COUNTY — When the Arizona Department of Education and state superintendent Kathy Hoffman released their guidelines for reopening schools in the fall, Cochise County superintendent Jacqui Clay and other district leaders were initially happy with the flexibility they provided.

The happiness quickly turned to concern as local superintendents learned while they have flexibility on how to return to school, they didn’t receive that same flexibility when it comes to funding.

Arizona schools receive their funding based on in-person attendance for the first 100 days of the school year. The only exception to that are schools who have their Arizona Online Instruction, also referred to as AOI, certification. This certification allows students to complete most of their school work online, rather than in person, while counting towards the school’s attendance for funding.

Clay said none of the schools in the county have this certification and it is too late to become certified by the start of the school year because of the rigorous process.

“We didn’t really need it,” she said. “We’re asking for the AOI certification process to be waived.”

House Bill 20910 was enacted in March after the closures of schools for the remainder of the academic year to allow online learning, without the certification, as well as allow the use of district transportation to be used to service students in other ways like bringing meals and work to students.

Clay and county superintendents from across the state recently signed letters to Governor Doug Ducey asking for an executive order allowing schools to use online instruction without the certification, like they had when COVID-19 caused school buildings to close.

Multiple districts across the county expressed interest in having a hybrid option for the upcoming school year. According to a presentation from Hoffman, which was shared with the Herald/Review by Clay, AIO is “funded at 95% (full-time AOI) or 85% (part-time AOI) of the base support level that would be calculated for a school district or charter school that does not provide Arizona Online Instruction” for fiscal year 2020-2021.

That means Cochise County schools that would use any online instruction would receive less funding than returning to school buildings in August.

“If we don’t get the funding, social distancing will be hard,” Clay said. “When I look at it across the board I see (our local district leaders) need flexibility in funding. They have enough challenges…”

Sierra Vista Unified School District Superintendent Kelly Glass told the SVUSD governing board in May a hybrid model would result in them not receiving their full state funding, and in last week’s board meeting she said they don’t have enough staff in the high school or middle school to do a hybrid model.

Benson Unified School District Superintendent Micah Mortensen said in a video on the district’s Facebook page that as of Friday they were still planning to open school on July 23 and are planning two models: 1) traditional school with safety procedures in place 2) building an online program through the Benson Digital Learning Center.

“Just know if you choose (the online) option you’re still part of the Bobcat family and you’re going to get a ton of support,” he said in the video. “We don’t have all the details worked out quite yet. We will have that in the next few weeks to share with you…”

Tombstone Unified School District Superintendent Robert Devere announced that their June board meeting their plan is to open on Aug. 3.

In the meeting, Devere also noted that without the legislative action that Clay and district leaders requested in a letter to Ducey, the state’s current ADM (average daily membership) funding formula no longer allows schools to turn to remote education.

Schools will not receive ADM funds for hybrid education, which is when students come to school part time and work at home part time.

“At this time, schools will not receive ADM funding for remote or hybrid education, unless state legislators approve those options,” Devere said to the board. “If that happens, then the school district will take a look at them as possible considerations. Right now, everything is up in the air.”

The Herald/Review has calls and messages to Ducey and Hoffman’s offices but did not heard back as of 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

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