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Superintendent's News

Posted: February 2, 2024

We’re Halfway Through the Legislative Session

In his weekly message, Superintendent Scott Elder provides an overview of some of the education-related legislation that APS is monitoring.

Superintendent Scott Elder and members of the Superintendent Student Advisory Council at the Legislature.

Superintendent Scott Elder and members of the Superintendent Student Advisory Council at the Legislature.

Happy Friday!

You’re likely aware that the legislative session is in full swing. The Roundhouse can feel like it’s a world away, but the decisions our lawmakers and the governor make there are incredibly important and affect each and every one of us.

We’re just over the halfway mark of the 30-day session, which means lawmakers will be working long hours to get legislation to the governor’s desk by the deadline, which is noon on Feb. 15.

The main thing lawmakers tackle in a short session is the budget. Fortunately, the governor and many lawmakers are pushing for significant investments in public education, with raises for educators and quality instruction for students at the forefront of their agendas.

The $10.1 billion budget bill passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday includes a 6.1% increase in funding for public schools and 2% pay increases for school and state employees. State Representatives also want to allocate an additional pot of money for raises – averaging 2% -- but give agencies the leeway to distribute them to employees as they see fit. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it is likely to be amended.

We’re advocating for adequate funding to provide fair compensation for longevity and job experience. Like many other employers in this tight job market, APS has struggled to fill many positions. We know we have to offer more competitive wages to attract and keep qualified workers, from bus drivers to HVAC technicians to teachers. We’re also asking for funding to keep our compensation package, including medical and retirement benefits, attractive to newcomers and budget-friendly to our current staff.

Among the other big items we’re keeping an eye on is the governor’s request for legislation requiring 180 instructional days per year for public schools, which would affect our calendar for the 2024-2025 school year. Under current law, we’re able to count some of our professional development days toward the state-mandated time. If that’s no longer allowed, we’ll have to add more instructional days to the calendar, which would likely mean a slightly longer school year. We’re preparing for either scenario. It’s worth noting that the budget bill passed by the House has a provision prohibiting the state Public Education Department from using appropriated state funding to enforce any 180-day instructional school year rule. Of course, that could change, so stay tuned.

Lawmakers are also looking at revising high school graduation requirements, something they tried to do last year. House Bill 171 would maintain the current requirement of 24 units to earn a diploma but would increase unit requirements in core academic subject areas, require the development of graduate profiles, let school districts and charter schools set two of the required units for graduation, and allow additional courses in career technical education and work-based learning to count toward core academic requirements. The bill would go into effect for high school students beginning ninth grade in the 2025-2026 school year. Graduation requirements would not change for students currently in high school.

The Senate, meanwhile, signed off on a proposed constitutional amendment that would revamp the current public education oversight structure, effectively replacing the current appointed secretary with a state board of education. The state school board would determine public school and career technical education policy and have control over all public schools. The board would have 15 members, 10 elected and five appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate. They would serve staggered six-year terms. The proposed amendment now goes to the House for consideration and, if passed, would go to the voters.  

On a personal note, I had the honor last week of accompanying 14 members of my Superintendent Student Advisory Council to the Roundhouse last week. It’s a field trip we take almost every year to introduce students to the legislative process and give them the opportunity to interact with lawmakers and other state officials. Most importantly, it gives them an opportunity to speak directly to state officials about the issues that are important to them.

Our government affairs team did a great job of walking students through the legislative process and answering questions. I was also grateful to Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, the president of the Senate and an educator himself. He took time to meet with us and to talk to the students.

One of our students, Leonardo Estrada Fernandez, was even introduced on the Senate dais as honorary lieutenant governor.

That’s it for now. I hope you have a great weekend.