In Arizona’s latest attempt to find any adult bodies to put in front of classrooms of 30-plus screaming children, the State Board of Education this week rolled back regulations on substitute teachers.
The new rules allow emergency subs (humans holding a GED or higher) to teach for two years and remove the ban on districts essentially using certified subs as permanent teachers.
School administrators pleaded for the stopgap solutions to pandemic strains, noting schools are still seeing massive COVID-related teacher absences and increasing full-on classroom vacancies as teachers catch the quitting bug.
Dysart Unified Superintendent Quinn Kellis, for example, told the board that his district had 200 teacher vacancies and 60 substitutes on Monday. (For all you kids with math teachers out sick right now, that’s 140 vacant classrooms in one district.)
“We have vacancies just on an interim basis, but also we have many who are just leaving their jobs for the rest of the year. And it’s not that they wouldn't have continued under normal circumstances, but these are not normal circumstances,” Kellis said.
But after a decade of weakening regulations on who is fit to lead a classroom, a few more tweaks to substitute teacher rules clearly isn’t going to solve Arizona’s teacher shortage crisis.
Gov. Doug Ducey shot back at the U.S. Department of Treasury with a preemptive-strike lawsuit after the feds again threatened to claw back federal anti-COVID-19 funds that Ducey has been holding over schools as a way to fight mask mandates and COVID-related closures.
Ducey has drawn the ire of the Treasury for several programs he has created with federal American Rescue Plan Act money: one offering money to schools that don’t implement mask mandates, another offering money to parents who want to take their kids out of schools with mask mandates and a third (which the feds have not yet challenged) paying parents to move their kids from schools that close because of COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Treasury has repeatedly warned that the first two programs aren’t what the anti-COVID funding is for, and they’ve threatened to take the money back if Ducey doesn’t stop spending it like that. More significantly, the department has threatened to withhold the next round of ARPA cash from Arizona, totaling more than $2 billion, if Ducey doesn’t change or eliminate the program.
In the lawsuit, Ducey and his lawyers argue that the Treasury Department’s new rules on acceptable uses of the funds usurp the more lax restrictions Congress laid out in the spending package.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a plan to increase COVID testing availability during their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
The Board unanimously voted to increase PCR testing in Pima County with an additional 1,000 tests per day through Paradigm Laboratories.
“I am concerned with our PCR testing site at the airport,” Supervisor Sharon Bronson said. “We are seeing that we’ve got some issues at TAA (Tucson Airport Authority) with staff coming down with COVID and we’ve got people in line who have COVID. So I would think as part of the implementation of the new testing we need to find other sites than the airport.”
Cases continue to rise in Pima County due to the Omicron variant. The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 3,136 new cases in Pima County on Jan. 11. This is the highest number of cases reported in one day since the pandemic began.
Supervisor Adelita Grijalva said she had noticed that testing appointments through the county website were being scheduled two days out. She raised concerns this would make it more difficult for children to get back into school under the new test-to-stay policy.
Bronson added that constituents reported testing sites had a two-hour waiting period, even with appointments.
Low testing availability has also impacted the local healthcare system.
“People, because they can't find a testing site, are going to ERs to ask to get COVID tested and that is incredibly disruptive for the healthcare system,” Supervisor Matt Heinz said.
The additional PCR tests will be offered at the Kino Event Center across the street from the Abrams Public Heath Building, where the county had set up a testing site in 2020. That site later transitioned to a vaccination center.
After a choppy opening week and the long weekend, the Arizona Legislature got into full swing yesterday, and already COVID-19 is a problem.
As committees cranked through bills (including a contentious first vote on once again banning Critical Race Theory in schools), leadership had to sub out lawmakers to fill the committees, at least in part because of the virus. It’s going to be a long year of musical chairs as House and Senate leadership attempt to keep committees full, despite the raging pandemic.
Republicans need every single lawmaker present to pass legislation on party lines in either chamber, but as the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl notes, if lawmakers want to do their jobs and vote on bills, they’ll have to come into the building.
That wasn’t the case last year, and the new rule provides no meaningful advantage to lawmakers or the public — it is, like many decisions at the capitol, pure politics. (FWIW, it was also pure politics when the Democrats initially opposed remote voting on a limited basis at the onset of the pandemic so Republicans could muster the votes necessary to pass a budget.)