Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Arizonans Say, Spend the Surplus on Public Schools, Teacher Pay

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 2015 at 3:15 PM

What should Arizona do with the current state budget surplus? In a poll taken last week by Strategies 360, the number one answer was "Invest in public schools" with 72 percent. Number two was "Increase public school teacher pay" with 69 percent. Law enforcement and border security came in third and fourth, followed by funding for foster children services and all-day pre-kindergarten.

If you're keeping score, education and children took four of the top six spots, including the top two.

OK, but maybe the poll is an unrepresentative sample that skews Democrat/liberal. In fact, no. The respondents were 43 percent Republican and 33 percent Democrat. Only 18 percent called themselves liberal, while 42 percent called themselves conservative. In another part of the survey, in separate presidential candidate match-ups, they preferred Trump, Rubio and Cruz to Clinton. And yet they thought spending more money on education and children was more important than spending it on police and immigration.

Other answers make it look like these voters, who, remember, skew Republican/conservative, aren't very happy with what's going on here. More of them think we're on the wrong track—46 percent—than moving in the right direction—41 percent — and they're split evenly on what they think about the Republican-majority state legislature (though Ducey rocks with 47 percent favorable vs. 31 percent unfavorable).

I'm trying to draw conclusions from this data with my head, not my heart, even though the conclusion I'm reaching makes my heart beat faster. It looks like a strong bipartisan majority of Arizona voters think we're not spending enough on education and we have the money to spend more. It looks like they're not overly impressed with the general direction we're heading or with the legislature that's taking us there.

This is a golden opportunity for legislative candidates who are pro-public education. If they state boldly that we should invest in public schools and we should increase teacher pay — say it over and over and over — they're going to get a lot of potential supporters nodding yes, over and over and over, and even some people who aren't likely supporters will shrug and say, "Well, at least we agree about that." If they accuse their anti-public education opponents of not caring about investing in public schools or increasing teacher pay, of not increasing funding by more than the bare minimum ordered by the courts, they'll get even more support, and put even more doubt in the minds of people who aren't their natural political allies but might be persuaded to vote for them just this one time. And if they talk about education often enough and loudly enough to parents who feel their children are being cheated out of a good education and a better future, some of those parents who don't normally vote might be worried enough about their kids and angry enough at the anti-education opposition that they'll say, "Damn it, I'm voting this time. I'm doing it for my children!"

Of course, if some pro-public education candidates want to "play it safe" and soft-pedal their support for education funding for fear of being called tax-and-spend liberals or people who want to "throw money" at failing schools, that's their choice. They can "play it safe." Every time they don't speak out forcefully for fully funding education is one less time people hear the idea repeated, and repetition cements ideas in people's heads, and it's one more time they make it clear they've decided that the possibility of saving their political asses by not taking a strong stand on important issues is more important than advocating for our children. But hey, it's their decision, not mine.

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