Arizona’s school boards and educators have risen to the challenge of providing an education to the students in their charge despite the enormous difficulties presented by COVID-19. School boards in particular have endured months of public tension over whether, how and when to resume in-person instruction. These decisions are gut-wrenching for board members and they play out with each new spike in COVID cases.
The implication by Gov. Ducey in his State of the State Address today that schools have not been open and are not educating children during this pandemic, and the implicit assumption of bad faith on the part of public schools it entails is frankly hurtful and disrespectful to the public servants who have been working to overcome the very real obstacles that exist to provide a quality education to all students even in the best of times.
Governor Ducey is correct to acknowledge that an achievement gap exists, and that it often falls “squarely on economic and racial lines.” He is correct that access to high-speed Internet compounds those difficulties. This was true before COVID, and educators do worry that it is getting worse. ASBA has made correcting these inequities a central tenet of its work and we are glad the governor recognizes its importance. ASBA welcomes any additional resources that the governor is proposing to help address them.
Arizona’s district public schools, even in the midst of the pandemic, educate the vast majority of Arizona’s students. District public schools are the core of the public education system. Without them, no other options are tenable. Discussions about funding district schools are not about “funding empty seats,” they are about preserving the system for the post-pandemic future. Time and again, the voters have proven that they value high quality public district schools. This crisis should not be used to undermine them by instituting policies they have soundly rejected at the ballot box.
The challenges of funding distance learning are an opportunity to engage in a sincere dialogue about how to fund students who may, even after the pandemic, benefit from a combination of in-person and distance learning.
Getting students back in school is a shared goal. However doing so will require strong leadership and coordination between branches of government. Schools are centers of community, meaning that what is in the community is carried into the school, and vice versa. Especially infectious disease. Even after school staff are vaccinated, partnership and close coordination between the state, counties and school districts will be required to make sure that we can maintain a safe environment for students and do our part to keep the community safe.