A recent Arizona poll is pure empowerment for parents and others who want better funding for schools. Last month’s Republican primary in Kansas is a cautionary tale for Arizona Republicans who resist taking our schools off the starvation diet.
Consider the message in the Arizona poll: 74 percent of registered Arizona voters say the state is spending “too little” on K-12 public education.
Prop. 123 didn't change Arizona voters' minds
The recognition that our schools are underfunded spanned the political spectrum, with 63 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of independents and 88 percent of Democrats saying Arizona does not spend enough.
Adequately funding schools has bipartisan support. That’s a very big deal.
The Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll also found strong support regardless of a person’s ethnic background, age, gender or level of higher education.
EDITORIAL: Next steps for Arizona school funding
Nor did the feeling that Arizona is too stingy with schools change after voters narrowly approved Proposition 123 in May. That vote authorized tapping the state Land Trust for $2.2 billion out of a total $3.5 billion that will go to schools over 10 years.
The money settled a school-funding lawsuit without repaying schools all the money the courts said was illegally withheld by lawmakers during the recession. It was a good deal – and the voters knew schools couldn’t survive on nothing.
But the settlement did not convince Arizonans that the schools have what they need. A Morrison Institute for Public Policy poll in February 2015 also found 74 percent of voters felt schools got too little. That's the same as the newly released poll.
Prop. 123 Winners and Losers
Polls and elections have long reflected strong support for better education funding. Republican lawmakers have long felt they could ignore the will of the people.
In that conservative state’s Aug. 3 primary, voters ousted about a dozen conservatives who faced challenges from more moderate candidates. Those who were handed their walking papers included the Senate majority leader.
School funding was a major concern for Republican primary voters in Kansas, where the Kansas Supreme Court is looking at school funding inequities.
Many of the GOP candidates who won ran on a commitment to education, said Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards, according to WIBW News in Topeka.
Conservatives who were defeated had been following the lead of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who pushed sharp tax cuts on the promise they would jump-start the economy.
Last year, depleted state revenues led to an increase in sales tax. This year, revenue shortages forced lawmakers to withhold $260 million from public schools as part of an effort to balance the budget, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Republican primary voters in Kansas were fed up with strategies that wind up starving public schools.
What that means for Arizona elections
That’s right. Republican primary voters in a notoriously conservative state were dissatisfied with policies that pinched schools and other vital agencies.
“Every office holder in Kansas, county, state, whatever, should be paying attention to this election," Wichita State University Political Science Professor Ken Ciboski told KAKE News in Wichita.
They aren’t the only ones who need to listen up.
Conservative office holders in Arizona -- from Gov. Doug Ducey on down -- also need to take a lesson from Kansas voters.
The public can make a difference if people are willing to act on their belief that schools need more money. Arizona voters can make a difference if they work together to demand higher funding for schools.
Granted, many legislative districts in Arizona are not competitive, so the makeup of the Legislature is largely determined in the primary. That election is over. This leaves plenty of time to start lining up moderate Republicans to mount challenges next time around.
In the meantime, public pressure and the example of what happened in conservative Kansas are powerful tools to begin teaching Arizona lawmakers there is a price to pay for ignoring the will of the voters.