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Mon, Jan. 24

Ducey vows to keep schools open

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday took what he called “preemptive action” to keep public school students in classrooms despite rising coronavirus hospitalizations in the state. (File photo by Howard Fischer/For the Miner)

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday took what he called “preemptive action” to keep public school students in classrooms despite rising coronavirus hospitalizations in the state. (File photo by Howard Fischer/For the Miner)

PHOENIX - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday took what he called “preemptive action” to keep public school students in classrooms despite rising coronavirus hospitalizations as the more contagious omicron variant spreads.

The Republican governor on Tuesday announced a program to give private school vouchers if their children's schools close or move to remote learning. He's using federal coronavirus relief funds, despite warnings from the U.S. Treasury Department that two earlier school programs he created are not allowed under the American Rescue Plan Act.

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

No Arizona public schools have announced plans to close or return to remote learning, but the president of the state teachers union said Tuesday it may happen if enough staff are sidelined by illness.

“If we continue to see omicron spread like it’s been spreading then you eventually will be facing the same things that restaurants and movie theaters and small businesses everywhere are going to be facing,” Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said. “If you don’t have enough healthy employees, you have to make some kind of change. And so that may be what they’re trying to get out in front of.”

Thomas said he was in no way advocating for school shutdowns, just advising parents about the realities they may face. A tweet he sent on Monday that said schools might have to close drew the ire of Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon. Salmon accused Thomas of pushing for closures and said he would ban hybrid learning and promote expansion of the state's private school voucher programs.

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