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Some school districts say the grants promised by Gov. Doug Ducey brought in less than promised. (Photo: Tinnakorn Jorruang, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Grants promised by Gov. Doug Ducey meant to stabilize school budgets are coming in lower than expected for some districts and charter schools, possibly putting smaller school districts in a financial bind.

Arizona school districts last week started receiving $370 million in Enrollment Stability Grant allocations, which is funding from CARES Act money.

Ducey in June announced the grant program, which is meant to help schools make up budget losses tied to enrollment declines. The governor guaranteed that schools wouldn’t lose more than 2% of the funding amount they received last school year. 

But the amounts some schools received do not match the 2% guarantee. 

In the Bullhead City Unified School District, enrollment decline because of the pandemic has brought the budget down by 11%, according to a letter sent to Ducey by Superintendent Carolyn Stewart. The district’s grant only will make up about 6% of the lost budget, she wrote. 

“Arizona educators have stepped beyond over the past nine months,” she wrote. “Please step up to the commitment you made early in this crisis.”

A spokesperson for Ducey’s office, CJ Karamargin, wrote in a statement that the governor’s office came up with the $370 million figure over the summer based on expected enrollment trends. Since then, he wrote, “Enrollment in schools has been lower than expected, requiring more funds than what is available to replace the funding schools are not receiving.” 

Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, in a statement, wrote that schools planned on budget stability based on the the governor’s assurances. 

“Based on the allocations provided to schools last week, the state has not kept the promises made this summer,” she wrote. “I am ready to work with the Governor and education stakeholders, and the Legislature to ensure that we uphold our responsibility to Arizona’s schools.” 

Statewide, enrollment is down by an estimated 50,000 students, likely due to the pandemic. The loss of students represents a significant loss in budget, too, for some districts, because schools are funded on a per student basis.

It’s unclear where students have gone in lieu of Arizona public district and charter schools. Several thousand have moved to homeschool programs, but education leaders fear that the bulk of children missing are disengaged from school entirely.

FOR SUBSCRIBERS: 50,000 students are gone from public schools. Where did they go?

School leaders have said they’re further hurt by Arizona’s system of “current-year” funding, where they receive funding from the state based on the current school year enrollment. That system can make it difficult for schools to budget the year before, because they do not know whether they’ll lose students. 

Arizona voters passed Proposition 208 in November, which will send an estimated $827 million to schools for teacher salaries. However, that money will likely not hit paychecks until 2022. 

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Federal CARES Act money for schools 

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