Gov. Doug Ducey delivered his annual State of the State address Monday, and of course COVID-19 was a major theme. He in part talked about its effect on education, which is on the minds of many.
Ducey said he does not favor funding “empty seats” or allowing schools to remain in “a perpetual state of closure.” School districts have had a huge challenge in dealing with the pandemic, and now the state’s infection rate is setting records. However, educators have been given priority and have been receiving vaccinations. While the pandemic overall will last months more at least, the governor is right that the state has no choice but to head back to normal as soon as possible.
Schools, including those in Pinal County, have provided online instruction through the wonders of modern technology. Some students have done better at it than others, and that is largely related to their environment, parental support and the technology they have available, although districts have provided much in that area. However, experts have agreed that remote learning overall is not as good.
Many schools have lost funding because students have left or been absent, either to go to other schools or they’re just not participating. Districts have saved on some costs such as utilities and also received federal funds to support them during the pandemic. That said, many schools are facing some tough realities because of the past year. However, Arizona has put a major emphasis on school choice, and the environment is competitive. The governor is correct that despite the pandemic, the means of overcoming it are at hand, and it is time to get students back in the classroom, at least soon. Ducey’s aides later clarified that he was not threatening the schools with sudden cuts.
Outside of education, the conflict of two points of view squeezing Ducey was apparent. Some cities with local government that has favored restrictions want the governor’s emergency declaration to end so they can impose more controls. Others favoring more freedom want the existing restrictions to be over. Despite taking criticism from both sides, Ducey has walked a fine line to carry the state through a difficult situation. States that have had hard lockdowns often have not fared much better with cases.
It seems too early to know much about the budget picture because the state of the economy is not clear yet. The Legislature may have to start with a basic budget and then revise it upward later if that’s possible.
— Donovan Kramer Jr.