Your primer to Arizona
Arizona Daily Star
Feb. 11, 2007
entities that shape it
Opinion by Sarah Garrecht Gassen
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/168470
big picture public policy that is lived out in the individual classrooms and
homes of Arizonans.
education is experienced on a personal level, many hands shape how public
education is funded, what is taught, who teaches the material and how to
measure student progress. Elected and appointed officials and their staffs
each play an important role in your child's school day.
families, it is sufficient that the child likes his or her teacher and the
parents are satisfied with the level of learning and the classroom
environment. However, if there's a problem, trying to figure out where to go
for answers can require navigating a complicated maze of district, state and
federal regulations, elected officials, administrators and boards.
We're taking a
look at the people and entities that shape public education in Arizona. The
easiest way to visualize the entities is to picture a funnel beginning with
the federal government, then the Arizona Legislature and governor at the
next level and ending with your child's classroom.
Legislature and Governor
Legislature in Arizona decides how much taxpayer money to allocate to public
K-12 schools, as well as community colleges and universities. The
Legislature also has the power to make changes in the law that directly
affect public education.
operate using taxpayer money, plus state and federal funding for specific
programs like full-day kindergarten and special education. Much of the
legislative allocations are driven by funding formulas designed to help pay
for increasing expenses. In fiscal 2006-07, the Legislature appropriated
$4.1 billion in taxpayer funds to public K-12 education.
candidates talk about education when they run for office, and during every
legislative session members will propose bills that would have an impact on
students and schools. Because of legislative action, students pass the AIMS
test in reading, writing and math — or show they tried to pass the test
every time it was offered, got good grades in class and had good class
attendance — to graduate from high school.
Legislators also hold hearings on more specific matters. For example, when
labor activist Dolores Huerta told a Tucson High Magnet
student audience last year that "Republicans hate Latinos," the House Select
Committee on Government Operations, Performance and Waste called in Tucson
Unified School District administrators to testify on the situation. That
incident did not result in a new law, but legislators were able to make a
Board of Education
Board of Education sets education policy and the Arizona Department of
Education carries it out.
board, outlined in the Arizona Constitution, is charged with setting
education policy for the state. Unlike local school districts, members of
the state board are not elected to their positions, but are appointed by the
superintendent of public instruction, Arizona's top elected school official
who heads the Arizona Department of Education, is on the state board, as are
representatives from community colleges, universities, teachers, charter
schools, a county superintendent and the public. The board has a staff of
two, plus an investigative unit of five, which looks into complaints of
unprofessional conduct against certified school employees.
are usually held in Phoenix, although the board occasionally travels to
other parts of the state. Like other public boards, its agendas are posted
and its meetings include a call to the audience.
board oversees teacher and administrator certification, the school
accountability system, academic standards and the design and rules of the
state standardized tests, such as AIMS. It sets minimum graduation
requirements and, with the state auditor general, monitors school district
The board is
considering whether to allow students to use calculators on the high school
AIMS math test, for example. The group also sets the minimum score to pass
"The fact that
we have AIMS, the Legislature laid that out by saying 'We shall have that
test,' " said Vince Yanez, state board executive director.
framework, the Legislature has created. But the test itself — its content,
development, test standards — are determined by the state board," Yanez
said. "Once the state board makes those determinations, the Arizona
Department of Education carries those out. The nitty-gritty, the department
takes care of."
superintendent of public instruction and Arizona Department of Education
Tom Horne is
beginning his second term as Arizona's top school officer. He oversees a
department of 500 to 600 employees statewide that is responsible for
everything from ensuring the food the school serves in the lunch line meets
federal and state nutrition guidelines, to making sure AIMS tests are taken
correctly and results issued promptly.
also is responsible for ensuring that schools comply with federal laws, such
as special-education rules and No Child Left Behind.
labels schools each year through Arizona Learns school accountability
system, which evaluates schools based largely on year-over-year progress on
standardized test scores and bestows a label of excelling, highly
performing, performing plus, underperforming or failing.
sends teams to schools that are in danger of failing to help them improve,
and it has the power to intervene and make changes — like replacing a
principal — at failing schools.
also are measured by the department under the federal program, No Child Left
Behind. This system uses strict measurements of test scores, percentage of
kids taking the tests and school attendance. But because students are
grouped by grade and race and each subgroup must meet the bar or the entire
school is listed as not making "adequate yearly progress," this is often
seen as a distorted picture of a school.
Horne and the
State Board of Education do diverge on occasion. For example, Horne is
against increasing graduation requirements to four years of math. But if the
board were to vote for that requirement, it would be his job to make sure
school districts comply.
superintendent of public instruction can go around the board by getting a
legislator to sponsor a bill that would create a new statute, with which the
board would then have to comply.
for Charter Schools
families have choices. School districts have open enrollment — except Tucson
Unified School District, which is under a federal desegregation court order
— which means that students can attend school outside their neighborhood or
district. And if dissatisfied with the traditional school district
offerings, families can select a charter school that offers a specialty
curriculum, smaller classes or a more convenient location.
Board for Charter Schools issues the charters for some schools and oversees
their administration, while the State Board of Education and the Department
of Education handle others. Local school district governing boards can also
approve the creation of charter schools. The individual school operator
chooses from which entity it will seek a charter.
school board must follow the policies set by the State Board of Education,
and it has the authority to cancel charters for the schools it oversees,
which closes the school, for academic or financial mismanagement.
school superintendent, or designee, sits on this board, too. The meetings
are open to the public and usually held in Phoenix.
district governing boards and superintendents
board members are elected to their unpaid posts. The boards set policies for
their particular districts that must comply with federal and state rules.
boards officially hire and fire district employees, but usually a board's
only direct hire is the superintendent, who reports to the board. Other
employment decisions go through administration and then to the board for
members set policy, and the superintendent carries it out. Board members who
get too involved with individual staff members, other than the
superintendent, or the implementation of policy can cause confusion because
school employees don't know whose direction to follow.
board meetings generally include a call to the public during which audience
members can address the board. But state law prohibits boards from
discussing issues that aren't placed on its agenda 24 hours prior to the
meeting, so members can only listen to concerns. Board members hear about
everything from bad teachers to complaints about graduation requirements.
board's power is limited to policy setting, the members are also elected
officials serving a constituency, and they hear of problems administration
may not be aware of, said Vicki Balentine, Amphitheater Public Schools
superintendent and vice president of the State Board of Education. "If it's
something that's been referred to me by board member, from a community
person, I close that circle," she said. "The goal is to get them to call me
here are the players
example of how the players in Arizona's public education system affect your
districts to provide free textbooks to students
State Board of
— working with the Arizona Department of Education — votes on the academic
content students must learn at each grade level.
governing boards and individual charter school operators,
working with their administration, decide which textbooks to buy.
Contact editorial writer Sarah Garrecht Gassen at firstname.lastname@example.org or