STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – State Representative Michelle Udall (R-25), chair of the House Education Committee, sent a letter today to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction seeking to understand why the Arizona Department of Education is not using nearly $85 million in available federal funds to help Arizona schools and teachers hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic:
Schools across our state are working on their budgets for the next school year. Many of them are facing budget shortfalls due to COVID-related expenses and declining enrollment. As you know, the Gilbert Unified School District is just the first of many that will be laying off teachers without help from the state.
The federal government has allotted almost $1.5 billion to help ensure schools have enough funding to keep them stable during the current crisis and moving forward for the next three years. Another $2 billion is included in the more recent American Recovery Program (ARP).
Unfortunately, as we see from the current events in Gilbert and other districts facing similar decisions in the coming weeks, this money has not been allotted where it is needed most.
Instead of allocating all of the available money to districts who need it, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) is for some reason holding onto nearly $85 million of discretionary money from the initial $1.5 billion allotment that should be put to use to help stabilize Arizona schools so that they don’t have to make premature reductions in staffing when many of those students may be returning in the coming school year.
In addition to withholding these millions from our schools, ADE is also spending more than $7 million of it to simply administer the funds (the maximum allowed).
As a mother with children attending public schools, as a state representative, and as the Chair of the House Education Committee, I am asking you to immediately use your discretionary funds to stabilize school districts who have received the lowest levels of per student support.
Moreover, I ask that you prioritize schools that have taken on the extra expenses involved with opening their doors for in-person teaching as soon as possible in order to best meet the needs of their students. These schools have incurred considerable added expenses to pay for more substitutes, extensive cleaning supplies, and to continue offering online instruction for students who choose to learn from home.
I can report that the legislature is currently working on a state budget that, I believe, will help alleviate the intense fiscal pressure some of these schools are facing. But that won’t happen until the budget process is finished. You currently have on hand millions in discretionary funds that could, and should, be made available immediately – discretionary funds that were given to the Arizona Department of Education for precisely this purpose.
I request that you immediately allocate those funds to Arizona schools, and prioritize districts who have received the lowest per student allotment of federal COVID relief funds and who have undergone the extensive expenses of remaining open through most of the current school year.
I would appreciate information on ADE’s plan for the funds and updates as the funds are distributed to Arizona’s schools.
State Representative, District 25