Arizona Superintendent Of Public Instruction: State Of The State Address 'Disrespectful Towards Our Teachers'
LAUREN GILGER: Gov. [Doug] Ducey's statement on funding public schools has raised many eyebrows since his speech, and many education advocates, as Ben [Giles] mentioned, took those words as a threat: Return to in-person learning or lose funding. Joining us now to discuss this further is state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman. Good morning.
KATHY HOFFMAN: Good morning.
GILGER: So let's just start with your reaction to the governor's comments yesterday. You told the Arizona Republic they were a slap in the face.
HOFFMAN: Yes. Well, I think the overall tone of the State of the State was disrespectful towards our teachers. And I, as well as our schools and teachers, want more than anything to provide our students with in-person learning opportunities. But it's extremely difficult, if not impossible, when [COVID-19] is raging in our communities and Arizonans are dying by the thousands.
GILGER: The governor's chief of staff yesterday, and Gretchen there, who we heard earlier, clarified this and said the governor meant that they wouldn't be funding sort of enrollment drops, that they, they want the funding from public school — the public school — to follow the student. Are you satisfied with that clarification?
HOFFMAN: Absolutely not. So to get into the weeds just a little bit, our schools are facing budget shortfalls, which are caused by two things: enrollment declines and the fact that the governor's office is funding students who are learning from home at 95% of their typical amount. To fulfill our schools' budgets and to fulfill the promise that the governor made back in the summer, they need to fully fund our schools through the enrollment stabilization grant and to make sure that any student who is learning from home is funded at 100%. We currently have a budget surplus for the state as well as the $1 billion rainy day fund. So there is no excuse to not fully fund our schools, and our schools absolutely need reliable and sustained funding to make sure that they can pay for their operational expenses as well as salaries. It is not satisfactory to me that they would use that funding for what they're calling targeted supports — is, what that actually means is one-time funding, which is actually very difficult for our schools to spend and that's — we need operational funding.
GILGER: Can you tell us a little bit about the difference in cost in funding remote students versus in-person students in terms of like equipment, things like that? What are you hearing from superintendents?
HOFFMAN: I've heard from superintendents that on average it costs about a thousand dollars more to be providing their students — per student, a thousand dollars more per student, for them to be learning at home because of the cost of laptops, hotspots, paying for students' Wi-Fi at home, for the platforms, whether that's Google Classrooms or Zoom, paying for the training for their educators to use the technology. There's, that it is, there are numerous expenses for how to best educate students who are learning virtually.
GILGER: What would you have liked to hear from the governor yesterday in terms of his, his approach to education?
HOFFMAN: Well, first, I was also disappointed not to hear any specific policy initiatives; I was hoping to have more of a solution-focused approach. I am pleased to hear that there's going to be continued investment in broadband. I was surprised he didn't highlight the teachers academy, which has had great success, actually, and the recruitment of teachers for within our state universities. So I would have liked to hear more solutions and more of an investment commitment to fully fund our schools, especially for students who are learning in, in remote learning. Our federal funds that we're receiving through the CARES Act are really meant to be supplementing our school programs right now, but they have been used as Band-Aids. And then, and I'm just very disappointed to hear that the savings that's resulted from this is, is not being used strategically to fully fund our schools.
GILGER: All right. That's all we'll have time for this morning. That is state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman joining us. Kathy, thanks so much.
HOFFMAN: Thank you.