Governor Ducey wants public schools open despite COVID-19 outbreak | Arizona State Schools


PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Tuesday took what he called “preventative action” to keep public school students in classrooms despite rising hospitalizations for coronavirus as the most contagious variant of omicron is spreading.

the republican the governor announced a program on Tuesday to give private school vouchers if their children’s schools close or switch to distance education. He’s using federal coronavirus relief funds, despite warnings from the US Treasury Department that two previous school programs he created are not authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act.

Ducey is using $ 10 million in relief funds to give parents up to $ 7,000 a year to pay for tuition and education. Applicants can earn up to 350% of the federal poverty line – $ 92,750 for a family of four.

No Arizona public school has announced plans to close or return to distance learning, but the state teachers union president said on Tuesday that could happen if enough staff are put in. the gap due to illness.

“If we continue to see omicron spread as it spreads, you will end up facing the same things as restaurants, movie theaters and small businesses around the world,” said Arizona Education Association president, Joe Thomas. “If you don’t have enough healthy employees, you have to make some kind of change. And maybe that’s what they’re trying to make their voices heard against. “

Thomas said he is in no way advocating closing schools, simply educating parents about the realities they might face. A tweet he sent Schools may have to close on Monday angered Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon. Salmon accuses Thomas of pushing for closure and said it would ban blended learning and promote the expansion of voucher programs for private schools in the state.

Hundreds of people are filling out paperwork while they wait to get free COVID test kits at the Pima County Health Department’s Abrams Public Health Center in Tucson, Ariz. On Tuesday, January 4, 2022.

COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide increased for the third day in a row, with the state reporting 2,463 virus-infected patients occupying inpatient beds on Monday. The Arizona Hospital Association has said the health care system is on the edge and urged people to get vaccinated and consider care options like phone consultations.

President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that there was no reason to believe the omicron was worse for children than previous variants and noted $ 130 billion in federal virus relief to ensure safety and l opening of schools.

The money is for testing, improving ventilation, distancing and other mitigation measures.

Biden calls for concern, not alarm as omicron soars

Biden stressed again that vaccines, booster shots and therapeutic drugs have alleviated the danger for the overwhelming majority of Americans who are fully immunized.

“And states and school districts have spent that money well – a lot of them. But, unfortunately, some didn’t, ”Biden said. “So I encourage states and school districts to use the funding you still have to protect your children and keep schools open. “

Ducey’s program has been in effect since January 3 and governor’s website will have an application portal by the end of the week.

Ducey created a similar $ 10 million school voucher program for parents whose schools require masks or quarantines and touted it as a response to cries from parents. Despite more than 2,500 requests, only 85 students are receiving the vouchers and the state has paid out $ 595,000, Ducey’s spokesperson CJ Karamargin said on Tuesday.

The governor also created a $ 163 million grant program in August only available to schools in high-income areas that do not have a mask mandate.

Both programs go against the rules for spending federal virus relief money because they “undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” according to the Treasury Department. Ducey rejected Treasury demands in November and did not interrupt the programs.

A spokesperson for the Treasury said on Tuesday that the department was monitoring the uses of coronavirus relief funds and “expects any government that uses them in violation of eligible uses to return the embezzled funds to the federal government.”

Schools still have billions of federal COVID relief money to spend

Congress has authorized more than $ 190 billion to help U.S. schools reopen and stay open during the pandemic – and although much of the funds have been used to purchase PPE, improve ventilation, and bolster education programs. summer school, there are still billions of dollars to spend.

Karamargin said the new voucher program gives parents options.

“The goal here is to give parents a lifeline in the event that a school closes,” Karamargin said.

Thomas called on the governor and the Legislative Assembly, which begins its 2022 session on Monday, to return to the early days of the pandemic, when schools can respond to local conditions.

“They have to go back to their playbook when we started all of this, where they were giving the districts flexibility,” Thomas said,

Arizona on Tuesday reported more than 7,000 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 for the fourth time in five days and more than 150 additional virus deaths as the spike keeps hospitals overcrowded statewide. The state has reported more than 1.4 million cases and more than 24,500 deaths during the pandemic, according to the state coronavirus dashboard.

Monday saw an additional 14,192 cases, the most in a single day since January 2020, reflecting both the rise and fall in reports the day before due to the New Years holiday.

“Like the rest of the country, Arizona is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant spreads,” the Department of Health Services said on Twitter on Tuesday r. The increased use of home testing means there are likely more cases.

In northwest Arizona, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 for a resolution recognizing a public health crisis due to severe staffing shortages at county hospitals, a generally conservative area with low vaccination rates.

Demands for anti-mask school vouchers expected to exceed funds

“My first choice is to change the neighborhood’s mind and leave the choice to the parents.”

The statement approved Monday overturns a December council vote rejecting a request by hospital officials to declare a state of emergency, Today’s News-Herald reported.

Kingman Regional Medical Center CEO Will McConnell said official board recognition of the crisis will allow hospitals to advocate more for state and federal help to get more nurses.


Norma A. Roth