GCNP — The strategy to introduced small and rural school district legislation in both the House and Senate of the Arizona Legislature materialized recently when Sen. John Verkamp (R-Flagstaff) introduced Senate Bill 1414.
Earlier last month, House Bill 2183 was introduced by Rep. Linda Gray (R-Phoenix). Both versions include the same wording.
Dale Fitzner, Grand Canyon School's outgoing superintendent who has been fighting for the legislation over the past two years, said the House version was to be heard by the House Education Committee this past Monday afternoon. The Senate version does not appear on the Senate Education Committee's agenda for Thursday.
"It's going a little slower than I thought," Fitzner said. "It seems like it's doing pretty well. I expect to hear shortly on progress on the Senate bill."
Fitzner and many others in the education field hope state lawmakers will be more open to education-related bills this year. Fitzner called the number of education bills this year "surprising."
Fitzner and others on a community committee overseeing the fight for passage urge local residents and community leaders to write to legislators to support the issue. A sample letter has been drawn up for those who would like to write. Contact Fitzner for a copy of the sample letter.
Verkamp, who could not be reached last week by the News, was involved with school legislation originally introduced four years ago. Fitzner said he's been a major supporter since the beginning.
The small schools consortium legislative partners includes 12 high schools and 27 elementary schools. Besides Grand Canyon, other high schools from the area partnering on the legislation include Seligman, Ash Fork, Bagdad and Peach Springs. Among the participating elementary schools is Maine Consolidated in Parks.
The current legislation provides extra weight funding per student for elementary schools fewer than 125 and high schools fewer than 100 students, Fitzner said.
"These enrollment caps are artificially low," Fitzner said. "When a small district's enrollment exceeds those caps, it is heavily penalized by losing the extra per-pupil allocation before it can achieve enough student population and corresponding budget to meet expenses."
For Grand Canyon, losses could amount to $500,000 or more which would all but eliminate the high school. The proposed legislation increases enrollment caps to 200 students and enables districts to make the transition to regular school status without major loss of funding.
For information on obtaining a copy of the sample letter to legislators, contact Fitzner at 638-2461 or stop by his office on campus.