Next Doors: You — Yes, You — Can Help Fix Education in Arizona

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Posted By on August 27, 2020

The thing about big problems is that they’re big. You look at the big picture and all you see are barriers, things in the way that make individual impact seem impossible.

I’m known to throw an old dad joke out that I use for inspiration from time to time. The joke is, “How do you eat an elephant?” And, of course, the answer is, “One bite at a time.”

Now more than ever — sorry, slipped that one in there — it may seem like big problems can’t be solved. But you can help solve one very big one here in Arizona in a simple way.

I don’t need to tell you that we have a longstanding debate in Arizona about how to address public education. By many metrics, we trail other states in educational funding and achievement. We’re not all going to agree on what policies will fix those problems, but we can agree on the first step: VOTE!

“You can see from early education all the way through higher education that there are different types of funding,” said Christine Thompson, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona. “But at the end of the day, each sector is dependent on elected leaders echoing concerns of voters across the state, who have repeatedly said education is the top issue facing the state. We need to make sure we are asking good questions of our candidates to make sure they are making the right decisions on behalf of voters.”

Expect More Arizona is an advocacy group for improvement throughout the educational spectrum, from early childhood to the university level. They run a program called Vote 4 Education that provides a variety of resources for voters, including voter information, voter registration tools and a tool to connect voters with their elected officials.

Thompson said that advocacy efforts have increased the awareness of education issues in Arizona and helped move the needle.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of improvement over the years, including education being the top issue for voters,” she said. “We started Vote 4 Education 10 years ago, and we have tools for people to study up and speak up — things to ask people running for office that they can lean in on and learn more about how they approach education.”

The point is that virtually every important decision regarding education funding and policy in the state is made by an elected official — or by voters directly at the ballot box. To wit, as Thompson broke it down:

• The federal government heavily funds early childhood (age 0-5) programs, so the president, Senate and House of Representatives make the

key decisions.

            • For kindergarten through 12th grade, there’s a mixture of funding on the local, state and federal level. On the state level, the governor and the Arizona Legislature determine education funding, which is overseen by elected school boards on the local level. Local voters get to directly weigh in on bond and override elections — bonds generally build facilities, and overrides usually are for programs.

            • Local dollars generally fund community colleges with some state funding outside Maricopa and Pima counties. Community college districts have an elected board of directors that sets policy and oversees funding.

            • On the university level, the state Legislature appropriates funding. The universities are overseen by a Board of Regents appointed by the governor.

See a common thread there? Your vote directly impacts who is making decisions on education policy — and you even vote directly on bonds and overrides, as well as statewide ballot initiatives such as the Invest in Ed initiative on the November ballot.

“You ask somebody if they are ‘for education,’ and 99.9 times out of 100, they will say yes,” Thompson said. “You need to get into the details to see if a candidate’s values align with yours as a voter. Education is not a red or blue issue — it impacts everyone in our community.”

While everything is made a little more challenging by the pandemic, Thompson encourages voters not to be distracted from important issues.

“It’s vital to be engaged in the process and ask questions about everything,” she said. “Ask questions of the candidates and proponents and opponents of various proposals. How is this going to better education in Arizona, and what are you doing to move the ball forward? Education is going to be the key to unlocking Arizona’s potential, our children’s potential, and engaging in new ways while we’re dealing with COVID.”

To learn more, go to expectmorearizona.org/vote-4-education.

Tom Evans

About Tom Evans

Tom Evans is a contributing editor of Frontdoors Media.