About 22 percent of Arizona voters surveyed in a new poll rank education their top issue, placing it just behind healthcare and immigration. But paying more in taxes to increase education funding is another matter, with a slight increase in the sales tax the only option supported by more than 50 percent of voters.
Support for other forms of increased taxation fell below 20 percent, according to a statewide survey conducted by Data Orbital. At the same time, only 35 percent of those surveyed said they were aware the budget passed this year included $600 million in new education funding, including raises for teachers.
The survey, commissioned by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, found that while voters were under-informed about education funding, a majority across all demographics expressed strong support for Results-Based Funding (RBF) initiatives. Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Hispanics, those with master’s degrees, those with high school diplomas, and those identifying as “somewhat progressive” all got behind RBFs.
"When presented with actual policy proposals, we found that voters want to see more accountability in education funding and more flexibility in dollars following a student,” George Khalaf, president of Data Orbital, said in a prepared statement. “Support for Results-Based Funding is strong and widespread, crossing partisan boundaries and drawing strong favorability from Hispanic voters.”
When given an option of what tax increases they'd support to increase education funding, about 44 percent of those surveyed chose increasing the sales tax; 58 percent supported increasing it from six-tenths of a penny to a full penny; 45 percent supported increasing it to 1.5 cents, with 40 percent opposing it.
Nineteen percent said they opposed having any additional tax increases to fund K-12 education.
Current K-12 funding – about $5.5 billion – accounts for nearly half of the state’s $11.8 billion budget.
Since 2015, Arizona has added more than $4.5 billion new dollars to K-12 funding, increasing per-pupil spending by more than 17 percent.
The Phoenix-based free market think tank, the Goldwater Institute, helped launch the first Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) in the country in 2011, which it argues saves taxpayers money and helps the neediest families.
Arizona ESAs provide about $6,100 to participant families per child every year (for non-special needs, non-kindergarten students), compared to the more than $10,100 per public school pupil funded by taxpayers, the institute reports.
“ESAs increase per pupil public school spending by redistributing state and federal dollars back to remaining public school students each time a child opts out of public school and into an ESA,” the institute says. From state sources alone, ESAs redirected more than $600 per participant to remaining public school students for salaries and operational expenses and helped more than 2,200 families of special needs students with severe disabilities.
Unlike the ESA law, the Helios Education Foundation, primarily funded through the purchase of a federal loan program by Sally Mae, is crafting a plan for the Legislature to approve and put on the 2020 ballot that would increase sales and property taxes by $1.5 billion every year to increase funding of K-12 education.
Another proposal, being drafted by the Center for Economic Progress, also proposes asking voters to increase funding for education by taxing higher income earners. The plan is similar to an unsuccessful proposal introduced last year that would have imposed an income tax surcharge on individuals earning more than $250,000 annually. It never made it to the ballot.
According to the poll, only 16.6 percent supported increasing property taxes and 18.5 percent supported increasing the state income tax to fund education. The poll had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.