilience and determination will show you what this system can achieve.

I believe Arizona’s future is bright. And I believe it starts in our schools.

For our state to excel in excellence, we must have a fair, equitable, and regionally competitive education system that prepares every student for success.

We can do this fairly – so that every school leader knows that their community matters and their needs will be met.

The structures exist.

We are building the pipelines.

And our state has the resources to do what is needed.

So, it’s up to all of you, our state leaders, to choose to invest comprehensively in the system, and in the coming generations of Arizonans that will create and define the future of our great state.

Thank you.

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