State superintendent stripping millions in COVID-19 relief money for tutoring program

Some COVID-19 relief money for Arizona organizations is heading to a state tutoring program and they're scrambling to find the funds for their programs.
Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 6:02 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — The Valley of the Sun YMCA said it was blindsided after the Arizona Department of Education stripped away crucial COVID-19 relief money from the organization. It is one of more than 25 grantees that lost federal grant funds after State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne announced a new $40 million tutoring program to address learning loss. “It feels really abrupt and feels like the rug is being pulled out under us,” said Jenna Cooper, vice president of community relations for Valley of the Sun YMCA.

To fund the tutoring program, Horne clawed back tens of millions in federal COVID-19 relief money from organizations that received grants under his predecessor, Kathy Hoffman. “Asked them to show data it increased learning of the students. Those who were not able to do so, we canceled their contracts and took the money back. If they can’t do it, we will do it,” said Horne.

Horne said that organizations not spending the funds fast enough were also impacted. Meanwhile, Cooper said the YMCA is now scrambling to figure out if they can continue crucial programs. Cooper said the YMCA was not required to produce academic reports so they were surprised by the request from the department. “That is out of nowhere. This grant did not require those metrics to be measured. Had they, we would have been measuring that,” said Cooper.

In a statement, the Arizona Department of Education said in part, “ADE is responsible for overseeing how these ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds are used and improving academic achievement is the highest priority for Supt. Horne (even if it was not for his predecessor).”

Cooper said this grant money funded programs for mental and physical health in classrooms, which she believes goes hand-in-hand with academic success. “I am worried with all of the pressure on students to perform on the desk with pencil on hand, that is going to continue to add stress to them. If we don’t find ways to get them out of their desk, interacting with friends, being fit, building positive relations, our kids are not going to grow and thrive,” said Cooper.

ADE said Horne is open to hearing “arguments” about why some organizations should get their funding back and the department is still accepting academic reports.

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