February 21, 2013

Bill Would Allow Longer School Year

Poorly performing schools could opt in, get more funding

A bill that would allow poorly performing schools in Arizona to get extra funding if they add days to the school year passed the House Appropriations Committee.

The bill had earlier passed the House Education Committee, where it was amended to apply only to schools that have earned a D or an F in state evaluations.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he wanted to restrict the eligible schools because he said he worried that too many schools will opt-in to the program and it will cost the state more than it could afford. Restricting the option to just those schools that are in need of improvement limits the cost to the state, he said.

The bill passed the Appropriations Committee unanimously, but is not without concerns that could affect it when it goes to the full House for a vote.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, said she wants to know what happens to a school that takes advantage of this opportunity and improves.

“I really like it, but I do want to get clarification to what happens to those additional dollars once the schools move from D or F to A, B or C," she said.

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The bill's sponsor, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said he will try to solve that problem before the bill reaches a vote in the full House.

One Arizona school district is concerned about limiting the opportunity to schools that are already doing poorly.

“I don’t want to wait for my schools to get (a grade of) D or F to help the students. We want to start in advance of that," said Hal Borhauer, president of the Peoria Unified School District governing board.

Research shows adding school days to the academic year improves education, especially for underprivileged students, said Kelly McManus, with the education advocacy group Stand With Children.

And an Arizona school district can back up that research, said Chris Canelake, the assistant superintendent of the Balsz School District in Maricopa County. The district was the first in the state to extend its school year, Canelake said.

"Where once only 20 to 30 percent of students were meeting or exceeding on tests, now we have 60 to 80 percent meeting, demonstrating mastery," he said.

He said the achievement extends beyond test taking. The students are doing better overall since the school year was extended to 200 days in 2008.

"The number of students who are taking higher level math and language arts in the middle school has also increased substantially," Canelake said. "We've nearly closed the gap on the state average across the board in all subject areas, in all grade levels."

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