This week marks the beginning of the 2020 legislative session, and Arizona is NOT on track to meet key education goals. While our ultimate goal is for 100% of students to be reading on grade level and graduating from high school, public education groups and supporters created the Progress Meter to break down that ultimate goal into attainable milestones. However, as we first indicated this summer, we are not on track to meet the 2030 goals — and we are less than 10 years away.
While third-grade reading levels have increased by 6% since 2016, still only 46% of third graders were proficient in reading, and the goal is 72% by 2030. When it comes to high school graduation rates, we still have a long way to go. Currently, we are at 78% with a goal of 90% by 2030. When it comes to the teacher shortage, 24% of teacher vacancies across Arizona remain unfilled, and more than half of current vacancies are filled by teachers who do not meet state requirements.
With these facts lingering in our minds, we absolutely must avoid distraction and keep our sense of urgency to proactively address the reality Arizona’s students face. That’s why we are releasing our 2020 Legislative Agenda to highlight the work that must be done if we want to move the needle and make sure that our students are prepared for their best possible life.
Increase Education Funding
Making sure our students have the resources they need to be successful in the classroom is one of our top priorities. Our public schools deserve a source of long-term, predictable, accountable, and sustainable funding that will raise student achievement.
Last legislative session, our lawmakers made the decision to cut taxes instead of fully restoring funds which were cut during the Great Recession. This type of politics is why our schools remain underfunded, so we will continue to exclusively support common-sense school finance policies — not campaign slogans or hollow promises. Public education funding shouldn’t be a political football. It should be viewed as an investment in the future of our state.
In this legislative session, we will work to ensure that additional measures for public education funding either pass at the legislature or are placed on the 2020 ballot through a legislative referral or citizen’s initiative. We believe that reversing the teacher shortage is critical, as is funding special education, career and technical education, and meeting the needs of our most vulnerable students.
Support High School Success
Arizona students need to graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary for life after high school. Research shows that a key indicator is how they fare as freshmen. Failing even one 9th grade class means a student is three times less likely to graduate from high school than students who pass all their freshman classes.
This legislative session, we will work to implement a grant program that incentivizes more students taking rigorous coursework and to encourage high schools to create a "ninth-grade success" program to improve graduation rates.
Having an academic acceleration program will remove the most significant barrier keeping underrepresented students from advanced and more rigorous coursework: an identification process. This program would automatically enroll ALL qualified students in advanced coursework. No sign-up required.
The “ninth-grade” success component of the grant means high schools will use the grant funding to fund early warning systems that monitor a student’s progress towards graduation. We know there are three key indicators, frequently called the ABCs, which determine a student’s ability to succeed: chronic absenteeism rates, behavior issues, and poor course performance. These three factors are essential in tracking and providing interventions to prioritize on-time high school graduation. In the end, we can make real, lasting, and meaningful change in the lives of high school students. However, we are only able to do this if we focus on what we know is working for kids across the country, and this model has been shown to work in other states, including in schools with high-poverty rates. We know that targeted funding geared at at-risk students is especially helpful, and we should work toward similar goals in Arizona.
Continue Modernizing our English Language Learner Practices
Last legislative session, we celebrated a historic piece of legislation that reformed a decades-old policy — but our work is far from done.
With this new ELL reform, the Arizona Department of Education reduced the time requirement and eliminated the 4-hour restrictive block. This spring, schools districts and charter schools will have to choose one of the new models for use in the 2020-2021 school year. We are currently working with districts to make sure that they have the support and resources they need to implement effective English language programs.
At the same time, there are still vestiges of the old law that are “voter protected.” This means that in order to change them, they have to be approved by voters at the ballot box. We support a legislative referral to the ballot, modernizing how Arizona approaches English language acquisition.
This session, our message is simple: The state budget surplus should prioritize education, not tax cuts; Additional revenue is needed to make Arizona a competitive state to attract and retain teachers; Targeted investments in special education, high school success, and supporting the state’s most vulnerable students are critical; and, the state’s outdated English language learner laws have one more hurdle to be completely modernized.
We are standing strong for our children, and we hope you will stand with us.