Schools will have more flexibility and funding to reopen for the new academic year, but district and charter school advocates point to concerns and unresolved issues that remain.
Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order Wednesday that allows schools to adopt hybrid and distance learning models without losing state funding. He also announced $270 million in federal dollars will go to help schools reopen safely.
Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association, said the governor’s actions are “positive” and “appreciated,” but he’s concerned the state-required school days and instruction hours still remain.
“Of course, all districts and charters will strive to meet that, but we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future here,” he said, adding that the coronavirus may force schools to close again.
Kotterman said he’s also concerned that schools will need to remain physically open to all students, including those “who need a place to go during the day.” He said this becomes a problem for schools that are thinking about offering an on-site and at-home learning option or having students come to school on alternate days.
He said schools “are a public entity” and they want to provide a place for all students to come. But he said this requirement “makes it so that social distancing becomes a problem.”
Another concern Kotterman said wasn’t addressed by the governor is the additional transportation expenses some schools will face. He said schools may need to add extra bus routes so students can have enough room to practice social distancing.
With his executive order, Ducey also made it easier for schools to get personal protective equipment.
But Kotterman wondered if schools will have enough money to pay for that. He noted there are federal dollars available through the CARES Act and through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help schools cover those costs.
But he said he’s concerned the expenses for personal protective equipment are “sort of unknown at this point in the sense that we don’t know how long we’re going to have to use it.”
Kotterman added he’s also concerned about the availability of it given that schools are “competing with fire departments, police departments, hospitals, private sector businesses – you name it, everybody needs it.”
Jake Logan, president and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, said he also has funding concerns that weren’t addressed by the governor’s executive order. He said as the state budget faces a shortfall due to the coronavirus pandemic, he’s worried education funding will be cut.
“Funding is always something that’s really important for schools,” he said. “We want to make sure that our schools are funded to the best levels they can be given the circumstances.”
Logan added he hasn’t heard of any looming cuts to education funding “but that’s always a concern when you have a budget deficit situation.”
Many charter schools are still considering their options to reopen. Logan said safety for students and staff is top of mind for many charter school leaders as they finalize their plans.
“We’re going to have to continue to work with health officials, both at the state levels and the county level, on making sure that environments are as safe as possible,” he said.