Arizona has not had much luck with education funding recently. In November, the sales tax that provided funding for education was not renewed and the sequester now threatens more cuts for the state education system, with estimated cuts to the state’s federal education funding of 5 percent.
However, with a national ranking of 44th in education according to the 16th edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts annual report, the state is not using funding as an excuse to accept the status quo!
Last week, the Arizona House passed a bill that would increase funding for districts, charter networks and individual schools that expand the school year by 20 days. The current statute allows only districts to apply for the funding so this bill is both increasing funding and enabling more schools to become eligible. The original legislation proposed enabling funding for all individual schools who want to move forward with expanding their school year; however, an amendment by Rep. John Kavanagh (R) would prioritize schools labeled as “D” or “F”.
Given Arizona’s tight budget, the amendment makes fiscal sense while also ensuring that the students who need the additional time most have that opportunity. From our experience, allowing ‘ under-performing’ schools to expand their learning time, while also undertaking other reforms, can lead to powerful results. This weekend, CBS Evening News highlighted an ELT school in Massachusetts, the Matthew J. Kuss Middle School. The piece features interviews with teachers and Fall River Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown, a TSC Signatory. In 2004, the Kuss was the first school in Massachusetts to be deemed “chronically under-performing ” In 2006, the school was one of the first ten pioneering schools to participate in Massachusetts’ statewide Expanded Learning Time Initiative, and it has emerged as a model turnaround school. With a school day that is 90 minutes longer compared to the national average, Kuss students receive 300 hours of additional learning time a year. With the extra time, the school doubles core subjects without having to sacrifice a well-rounded education. And the expanded school schedule is working. You can find out more and watch the CBS story here.
While I would love to see every student in every high-poverty community receive the benefits of expanded learning time, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade! And that is what we are seeing in Arizona. With the funding cuts, they are shifting their expectations, but still providing more opportunities for their students in some of the highest-needs schools.