As the election approaches, it’s crucial that we ask our candidates the tough questions that matter so we can elect education champions with the right priorities. After the recent teacher walk-out, education is top-of-mind in Arizona. We will be sending every candidate a survey and will decide which candidates we endorse based on their responses.
Today, we want to encourage you to pose your own questions to these candidates before making critical voting decisions, and we’ll be highlighting some of the issues we care about most as fierce education advocates.
Public education funding
For starters, we need to ask our candidates how they’d reform the public school funding process. We cannot wait any longer. Arizona’s existing school finance system is over 30 years old and was designed to support the school system in place at that time. Times have changed. Arizona’s public school systems have expanded to include a myriad of choices, such as open enrollment, charter schools, and Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), so the funding strategies must also evolve.
At Stand, we advocates for adequate funding for every Arizona student in every public school, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make. We’ll be asking candidates which state policy changes they believe could provide all Arizona children with opportunities to succeed, in quality schools and taught by effective teachers.
Another topic that must be addressed is Arizona’s literacy crisis. We need to know which candidates will prioritize this issue and which legislative measures they would support to improve reading proficiency. Currently, 56% of third-graders cannot read proficiently. Being able to read on grade level or above by the end of the third grade is a critical milestone that must be met for a student to succeed. Beginning in fourth grade, students are no longer “learning to read,” but “reading to learn,” and they cannot digest and retain new content if they cannot read it, which only causes them to fall further behind.
We will also be asking candidates if they support expanding early learning opportunities, such as full-day kindergarten or preschool programs, and if they are willing to sign a pledge to support improving early literacy and grade-level reading policies.
English language learners
Finally, we need to know which candidates support dismantling current ELL instructional requirements and rebuilding a program that provides local flexibility, increased accountability and transparency, and a more efficient use of funds. Current state ELL policies have been in place for 12 years and were adopted in response to a lawsuit, limited by voter-protected requirements. Public schools are frustrated by all of the red tape that only limits them from being able to meet the complex needs of their diverse and bright ELL students. Due to the scarce resources available, policymakers must ensure programs which the state funds are effective and evidence-based.
During the 2018 legislative session, Stand for Children moved the bipartisan HB 2435 through the process, but when the big moment came—lawmakers didn't allow an up or down vote on the floor. Moving forward, we need to elect candidates who are willing to tackle the challenges of fixing these broken programs.
These are just a few examples of the types of questions we’ll be asking candidates. It is our aim to encourage and empower you, as civically engaged Arizonans, to feel comfortable and confident contacting candidates and asking them tough questions. Although the current educational situation needs improvement, together we can elect education champions with the right priorities. If there’s anything we missed, please let us know in the comments.