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AZALAS Welcomes New Board Members!

Biography for Marco Antonio Ruiz

Mr. Ruiz earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Bilingual Elementary Education from the University of Arizona in 1998 and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University in 2006. He is currently completing a doctoral program at Northern Arizona University in Educational Leadership. He spent nine years teaching in the Wilson Elementary School District, primarily in 4th through 6th grades. He served as a principal in the Isaac School District for six years, both at J.B. Sutton and Alta E. Butler Elementary schools. He is currently serving in his eighth year in the Fowler School District, as a principal at the Western Valley Schools (K-8th ), Curriculum Director and has been newly appointed as the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services. Mr. Ruiz has worked in full Title-1 districts, where he has created a systematic approach to school improvement in inner-city, largely Hispanic and low socioeconomic populations.

Yslas has been in education for 25 years and has a wealth of experience and knowledge to share.

Throughout his years in education he has held many positions, and is most proud of holding principalships at every level of the education spectrum including schools at the K-8 level; middle school level; a K-5 school; and most recently as the principal of Tempe High School.

In addition, he worked in the Coolidge School District as an assistant superintendent and acting superintendent. His extensive experience in both the elementary and high school levels will serve as a great resource as he leads Alhambra Elementary School District to meeting its educational goals.

Yslas grew up in the small copper mining town of Hayden, Arizona, and is the son of Peter and Lupe Yslas. He is the youngest of four children, and the only boy, all of whom hold college degrees. His wife Tracy Yslas is an educator in Mesa Public Schools, and he is the proud father of two boys – Marcos, who is 12 years old, and Mateo who is 25.

According to Yslas, “I was taught to believe in people, to be kind, and to serve. I love people, especially kids; and I believe in everyone. It is my personal mission to ensure everyone’s hopes and dreams become reality! Great organizations are built around the premise of servant, collaborative leadership, and I look forward to welcoming and embracing all of our stakeholders within the Alhambra family.”

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AZALAS Partners with AZ Schools Now!

At the January meeting, AZALAS accepted an invitation to be affiliated with AZ Schools Now. We strongly encourage our stakeholders to become active with their coalition’s activities. Please visit their website at http://azschoolsnow.org to take the Strong Schools Pledge! AZALAS has taken the pledge along with many other organizations!

AZALAS Legislative Positions

Letter from Arizona School District Superintendents

Good day,

The letter below has been sent to the Governor and State legislature leadership.

June 10, 2020

Open letter to the Governor, Arizona State Legislature, and Arizona citizens,

We wish to first thank all of you for your efforts to work together to deal with the pandemic impacts on Arizona’s schools, staff, communities, and especially our children and their need for a robust public education. There are many efforts underway, In addition to your offices, from the Arizona State Department of Health, the Arizona Department of Education, and other efforts to identify and publish tools to help guide our communities towards re-opening our schools in just a few short weeks. Even as we acknowledge these efforts we feel compelled to address four key issues that represent the  proverbial “elephants In the room” that we feel must be dealt with in the broadest possible sense when it comes to public policy going forward in the immediate time-frame.

First, the state funding formula is based on a world that does not exist today, post-pandemic. Student count in the current year funding format, given the massive absences that may at least initially prevail, does not just potentially disrupt the education process, it could completely derail it. Also, if districts offer a model where students can continue their education virtually, it makes it difficult to impossible to ‘record’ attendance.

We urge that the current year funding model be set aside In favor of utilizing previous year funding -or some other effective remedy -for at least the next two years. Absent this financial stability, budgeting is severely impacted and will result in student educational services, at least potentially being fatally compromised. Equally important, the current funding formula is not adaptive to distance learning instructional models for regular schools as all instruction must be done in a brick and mortar environment to claim ADM based upon instructional minutes provided. Even with an approved Arizona Online Instruction, those children receiving such instruction are not a part of their regular school.

As our schools suffer, so do our communities. Schools are the heart of many communities and often the largest employer in rural areas, which speaks loudly for the sustainability of education as a means to the survival and economic recovery of Arizona.

Second, standardized student assessment is not viable nor even remotely informative to parents or the community given the Impacts of the extended “summer slide” due to school closures. We see this more as a “Covid Cliff” than a slide. The learning and re-learning challenge our students face would have been daunting absent any continuing health epidemic exigencies. Now, it is of paramount importance to focus instead on student academic recovery and growth as our main focus.

We recommend that statewide assessments be suspended for at least the next two years as we go through this challenging Covid Virus pandemic recovery period.

Third, we very much appreciate your support and consideration that the health issues that have become an overwhelming challenge will not be addressed on day one of schools re-opening, but will be a continuing issue as we both operate and learn from the dynamic changes that this epidemic is causing to this day. This will require continued investment of both healthcare expertise, social/emotional learning,

Instate Tuition for any Arizona High School Graduate

The Arizona Board of Regents recently adopted a resolution giving DACA students a discount from out of state tuition rates. The new level is 50% over the in-state level. Arizona still prohibits any benefits to undocumented students.

AZALAS supports the offering of in-state tuition to any graduate of an Arizona high school. Arizona has high standards for graduation. This proposal is a recognition that while the number of undocumented students is unknown, these students complete high school and are ready for higher learning but meet a barrier with the out of state tuition mandate or even the recent lower rate for DACA students. There are many examples of students’ success in high school as indicated by stories of Valedictorian and Salutatorian honors received at graduation events around Arizona but leave Arizona accepting tuition waivers and scholarships to institution outside of Arizona. DACA students in higher ed are visible and performing well!

Arizona has high need for various work position requiring college degrees. The state is experiencing shortages of teachers and healthcare professionals! The state looses the opportunity to take advantage of these graduates by requiring such high levels of tuition. Why would Arizona refuse to provide this opportunity to students that have done the work and prepared themselves for higher level learning and economic contribution.

According to the Children’s Action Alliance KIDS COUNT Statewide Profile, 95% of children in Arizona are citizens which leaves relatively few that are not and would provide for little impact to state tuition revenues. In fact, reducing the impact of high tuition cost could actually increase participation thus eliminating any negative impact on revenue. We also know that undocumented students are mostly people of color which are already not represented proportionately in higher education attendance. It is also the right thing to do! Limiting access to higher education for students that work hard and do the right thing by preparing for a career just does not make sense.

AZALAS supports providing in-state tuition for any student that receives a high school diploma.

AZALAS Statement on School Funding

There is much talk about continuing the current funding in support of public schools in Arizona, While not adequate, it is at least admitting that it is needed. Not continuing 30 l funding would lead districts to further erode the needed curricular and extra curricular program that create a well rounded educated student and citizen! Any of the other options are better if school districts are given the discretion on using the funds where needed according to the districts. All agree that something has to be done to solve the funding problem. And, we do not want to wait for 2020 for only one shot at getting what is needed now! The sooner the better!

For too long, discussion of the funding for schools has taken place with but temporary solutions. We all know the facts about student access to learning with excellent teachers and proper support materials and comfortable classrooms. The reality of the recent efforts leaves us hopeful but skeptical that enough will be done to reverse the trend of the past 20 or so years. Several proposals have been voiced especially on the issue of renewal of Proposition 30 I. One proposal is to renew 30 l as is. Another is to add to the current level by .4 cents to a total of 1 cent. Yet another is to add enough to bring the total to 1.5 cents. Our estimate is that neither will bring public school funding to the level of 2008. Today, public schools operate short by over 1.2 billion dollars from the 2008 level which, by the way, still ranked Arizona at the bottom of school funding nationally.

There is a suggestion that maybe a 1 cent excise tax on electricity produced could replace as much as 1.2 billion. One third of electricity generated is exported and we benefit nothing! All but a handful of states already use this vehicle on exports. In Texas as an example, an excise tax on gas and oil contributes millions into their education trust.

The most ambitious proposal is to end all exemptions to sales tax which would bring in an estimated almost 5 billion in revenue to the general fund and provide the needed revenue to deal with schools and other infrastructure needs. Yet other recent suggestions include stop or postpone business tax cuts.

A law suit brought about by the public school community challenging the state on facility funding is a sad note that exemplifies what cutting these funds to schools does to the safety of facilities our children are in! We have been here before!!

The expansion of”opportunity grants” which would ”indirectly” give parents the option of talcing public money to use for private and parochial schools will be on the ballot in November. These “voucher” will drastically erode needed resources for the almost one million students still in the public schools. The Arizona Constitution directly prohibits the use of State funds for these purposes. AZALAS will support the challenge to this completely unwarranted action.

The real solution is to bring about an understanding and agreement on why appropriate spending for Arizona’s students is essential for the economy, socially and for simple benefit to the children of Arizona in the long run. Many people agree around these benefits already which is why we see these proposals.

AZALAS stands ready to support immediate solutions from our state leaders. If not forthcoming, AZALAS will work diligently with other public schools organizations in going to the voters of this state for the solution.

AZALAS Supports Opportunity Weights

On the topic of adding an opportunity weight in the state budget, we, the Arizona Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (AZALAS), wish to support an opportunity index for additional funding for economically disadvantaged students. We also recognize the need for continued desegregation funding for district specific court orders and agreements with the Office of Civil Rights
(OCR). We believe opportunity weight and desegregation funding should be kept as separate school funding sources.

AZALAS recognizes the growing number of students living in poverty and the opportunity gap economically disadvantaged students experience in relation to more affluent students. An opportunity weight would provide additional funding to address education factors that negatively impact student academic success.

In 1985, legislation was enacted to allow districts under federal court orders or OCR agreements to levy property taxes outside of their revenue control limit to address issues of inequities in educational opportunities for ethnically diverse students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students. Each of the 19 school districts participating uses desegregation funding to address district specific OCR findings.

We, AZALAS acknowledge opportunity weight and desegregation funding may overlap on the necessity for additional funding to address issues of poverty and its impact on student achievement outcomes. We also acknowledge desegregation funding for several districts provides services, supports and programming for English language learners not currently defined or addressed in opportunity weight calculations.

Kindergarten in Arizona

Kindergarten in the state of Arizona is voluntary. Arizona prides itself on being a school choice state. The state legislature has determined that children in Arizona do not need to attend kindergarten. Compulsory school age is six. However, the state funds and requires school districts to offer half-day kindergarten. State statute requires any student entering kindergarten to be age five by September 1st. The state has provided a framework of kindergarten standards. Students exiting kindergarten must have a mastery of various skills and concepts to promote first grade.

In 2006, Governor Janet Napolitano signed legislation to fund full-day kindergarten throughout Arizona. In 2010, Governor Jan Brewer cut full day kindergarten funding as part of a $218 million reduction in the state’s education budget. School districts were left helpless in continuing to fund full-day kindergarten. Some school districts had to move to half-day kindergarten programs due to the funding shortfall. Today, many school districts are providing full day kindergarten in their communities. They recognize the significant value kindergarten programs are to student and their educational successes. School districts have had to rely on other district funding such as budget overrides to provide full=day programs.

Why must school districts find funding within their tight budgets to support full-day kindergarten programs? How are school districts expected to prepare students to attain mastery of the kindergarten standards with a half-day program? In order to bring any form of positive change to these two questions; evidence is needed to persuade the state legislature. First, that kindergarten can no longer be optional. Second, that funding for full-day kindergarten is vital that students are provided with individual instruction to meet their needs and abilities.

As education, we need to emphasize the important role full-day kindergarten has in laying the foundation, which supports successful educational outcomes of our students.

Letter from Arizona Public School District Superintendents
In response to the Potential Elimination of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)

Arizona is home to approximately 200 school districts – all very unique. We vary in size, grade levels served, and demographics. We vary in mission and vision. We even vary in initiatives and programs. Despite our differences, however, we all share the same values: love, commitment, respect, community, prosperity for all.

We believe in our students. We believe in their limitless potential. We believe in their hopes, dreams, and aspirations, and we are committed to doing all we can to make them a reality.

We also believe in taking a stand on behalf of our students and their families during times of great need. We believe that this is one of those times.

Many of our students, staff, parents, and community members are DACA recipients or are DACA eligible. The DACA program, designed to help undocumented youth living in the United States, has been extremely successful by all measures. According to the largest ever national study done on DACA (Wong 2017), 69% of DACA recipients have increased their annual salarles, 16% have purchased new homes, 90% have received their first driver’s license, 65% have purchased their first car, and 5% have even started their own business. All of these measures have a direct impact on the success and health of our economy. Today in America, over 800,000 individuals are DACA recipients and are contributing billions of dollars to our economy. They are also filling much needed jobs in education, healthcare, technology, finance, and our military.

The elimination of DACA will not only have a dramatic economic impact to our respective counties, Arizona, and our country, it will also have a significant impact on our school communities. Many of our employees are DACA recipients – from teachers to technology specialists. We will have classrooms that need long-term substitutes, cafeterias that need cooks, sports teams that need coaches, and counseling centers that need counselors. With school systems that are already deprived of people and resources, this brings us great concern.

But to us, the undersigned public district superintendents, this is much more than an economic or educational issue. This is personal. We will have students, already living in poverty, who will see their household annual income decline drastically, if not completely. We will have high school seniors, college within reach, who will have to alter their post-secondary plans. We have alumni attending community colleges and universities who will be forced to drop out. We have high school and college graduates, currently working full-time throughout the state, who will become unemployed. Many of these individuals are the breadwinners of their families or, even worse, the sole income. The social, emotional, and financial toll this will take on our communities is far greater than the general public is aware.

Today, although we serve different districts, we stand together as one community. We stand together with our students, staff, and families. We ask that you, in whatever role you play and with whatever influence you may have, stand with us in opposing the repeal of DACA.

We are thankful to our sponsors!