Senate Appropriations Committee to hear bill that addresses school facilities

Reports indicate that Arizona has more than 1.4 million square feet of underutilized and vacant school facilities, and legislators are taking steps to address the issue.

State Senator Vince Leach (R) sponsored a bill after the recent Empty Schools Full of Promise: Exploring the Benefits of District-Charter Co-location Partnerships in Arizona report brought the issue of underutilized and vacant school facilities to his attention.

Sen. Leach explained this initiative has the potential to save money that can be used in the classroom and it will give Arizona taxpayers “a return on their investment.”

The report, developed by the Goldwater Institute and the Arizona Chamber Foundation, suggests using co-location to tackle the underutilized school facilities issue that Arizona faces.

Co-location involves unused district school space with charter schools or other district schools in an effort to address this issue, the report explained.

“That isn’t something that is just about trying to increase the amount of funding that’s coming in, but trying to improve the way that funding is being used and make sure that those resources are being allocated in a way that serves the students’ education,” Matt Beienburg, Goldwater Institute director of education policy, said.

The report explained co-location is successfully practiced in other states including New York, California and Georgia.

“If the schools could rent out space to charters or privates or other district schools, that helps the income and the money would go into the classroom for teacher pay, consumables- it is known that teachers often have to bring in their own consumables,” Sen. Leach explained.

Sen. Leach said this issue address students’ education and the legislature’s responsibility to the Arizona taxpayer.

“You almost have a teeter totter where the teeter totter isn’t up or down, you have two equal forces. The taxpayers in the state of Arizona are very willing to pay for a good education. However, they want to know that that money is being invested wisely,” Sen Leach explained.

He added, “It’s kind of a meshing of a gear between educating students, putting more money in and also giving taxpayers a return on their investment.”

Formerly SB 1438, the bill was heard in the Senate Education Committee earlier this month but did not pass on a 4-4 vote. The bill sponsor made changes to the language based on feedback from the committee and the education community and has been reintroduced as a striker as S.B. 1161 and will be heard today at the Senate Appropriations Committee.

S.B. 1161 proposes that the School Facilities Board and the Department of Administration must annually publish a list of vacant and partially used buildings that are owned by the state; provides districts additional tools to use space sitting idle; and supports smart lease renewal agreements so that unexpected increases don’t force the closure of a school.

“I think that getting that message there and saying, ‘Hey, here’s a way that we can free up resources for students’ education.’ I think that’s a message that appeals, regardless of party, to anybody’s who interested in trying to improve education,” Beienburg said.

Sierra Ciaramella

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