By Mary Jo Pitzl |Arizona Republic
The state Department of Education is sitting on millions of federal relief dollars that should help schools struggling with budget shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a key lawmaker said Monday, fueling the debate over school funding.
The request from state Rep. Michelle Udall, House Education Committee chairperson, comes as several school districts are signaling they have to lay off teachers in order to make their budgets balance for the coming year.
At the same time, lawmakers at the state Capitol are working on budget plans but are likely weeks away from providing any clear picture of how much funding Arizona’s public schools will have for next year.
Udall called on state Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman to release what Udall estimates is anywhere from $70 million to $85 million in discretionary federal funds to school districts hit hard by the demands of the pandemic.
Udall, R-Mesa, said the money still in Department of Education coffers should be sent to the schools that got the lowest levels of per-student financial support from the first two rounds of federal aid. The money might not cover every school, she indicated, but it can help those in the most dire conditions.
Hoffman’s office said it doesn’t intend to change course: