Gov. Ducey says Arizona school funding won’t go to ‘empty seats’

Jan 12, 2021, 9:15 AM

(AP Photo)...

(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — Schools that have lost students during the pandemic would see their funding cut under a proposal Gov. Doug Ducey outlined Monday in his annual State of the State address, a speech that hardened his longstanding resistance to school and business closures.

The Republican governor warned schools that he expects them to offer in-person instruction as teachers gain access to the coronavirus vaccine.

“We will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure,” Ducey said. “Children still need to learn, even in a pandemic.”

Ducey wants to fund public and charter schools based on their actual enrollment, not at prepandemic levels, said Getchen Conger, Ducey’s deputy chief of staff.

That could open up big holes in the budgets for schools, which statewide have seen enrollment decline by about 4%, according to the Department of Education.

Ducey’s comment were initially interpreted by many to mean he wanted to cut funding for remote learning.

The governor wants all children to have an option for in-person learning but he would not defund virtual education, Conger said.

Ducey has refused pressure from Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat, to pause in-person learning amid a rise in coronavirus infections that is crushing hospitals.

But Monday’s speech was the most aggressive he has delivered in pushing for schools to fully reopen their doors.

Hoffman said Ducey was ignoring the reality of COVID-19 and its effects on schools, teachers and students, saying schools had gone “above and beyond” to ensure learning continued during the pandemic. Ducey’s funding plans won’t sit well with them, she said.

“I think many educators will take that as a slap in the face, especially those who have been teaching from home since March under these very difficult circumstances,” she said.

In his seventh and shortest state-of-the-state address as governor, Ducey spoke directly to a camera from his office in the State Capitol.

The pandemic-era precaution came in place of the traditional pomp and circumstance of a speech that is normally delivered to a joint session of the Legislature, state Supreme Court justices, agency heads and foreign consuls.

Ducey called for more money to help children falling behind because they have been away from their classrooms, a problem he said has affected particularly low-income students and children of color. Resources could include funding for summer school, longer school days and one-on-one tutoring.

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Gov. Ducey says Arizona school funding won’t go to ‘empty seats’