For the fourth year in a row, Arizona voters have ranked education the top issue facing the state of Arizona, according to an annual survey conducted by Expect More Arizona, a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan education advocacy group.
Among other state issues, such as immigration and border issues, taxes and healthcare, education earned the top ranking of the 600 statewide voters surveyed. This year, a separate report of rural voter preferences incorporated data from an additional 600 voters of six counties: Coconino, Cochise, Mohave, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma.
Although rural voters ranked immigration and border issues above education as the top state issue, they did so by a margin of less than 2 percent and still reported similar sentiments about funding priorities.
When asked to consider the top issue facing education in Arizona, 25 percent of voters said teacher pay/support, followed closely by general lack of funding at 24 percent. They also said, when given the choice among other educational priorities, they would be most willing to pay more in taxes in order to increase pay for Arizona teachers.
In both rural and urban areas throughout the state, voters also agreed that location of residence, financial situation, race or ethnicity should not determine the quality of education that a child receives.
“Educators should be heartened that Arizona voters still see the need to invest in education at all levels and that education is still a top priority for the state,” said Christine Thompson, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona. “Understanding where we are now is really going to help local communities move into the future and be able to help improve schools and communities and really help focus the work of local leaders.”
Voters of all political parties, ages and regions were surveyed. The number of voters included from each Congressional district was proportional to the average voter turnout in each area.
Virginia Watahomigie, executive director of the Coconino Coalition for Children & Youth, said these survey results demonstrate that voters are not alone in their beliefs of education, an important initial step in the movement toward creating positive change.
“In Flagstaff, the voters have shown that they do care about education,” she said. “But with the state cuts, there’s more pressure on local communities to meet the needs that were covered by the state. People can start banding together now and let their elected officials know how important this issue is.”
Jennifer Hernandez, Expect More Arizona’s Northern Arizona community engagement manager, said all elected leaders, from local officials and school board members to state legislators, should be informed of these values because they each have different roles to play in the Arizona educational system.
“More and more people are starting to understand what a challenging job and what a valuable resource teachers are,” she said. “More and more people and community leaders believe teachers need to be compensated for the value they bring to the community. What we need voters to do is tell [elected officials] that you want to see education be the priority.”
More progress needed
“There has been a lot of focus on education in the last 12 months,” Thompson said. “Those things that resonated 12 months ago are still resonating with voters now. Even with all the activity in the last year, voters still recognize there’s more to do.”
Expect More Arizona has partnered with the Decision Center for Educational Excellence at Arizona State University to create a progress meter with up-to-date statistics on various aspects of Arizona education, including third-grade reading, eighth-grade math, high school graduation and post high school enrollment.
According to their collected data, in the last year, high school graduation and post high school enrollment have increased in both Flagstaff and Coconino County; however, the number of students succeeding in third-grade reading and eighth-grade math, measured by AzMERIT results, has decreased or, in the case of countywide reading levels, remained steady since last year.
As in other areas throughout the state, though some progress has been made, success levels are still not up to voters’ standards.
The progress meter states that in the Flagstaff Unified School District, for example, only 38 percent of third-graders are meeting or exceeding state reading standards, while only 31 percent of eighth-graders are doing so in math. The district does exceed the state average for high school graduation by nearly 8 percent, though.
Hernandez said educational support in the region is undeniable – and invaluable to future progress.
“In Flagstaff in particular, there’s always been a pretty strong demonstration of support for education, especially when it comes to K12,” she said. “What I hope happens in the future is that we see that support across the educational spectrum, to see more support for early education as well as post-secondary so students are supported from early years through to their careers.”