Lawmakers are letting down AZ’s deaf and blind students by underfunding ASDB

Photo via Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind | Twitter/@asdbazgov

State agencies like Arizona Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, which I oversee, are often overlooked and underfunded when budgets are set for the coming year. These agencies are often forced to find ways to stretch the dollars they are given to succeed. 

However, when serving the population of students who are already facing immense challenges, it is imperative to find some way to provide for the basic needs of critical educational institutions like ASDB, which is constitutionally mandated to serve Arizona’s deaf and blind population and has existed since Arizona received its statehood back in 1912.   

ASDB currently operates two campuses: one in Tucson and one in Phoenix, known as the Phoenix Day School for the Deaf. In addition, ASDB serves students through its itinerant program which reaches to the far corners of the state, from Tuba City to Lake Havasu City, and from Globe to Yuma. We serve a diverse age range of students from infants to teens in high school. 

It is important to note that, as a state funded agency, ASDB is prohibited from using public resources (taxpayer dollars) to raise private funds through typical fundraising campaigns. This would not be an issue for ASDB to contend with if it was properly funded by the state. 

This year, ASDB has learned there are no funds available to assist in renovating campus buildings or addressing the multiple deferred maintenance issues that desperately need attention. The cost of this deferred maintenance is approximately $1.5 million annually. 

Some buildings on the Tucson campus were built in 1935. Other buildings are between 30 and 70 years old and have never been renovated. This makes it difficult to provide the students on campus with the most up-to-date facilities and it ends up costing ASDB more money to make frequent repairs to aging buildings. It also drains the resources of the facilities team and takes them away from the daily maintenance every school requires. Maintaining the facilities is just one piece of the financial puzzle ASDB is actively trying to solve.

An additional financial challenge for ASDB is transportation cost. Currently, ASDB receives $50 per student to transport the roughly 160 students in need of a bus. But it costs far more than the approximately $8,000 ASDB receives for busing.

The costs ASDB must absorb over and above this $50 student rate is best explained by calculating the total number of annual route miles driven by ASDB bus drivers. For the 2022-23 school year, ASDB buses traveled approximately 865,000 route miles. This number has increased to 1,063,038 in the current school year. A typical route mile reimbursement rate is $2.89. This means the actual associated cost to operate buses to cover the annual route miles currently totals $3,072,180.

Other schools receive transportation funding based on the per route mile rate, and ASDB should, too. ASDB is in desperate need of funding so that students who rely on transportation to attend school on campus can continue to do so.

It is important to reiterate that ASDB operates as a school district, but does not receive the same funding as traditional school districts. Since it falls under the state-funded agency umbrella, it is subject to what the state budgets decide to allocate to them. 

But ASDB is the only state-funded agency that serves students from a population in need of special attention and care. Other state agencies are struggling to cover operating costs. Yet, ASDB is the only educational institution serving a population under the age of 18, where services are of the utmost importance.

As we enter the budget-setting season, ASDB is voicing its financial needs while continuing to do the important work necessary to educate its students. 

ASDB will not cut corners or stop serving students. ASDB is committed to finding a way to increase funding to survive and thrive. 

Since there are no alternative education options for deaf and blind students of Arizona, this is a necessity. As a unified community, let’s not let them down.

The post Lawmakers are letting down AZ’s deaf and blind students by underfunding ASDB appeared first on Arizona Mirror.