2021 Legislative Session Wrap Up

This post was originally published here.

After 171 days and the third longest session in Arizona history, the legislature wrapped up the 2021 regular session on June 30. This has certainly been a year like no other, filled with contentious debates and tight vote margins on top of being in the middle of a global pandemic. That plus the additional state and federal revenue available complicated conversations and budget negotiations. This has been a difficult year for all of these reasons and more. Despite this, let’s take a look at how P-20 education fared this year.

In a year where billions of dollars in additional state revenue was available, the state continued to make relatively small investments via the state budget. Significant investments could have been made to move the needle on student outcomes, yet they didn’t happen. It is important to acknowledge the investments that the Arizona budget does make in P-20 education, which you can see below. Normally, these would have been big wins, however, with so much excess revenue the lack of strategic and future oriented investments are a missed opportunity to make a real difference for Arizona’s students and our future economy.

Missed Opportunities

The House passed a bill that would have restored funding for the Preschool Development Grant starting with $7.5 million next year, but the bill failed to advance in the Senate or in the state budget. With billions of additional revenue available, an investment of $7.5 million seems more than reasonable to make. In fact, this amount could have been scaled to fully restore the $20 million that the program costs annually immediately. This would have been a boon not only to Arizona’s most in need 3 and 4 year olds, but also to Arizona’s employers. Federal COVID-19 relief dollars may pick this expense up in the interim, but the state will eventually need to step in to make meaningful investments in early education on its own.

Likewise, it was a win to establish the Arizona Promise Program that will provide scholarships to low-income students to go to one of our state universities. However, the resources were available to fund the program at a greater scale ($7.5 million was funded, original request was $50 million) and expand eligibility to community college students.

FY2022 Budget Wrap Up

In looking at the $12.8 billion FY22 budget, it includes a $1.9 billion tax cut that will begin with reductions in income taxes over the next two years, then will phase in a flat tax should specific revenue targets be achieved. The budget also included prohibitions on teaching controversial subjects, which if violated, schools and districts could be fined $5,000. The final budget removed the civics curriculum mandate and the massive Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion. However, the final budget did include a smaller expansion of the ESA program to students enrolled or living in the attendance boundary of a D or F-rated school and who qualify for free and reduced priced lunch. The budget also expands some uses of ESA funds.

Related to our priorities, below are a few highlights from the FY22 budget:

  • Arizona Promise Program, $7.5 million ($50 million requested)
  • Fourth year of Career and Technical Education, $5 million ($8-10 million needed)
  • Advanced Placement (AP) fees, $1.3 million ($2.8 million requested)
  • Universities, $92 million ongoing, $33.9 million in one-time funding ($165 million requested)
  • Pima and Maricopa community colleges, $13 million
  • Rural community colleges, $14 million ($21 million requested)
  • Early Literacy, $6.9 million ($6.9 million requested) (first paid by Federal COVID-19 relief funds for two years, then the state budget)

Also of note, the budget includes $50 million for special education, $5 million for extraordinary special education needs, $1 million for gifted education and $850,000 for a gifted assessment.

SUMMARY OF BILL ACTION

This year we supported key bills aligned with advancing the goals in the Arizona Education Progress Meter. We supported SCR 1044 which would provide in-state tuition for DACA and undocumented students. If passed by voters in 2022, this will provide greater access to a postsecondary education for 2,000 students a year. You’ll be hearing more about this measure, as it will be on the 2022 ballot for voters to consider.

We also supported SB 1572, which is on the Governor’s desk as we speak, which would help the state support early literacy by providing coaches to provide professional development to schools in need and to provide training and certification in the science of reading for Arizona certified teachers. We also supported the pause in A-F accountability for the 2020-2021 school year (HB 2402) and an appropriation of $92.7 million in federal child care dollars via SB 1462, which were both signed by the Governor.

We also continued to support the concept of eliminating Structured English Immersion (SCR 1020), which stopped mid-way through the legislative process, and a bill that would have expanded access to Advanced Placement courses and exams for more students (SB 1295). Part of the AP bill moved forward in the budget (to pay for exam fees), but the expansion of access to courses did not advance. Both of these things should be considered again in 2022.

We opposed the mass expansion of ESAs and while that battle was won, there did end up being some changes to ESA eligibility and use of funds in the budget, as described above. We also opposed SB 1783 which would make changes in the tax structure that will negate most of the impact of Prop 208, which was passed by voters in November. This bill passed and is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his action.

Also notably, this year the legislature passed a bill giving authority to community colleges to provide four-year degrees for the first time, should they meet certain workforce requirements and not compete with a public four year degree. We did not take a position on this bill, but its implementation is one to watch over the next few years as it has the ability to increase attainment rates in Arizona.

 For a full list of bills we were watching in 2021, click here.

 STRIVING FOR MORE

During this session we saw a number of wins. As we build on them, we should strive for more. We should advocate for bigger, bolder investments and policy changes that will move the needle further faster for our most in-need students. The notion of incrementalism has gotten us to where we are today – if we work together we can get beyond the idea of small changes towards the big ideas that will drive meaningful impact in the future.

 Other resources:
ASBA Budget Summary

 

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