PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) -- Arizona's School Authority is on top of confusion and controversy about part of the governor's State of the State address Monday.

A big takeaway from the speech appeared to be that Gov. Doug Ducey threatened schools that they must end virtual learning or lose funding.

But that’s something his office is now backtracking on.

In the Governor's speech, he said word for word "we won't be funding empty seats." Teachers and schools assumed that meant, get students physically back in the classroom or you won't get money.

But after we made calls and emails to clarify this, the governor's office says no, that's not actually the case.

Spokesman Daniel Scarpinato tweeted a clarification about what the governor actually meant: 

He means we will be funding the school that parents chose for their kids. If they move their kid to another public school, the money will follow the student. They won't be double counted. 

Enrollment has dropped at many schools as parents identify new educational options for their kids. But the schools want us to find their original enrollment. The governor would rather invest those dollars getting kids who need help, caught up.

And CJ Karamargin, the governor's communications director, said this to Arizona's Family in an email:

Governor Ducey supports virtual options for those parents who want them, and he is not considering cutting funding for virtual students. When he references not funding "empty seats," he simply means that for parents who have chosen a new option for their kids, the money will follow that student to their new public school. And with the vaccine now here, teachers are being vaccinated with high priority. Any student who wants to be in a classroom should have that opportunity.

“We will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in perpetual state of closure. Children still need to learn, even in the pandemic,” the governor had said in Monday's address.

Governor Ducey has been adamant about having students in person, but teachers said the problem is that there's no plan to control COVID-19 in the community to make that a safe reality.

“He had the best opportunity to lay that plan out today, and he didn’t, and all I can take from that is that the governor still doesn’t have a plan,” said Joe Thomas, President of the Arizona Education Association.

LIST: Phoenix-area school districts alter plans as COVID-19 cases grow

Thomas said there's no doubt teachers want to be in their classrooms, but many don't feel it's safe right now.

According to the Arizona Department of Health website, all counties are in the "red zone" with a recommendation of complete virtual learning with these metrics.

But the Governor's Office told Arizona’s Family schools that have lost enrollment want to be given extra funds, but the State wants to use the dollars for wherever the kids transfer to for in-person learning.

“I think that we actually proved that we could be in school for quite a long stretch and we could do it safely,” said Brian Cocking, an elementary PE teacher in Chandler.

Cocking agrees with the governor that in-person is necessary for students to properly learn, and understands why the money would be put toward schools doing in-person. “I can tell you that the majority of our families, us included, want to be in school and want our kids to be in school,” Cocking said. “I don’t feel unsafe. I don’t feel nervous or scared."

The State also said with teachers being in the priority to get the vaccine, students should have the opportunity to be in the classroom.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman criticized the governor and said he’s ignoring the reality of the spread of the virus and its impact on schools.

Arizona School Superintendent pushing for virtual learning with COVID-19 cases climbing

She said without a commitment to fund distanced learning he's creating a toxic work environment for teachers who have gone above and beyond to make it safe.


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