Breaking Down Barriers to Increase Educational Equity and Opportunities for All Students

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Arizona’s legislative session recently concluded and, by most accounts, was an eventful one with back and forth negotiations that proved to be challenging. While we continue to advocate for increased focus on educational equity through Arizona’s legislative activity, we are celebrating a couple of items that we believe will result in more students having access to educational opportunities that will prepare them for future success.

One of the most important steps we can take to close the education gap in Arizona is to ensure that every student has access to the courses they need to be college and career ready.

In Arizona, as in many states across the country, these courses are not always widely available. For instance, at least 235 high schools in Arizona do not offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Along with Dual Enrollment, Cambridge, or International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, AP courses truly portend postsecondary success as well as a lifetime of higher earnings and lower employment for students.

So, I’m grateful that education policies intended to break down barriers and increase equity were included in the FY 2022 budget, passed by the Arizona Legislature and signed by Governor Ducey.

One such initiative, championed by Helios Education Foundation, was to ensure that all students have access to take the AP test, especially those in traditionally lower socioeconomic communities. Research conducted by the ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence shows that students who come from low-income households or communities of color are underrepresented in AP course taking due to the cost of the exam and other factors being barriers to their access.

The budget appropriated $1.3 million in ongoing funding for AP test fee waivers targeting low-income students. This helps them not only take rigorous coursework to be better prepared for college, but also offers the opportunity to get a jumpstart on earning college credit.

The economic advantages of having a college degree are huge. According to latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (June 2021), a person with only a high school diploma makes an average of $780 a week versus an individual with a bachelor’s degree at $1,280 a week.

In addition to postsecondary opportunities, Helios is focused on strengthening early childhood development to ensure more children enter kindergarten ready to succeed and be reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

We are proud to support the work of Read On Arizona and have participated in a workgroup to develop an Early Literacy Policy Framework which utilizes evidence-based, proven strategies to support high needs schools and struggling readers. The framework prioritizes building educator capacity through professional development and teacher preparation as well as high quality early learning experiences and a standardized state kindergarten entry evaluation.

The Arizona legislature included $6.9 million in the state budget in investments to support this Literacy Policy Framework and bolster our 3rd grade reading efforts – a game changer for our youngest learners. Governor Ducey then signed the budget which allocated: $3.1 million to hire 25 literacy coaches to provide high need schools with the support necessary to improve and sustain effective teaching and literacy practices; $1.5 million for a state kindergarten entry evaluation tool to demonstrate school readiness for young learners receiving early literacy supports and allow schools to focus resources on students who need them the most; $1 million for educator exam support to provide more equitable access to teachers trained in the science of reading and result in more effective reading instruction for all students; and $1.3 million for dyslexia training.

Arizona’s economic future is dependent on our collective ability to ensure all students are prepared for success in college and career, regardless of ZIP code, gender or ethnicity.

This budget puts in place key building blocks toward this goal.