Office of Education

Changing Lives Through Education in Arizona

By Janice Palmer, Vice President and Director of Policy, Helios Education Foundation
Friday, Apr. 8, 2016

Education changes lives. It’s why Helios Education Foundation is dedicated to creating opportunities for individuals in Arizona and Florida to succeed in postsecondary education. We strategically partner to ensure more students are academically prepared at every stage of the education continuum—from early learning through postsecondary education – so that, regardless of zip code, every student has the opportunity to thrive.

In Arizona, Helios has prioritized Latino Student Success and is working to close the degree completion gap between Latino and White students by improving quality, access and achievement.  Latinos make up 31 percent of Arizona’s current population, yet represent the largest percentage of students in Arizona’s K-12 system.  Thus, Latino Student Success is really Arizona’s pathway to prosperity, as these students will become Arizona’s future workforce. One example of Helios’ work in this area is our partnership with Yuma Union High School District on Ready Now Yuma to ensure that every one of the 11,000 students in the district is prepared to succeed in college and career. In its fourth year of implementation, we have seen a district with 82 percent of its students being Latino, participating in a high-expectations, performance-based, student-centered curriculum. 
I recently joined Helios after over a decade and a half in education policy, drawn to the foundation’s laser focus on closing achievement and postsecondary attainment gaps, as well as ensuring that every student receives a high-quality education.  In this new role, I will be identifying policy opportunities that will leverage Helios’ goal of postsecondary completion for all students.     

But it’s important that this is not seen as just a higher education issue; rather, we must ensure students are prepared and meet key milestones of academic achievement along the way.  Ultimately, we need an education system accountable for ensuring that our third graders are reading at grade level, that our middle and high school students meet or exceed rigorous academic expectations and that our high school graduates leave our K-12 system possessing the high-level skills today’s knowledge-based economy requires.
From a policy perspective, there is much debate in Arizona about how to improve education. Yet, it’s worth pausing to reflect and celebrate the phenomenal work our teachers and leaders are doing across Arizona through Helios’ funded projects and others that are positively changing the trajectory. There’s no question many education challenges remain that will require us to focus our energies on working together to create opportunities for more students to succeed in postsecondary education.  It is also clear that increasing postsecondary degree attainment is one of the most important things we can do to foster economic growth and development in the future and we’re committed to doing just that.    

Population and Achievement Gap Graphic

To that end, Expect More Arizona and the Center for the Future of Arizona have developed the Arizona Education Progress Meter which provides a way for us all to better understand how our students are currently performing and to track progress in our state and in local communities.  Helios is a proud partner of the Arizona Education Progress Meter, which utilizes the most current data available to create a simple, visual way to assess the status of education at key milestones, both for the state as a whole and for individual counties where available.    

Any substantive conversation about education in Arizona must understand that education is an investment and not an expense; additional funding is needed to address the challenges that our schools face to ensure student success.  Helios Education Foundation supports the passage of Proposition 123 as a step in the right direction toward resetting base-level K-12 funding for Arizona’s public schools.  This is a first step however, and not a complete solution to creating equitable funding for K-12 education in Arizona.  Funding also needs to be restored to our universities and community colleges, and investments must be made, at the state level, in high-quality early childhood education.

It’s extraordinary to see the momentum around education in Arizona today.  Whether it is individuals or organizations in the business, education, philanthropy, and other sectors, we are passionate about the fact that education is the one variable that can change the trajectory of individual lives as well as communities. We can’t let this opportunity pass us by. Every child deserves a high-quality education that results in postsecondary attainment. Our children are counting on us; our state is counting on us; let’s continue our partnership to get it done.

Janice Palmer


Janice Palmer is the Vice President and Director of Policy at Helios Education Foundation. Ms. Palmer is responsible for identifying policy opportunities that leverage and/or positively impact the Foundation’s investments and ensure current policy and advocacy activities inform the Foundation’s work, in both Arizona and Florida. Prior to joining Helios, Janice was the Director of Governmental Relations & Public Affairs for the Arizona School Boards Association. In 2015, Ms. Palmer played a major role in the negotiations to settle the school finance lawsuit that resulted in Proposition 123 being placed on the Arizona special election ballot in May 2016. Janice was recently appointed by Governor Ducey to a two-year term as a Commissioner for the Education Commission of the States. 

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