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Education is the Top Issue to AZ Voters

School Funding | 07/07/2015

Jeff Howard
Regional Digital Strategist

As regional digital strategist, Jeff helps to build online engagement to support students and improve education.

Arizona Voters See Education as Top Issue, Surpasses Immigration as Top Priority

Voters support leveraging state trust fund for education, want to fix lower performing schools through raising teacher pay and weighing family income in the community when funding education

Phoenix, Arizona - After several years of other issues taking the spotlight in the state of Arizona, a recent statewide survey commissioned by Stand for Children Arizona reveals a rapid increase in concern among Arizona’s voters regarding education. For the first time in over two years, education has surpassed immigration as the top issue in Arizona.

The statewide survey, conducted over four days in the beginning of June, focused on likely voters and was reflective of the predicted 2016 general election turnout based on political party, age, gender and geographic location.

Q.  What do you consider to be the top issue facing the state of Arizona today?

36.2%    Education
26.6%    Immigration and Border Issues
14.2%    Jobs and the Economy
6.8%      State Budget
5.6%      Healthcare
4.6%      Other
2.0%      Taxes
0.8%      Transportation
3.2%      Don't Know, Refused

“We are facing a major challenge to educate the quality, competitive workforce we need to support Arizona’s long-term success,” said Craig Barrett, Stand for Children Advisory Board Chair. “It’s something that the education and business community have been concerned about for some time and it’s now finally reflected in the attitudes and concerns of Arizona voters.” 

Over 69% of Arizona voters believe that K-12 Education in the state of Arizona is heading in the wrong direction. In fact, a majority of the Arizona electorate believes that education is definitely heading in the wrong direction. Paul Luna, President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation and Stand for Children Advisory Board Member states, “We know that it will take increased public and political will to make education a priority in our state and to devote the necessary resources and support to ensure that all students, regardless of zip code, receive a high-quality education.”

Q.  In general, would you say that K-12 education in State of Arizona is heading in the right direction, or the wrong direction?

54.2%    Definitely wrong direction
15.0%    Probably wrong direction
13.2%    Probably right direction
5.6%    Definitely right direction
12.0%    Don't Know, Refused    

The statewide survey of 500 likely Arizona voters was conducted on June 1-4 and has a 4.4% margin of error with 95% confidence. It was conducted the same week Governor Ducey announced the first details of his proposal to utilize the State Trust Fund to fund education.

Rebecca Gau, Executive Director of Stand for Children Arizona, explained, “We applaud Governor Ducey in his efforts to bring forward more money for education. Our survey shows that leveraging the State Trust to fund education is a concept that is well received by the voters. We tested a ballot issue similar to the Governor’s proposal and it shows a great deal of promise.”

Q.  Arizona’s Permanent Endowment Trust Fund has grown from $1 billion in 2000 to over $5 billion dollars in 2014. Under the constitution, the annual distribution from the funds to the state budget is limited to 2.5%. Would you support an amendment to our State Constitution to permit that up to $2 billion dollars of the permanent trust endowment fund be brought forward to pay for current and future needs in K-12 and university education?

33.2%    Definitely Yes
28.0%    Probably Yes
13.4%    Probably No
13.6%    Definitely No
11.8%    Don't Know, Refused

“This is also an opportunity for our state to raise the quality of our education system across the board in an aspirational and thoughtful manner,” said Gau.Arizonans understand if we want to improve student achievement, we must increase teacher pay to attract and keep the best teachers for our students. The survey shows that over 75% of Arizona voters deem increasing teacher pay as an important issue.Gau went on to say, “Paying quality teachers is a responsible investment in our education system. We should capitalize on this opportunity to make Arizona’s teacher pay competitive. There is also a broad desire to improve the performance of lower performing schools and ensure they are eligible to receive additional funding to achieve these goals.”“We have seen in other places that added resources dedicated to good teachers can make a tremendous difference. That is why we support the idea of using additional resources to pay quality teachers more money to work in failing/challenged schools – a notion backed by 73% of Arizona voters,” said Gau.

Proposed Reforms

Paul Luna President of the Helios Foundation and a member of Stand’s Advisory Board said, “Paying quality teachers is a strong investment in our educational and workforce outputs. We should capitalize on this opportunity to make Arizona’s teacher pay competitive with other states in the West.”

Improving the performance of lower performing schools

Ensuring that school funding formulas take into consideration family incomes has also proven to be a powerful reform effort and there is broad support within the electorate that supports this idea.  Q.  Arizona calculates funding for various school districts based on a formula that takes into account number of students, size and location of the district, special education needs, and other criteria. Arizona’s formula does not account for student family income. Adjusting funding to reflect a higher cost of education for low income students is a common practice in at least 30 other states. Should Arizona include a poverty criteria in the funding formula to increase funding for schools in low income areas?

43.4%    Definitely Yes
26.8%    Probably Yes
11.2%    Probably No
13.8%    Definitely No
4.2%      Don't Know
0.6%      Refused

Gau concluded, “Once again, we would thank Governor Ducey for his leadership as we look to solve the largest problem facing our state. We look forward to working with him and other community partners to increase funding for education in pragmatic ways, and ensure a better return on our investment. Students deserve nothing less.”

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Stand for Children is a nonprofit advocacy organization that focuses on empowering and educating parents, teachers and community members to become active leaders who will serve as a voice for children at the state and local level. Our mission is simple: to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, a college education. For more information, visit www.stand.org/arizona.

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