The Skinny

Arizonans still want more money for schools.
Arizonans still want more money for schools.

Failing Grades

Survey shows AZ voters want more funding for education

As state lawmakers prepare to start the legislative session next week, education is still looming as a key issue for many Arizona voters, at least according to a recent poll.

A full 40 percent of respondents named education as a top issue in the December survey of 600 voters conducted by political consultants HighGround Inc. on behalf of Expect More Arizona, an education advocacy group. Immigration was named as the second most important issue by 29 percent, while 8 percent said healthcare was the most important issue. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

And if Gov. Doug Ducey and GOP lawmakers think the plan to raise teacher salaries by 20 percent by the year 2020 satisfied voters, they are greatly overestimating their efforts.

The survey found that 78 percent of voters still think teacher salaries are too low. (That includes 95 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of independents and even 64 percent of Republicans.) Nearly three out of four voters—73 percent—believe that too little money is going to K-12 schools.

It's the fourth year in a row that voters have named education as the top issue in Expect More Arizona's annual survey.

In terms of funding priorities, voters want to see improvement at lower-performing schools, higher teacher salaries, easier access to public colleges and universities, continued funding for career and technical education and smaller class sizes.

And with the state looking at a $100-million-plus windfall in tax revenue thanks to changes in federal tax law, you can bet education advocates will be looking to move some of that money into education programs. The majority of GOP lawmakers want to direct that money towards new tax cuts, while Ducey wants it to go to the rainy-day fund.

It's not just surveyed voters who think more needs to be done for education. Business leaders are on board, too. Ted Maxwell, president and CEO of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, says state lawmakers need to make more investments in schools.

"Voters are not alone in their strong support of Arizona's students and teachers and desire to see additional investments in the entire education system," Maxwell says. "A strong P-20 education system will create and support the talent pipeline that is needed to attract diverse businesses to Arizona and grow our state's economy."

Power Struggle

The heat is on for APS

One of the more unlikely outcomes of the 2018 election was the elevation of Republican Bob Burns to the chairmanship of the Arizona Corporation Commission.

The Corp Com flies below the radar of many Arizonans, even those who are politically engaged. It's most visible role to voters is the commissioners' regulation of utilities.

More than a decade ago, when the commission leaned more to the left, the commissioners came up with new requirements for utilities to get more of their power from renewable sources and created incentives to encourage Arizonans to adopt rooftop solar systems.

In more recent years (and it's probably no coincidence), Arizona Public Service suddenly started spending a lot of money in Arizona Corporation Commission races. APS officials have declined to confirm or deny whether they were the source of more than $3 million in dark-money campaign spending in 2014 on behalf of Corp Com candidates, although they've 'fessed up about how much they've spent in more recent cycles.

That political spending is not sitting well with Burns, the former Arizona Senate president who started a campaign to require APS to turn over records related to its spending on campaigns. APS refused, and Burns' fellow Republicans on the commission blocked him from issuing subpoenas to get the records.

But in the 2018 election, Commissioner Tom Forese lost his primary race and Democrat Sandra Kennedy won the open seat. That gave Burns, who is now the Corp Com's senior member, an opportunity to become chair of the commission.

From what we hear, APS and its political allies leaned hard on some of the other GOP members of the commission to keep Burns from landing the chairmanship—but he prevailed nonetheless, so APS officials can expect some subpoenas for its campaign records to start flying their way.

The big question for us: Why has APS been so desperate to prevent Burns from taking a peek at the records? You'd almost think they have something to hide.

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