ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona Gov. Ducey wants schools open despite COVID-19 surge

Jan 4, 2022, 5:41 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday took what he called “preemptive action” to keep public school students in classrooms despite rising coronavirus hospitalizations as the more contagious omicron variant spreads.

The Republican governor on Tuesday announced a program to give private school vouchers if their children’s schools close or move to remote learning. He’s using federal coronavirus relief funds, despite warnings from the U.S. Treasury Department that two earlier school programs he created are not allowed under the American Rescue Plan Act.

Ducey is tapping $10 million in relief funds to give parents up to $7,000 a year to pay tuition and education costs. Applicants can earn up to 350% of the federal poverty level — $92,750 for a family of four.

No Arizona public schools have announced plans to close or return to remote learning, but the president of the state teachers union said Tuesday it may happen if enough staff are sidelined by illness.

“If we continue to see omicron spread like it’s been spreading then you eventually will be facing the same things that restaurants and movie theaters and small businesses everywhere are going to be facing,” Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said. “If you don’t have enough healthy employees, you have to make some kind of change. And so that may be what they’re trying to get out in front of.”

Thomas said he was in no way advocating for school shutdowns, just advising parents about the realities they may face. A tweet he sent on Monday that said schools might have to close drew the ire of Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon. Salmon accused Thomas of pushing for closures and said he would ban hybrid learning and promote expansion of the state’s private school voucher programs.

COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide have increased for the third straight day, with the state reporting 2,463 virus patients occupying inpatient beds as of Monday. Arizona’s hospital association said the health care system was stretched thin and urged people to get vaccinated and to consider options for care like telephone consultations.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday said hat there’s no reason to believe omicron is worse for children than previous variants and noted $130 billion in federal virus relief to keep schools safe and open.

The money is for testing, improved ventilation, distancing and other mitigation measures.

“And the states and the school districts have spent this money well — many of them. But, unfortunately, some haven’t,” Biden said. “So I encourage the states and school districts to use the funding that you still have to protect your children and keep the schools open.”

Ducey’s program is effective as of Jan. 3 and the governor’s website will have an application portal by later this week.

Ducey created a similar $10 million school voucher program for parents whose schools require masks or quarantines and touted it as a response to a hue and cry from parents. Despite over 2,500 applications, only 85 students are getting the vouchers and the state has paid out $595,000, Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin said Tuesday.

The governor in August also created a $163 million grant program only available to schools in high-income areas that do not have mask mandates.

Both programs run afoul of rules on spending federal virus relief money because they “undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” according to the Treasury Department. Ducey rejected the Treasury demands in November and did not halt the programs.

A Treasury spokesperson said Tuesday that the department is monitoring uses of coronavirus relief funds and “expects any government that uses them in violation of the eligible uses to repay the misused funds to the federal government.”

Karamargin said the new voucher program provides parents with options.

“The goal here is to give parents a lifeline in the eventuality that a school closes,” Karamargin said.

Thomas called for the governor and the Legislature, which starts its 2022 session on Monday, to return to the pandemic’s early days when schools could react to local conditions.

“They need to go back to their playbook when we started all of this, where they were giving districts flexibility,” Thomas said,

Arizona on Tuesday reported over 7,000 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases for the fourth time in five days and over 150 more virus deaths as the spike keeps hospitals crowded statewide. The state has reported over 1.4 million cases and more than 24,500 deaths during the pandemic, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

Monday saw 14,192 additional cases, the most on a single day since January 2020, which reflected both the surge and lower reporting the day before because of the New Year’s holiday.

“Like the rest of the country, Arizona is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant spreads,” the Department of Health Services said Tuesday on Twitter. The increased use of at-home tests means there are likely more cases.

In northwestern Arizona, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 for a resolution recognizing a public health crisis due to severe staffing shortages at hospitals in the county, a generally conservative area with low vaccination rates.

The declaration approved Monday reverses a December board vote rejecting a request by hospital officials to declare a state of emergency, Today’s News-Herald reported.

Kingman Regional Medical Center CEO Will McConnell said the board’s official recognition of the crisis will allow hospitals to make a stronger case for state and federal help with getting more nurses.

Lifetime Windows & Doors

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Coronado National Forest Photo)...
Kevin Stone

Forest officials warn visitors about shipping container wall at Arizona border

Officials are warning Coronado National Forest visitors about potential safety hazards related to shipping container border wall construction in southern Arizona.
14 hours ago
Shaqueila Hudson (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photo)...
KTAR.com

Woman accused of fatally stabbing boyfriend during argument in Phoenix

A woman was arrested for allegedly stabbing her boyfriend to death during an argument Tuesday in Phoenix, authorities said.
14 hours ago
(Photos via Buckeye Police Department)...
KTAR.com

Buckeye Police boost reward to $12,000 for tips in fatal hit-and-run of 16-year-old girl

Authorities have upped the reward for tips in the fatal hit-and-run of a 16-year-old girl more than two years ago in Buckeye.
14 hours ago
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)...
KTAR.com

Mesa police fatally shoot man who allegedly drove into patrol vehicle

Police shot and killed a man who allegedly drove into a patrol vehicle outside a Mesa convenience store early Wednesday.
14 hours ago
President Joe Biden speaks about manufacturing jobs and the economy at SK Siltron CSS, a computer c...
KTAR.com

President Joe Biden schedules visit to Phoenix for next week

President Joe Biden will visit a Phoenix microchip plant next week to tout his economic plan, the White House announced Wednesday.
14 hours ago
(Twitter File Photo/@PhoenixPolice)...
KTAR.com

Phoenix police fatally shoot robbery suspect after car chase

Police in Phoenix said they fatally shot an armed robbery suspect after a car chase late Tuesday night.
14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Arizona Gov. Ducey wants schools open despite COVID-19 surge