State schools Superintendent Diane Douglas’s 2017 education plan includes the development of a school report card system to better inform parents when considering a campus for their children. Douglas is set to unveil her AZ Kids Can’t Wait Plan today following her “We Are Listening” tour that crossed the state after she took office in 2015.
Douglas has continued to meet with concerned parents and community leaders to talk education, said Charles Tack, Arizona Department of Education (ADE) director of communications.
“Kids can’t wait is really a living document,” Tack said. “The important thing to us was that we could stop with just the initial plan. The superintendent truly feels like it needs to be a continuous process, something that happens every year and evolves.”
With more than 12 stops under her belt this year, Douglas will kick off the final leg of her community meetings next week in southeastern Arizona.
“What we’ve heard so far this year is represented in the new proposals for the 2017 Kids Can’t Wait Plan, which also includes updates to proposals that are ongoing and what has already been accomplished,” Tack said.
“Obviously the schools receive additional funding through Prop 123,” Tack said. “People see this as a starting point, but there is still funding struggles. What we found when we went out to the rural areas is that it’s so much more than just trying to find good teachers. What we heard were concerns on just the basic funding needed to keep schools operational and running.”
The Arizona Education Finance Amendment – Proposition 123 – was on the May 17, 2016, ballot in Arizona as a constitutional amendment. It was approved by a margin of less than 2 percent.
The measure was designed to increase education funding by $3.5 billion over the course of 10 years by allocating money from the general fund and increasing annual distributions of the state land trust permanent funds to education.
Tack said the Education Department hopes to remove some of the hurdles for people considering teaching as a profession.
“We are optimistic to be able to remove some of the barriers that makes it harder for people to become teachers and makes it more attractive for people already in the profession to come here to teach,” Tack said. “We really need to make the process of becoming a teacher in Arizona less burdensome.”
As part of its 2017 plan, the ADE will develop a comprehensive school report card system to better serve parents when considering a school.
“When parents are looking for a school they might be able to find a school’s letter grade, but they may want to see other things, Tack said. “The problem with a letter grade is that when you see an A or a B, C or D letter grade it’s basically telling you how a school did on the standardized test and not a whole lot else. By making a report card that’s more robust we want to give them a real feel for what a school has to offer their child.”
A new school report card system could help answer what type of sports programs a school offers? Are there programs for gifted and special needs students? The new system may also include the number safety incidents, is there a school resource officer on campus and what schools offer Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses?
“These are questions right now the current report cards are not robust enough to answer,” Tack said. “We envision a system where a parent can put an app on their phone and easily see how the schools in their area are doing, and which one would be right for their children to attend. It’s about empowering school choice.”
“What we are looking to do is tell the Legislature and the governor what’s needed, then work with lawmakers on how to fund the initiatives that have been diagnosed as critical needs,” Tack said. “Prop 123 was certainly a start. It added money into education, but a lot of people don’t think it’s enough. We have to first make that case and then work with the Legislature on what’s feasible.”
Tack added that school local bonds and overrides should not be a primary funding source.
“This really wasn’t the intent for many of the formulas that simply have not funded education,” he said. “The formulas have essentially almost been eliminated in terms of funding going to schools. It comes down to making a decision on what do we want to prioritize and if we want to make education a priority?”
Zip Code Project
The state will expand its “Zip Code Project,” which provides a platform for local organizations to come together to support underserved or disconnected youths in certain zip codes. The project currently serves four zip codes — Chinle, Ajo, and two in Phoenix.
According to the ADE, the financial burden on taxpayers created by a disconnected youth – ages 16 to 24 – averages around $37,450 annually.
“Many children face challenges just getting to school in addition to having a quality school to attend. Left unaided, these children will often have no choice for their future but crime, welfare or other unacceptable outcomes. The Zip Code Project identifies these areas and focuses on bringing community resources together to help the children holistically,” Douglas wrote in her 2015 AZ Kids Can’t Wait Plan.
Arizona is leading the nation in the percentage of young people not working or attending school.
The Zip Code Project provides a platform for organizations to come together to best support underserved and disconnected youth, Tack said.
By working together with external partners, ADE can help provide the resources and services to decrease the number of youth not working or attending school, he added.
“It’s really about more than just success in getting kids back into school or into a work placement program,” Tack said. “It’s about supporting them as a whole student. It’s about helping them and supporting them as a person.”
ADE anticipated the Zip Code Project will serve every county within the next five years.