In keeping with the statewide trend, voters in rural Arizona believe that education is the number one issue facing the state. This according to a poll of 600 likely voters in Cochise, Coconino, Mohave, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma Counties. The survey was conducted Jan. 25-29, 2021 by HighGround, Inc. on behalf of Expect More Arizona.
Immigration and border issues (22%) followed closely behind education (25%), with healthcare (15%) rounding out the top three issues. Rural voters’ priorities are similar to those of voters statewide, though immigration and economic concerns differed slightly. The top three issues statewide included education (28%), healthcare (18%) and jobs/economy (16%).
“Despite concerns related to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, voters continue to focus on education,” said Erin Hart, senior vice president and chief impact officer for Expect More Arizona. “It’s clear they understand the immense importance that schools play in our communities, as they prepare youth for life beyond school.”
When asked to identify what issues were most important to education in Arizona, rural voters expressed concerns with remote learning/COVID-19/getting students back into the classroom (19%), a general lack of funding for schools (17%) and teacher pay and support (14%) as the most pressing. These priorities match those of voters statewide, though getting students back into the classroom ranked third in the statewide survey.
Further underscoring the significance of issues related to funding, three out of four rural voters believe that teacher salaries are too low and three of five believe funding for K-12 schools is too low. And despite the recent passage of Prop 208, fewer than a third believe that the added dollars will be enough.
“Funding shortages hit rural areas differently and it’s felt acutely in schools,” Hart added. “Long bus commutes, trouble with internet connectivity and high poverty rates are all challenges to schools that require additional funding to address effectively.”
If given additional funds to invest in schools, voters prioritized increasing pay for Arizona teachers (25%), increasing funding to improve lower performing schools (16%), reading programs for K through third grade (15%) and funding for student support services, such as school counselors, early interventions and screenings, and other wrap-around services (15%).
In rural areas, voters agree that parent and family engagement is critical to a student’s success in school, as is support from the local community. Given how opportunity gaps have impacted students differently, they agree that these gaps must be addressed to ensure a skilled workforce and strong economic future for Arizona. In many rural areas, access to quality early learning is challenging, and voters agree that access to these opportunities sets a child up for future success in school.
“We’re not at all surprised at these results,” noted Rich Nickel, president and CEO of College Success Arizona, which recently joined forces with Expect More Arizona and Achieve60AZ to become one organization. “Time and time again voters have shown that they want to support local schools. There’s a strong belief that the investment will be well worth it. The problems facing our schools are felt more keenly than ever during COVID-19, and now is the time to ensure that educators have the resources they need to help students succeed.”