Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am a campaign manager for a candidate challenging Mark Finchem for the AZ House in LD 11.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock this year, you probably know that this is an election year where K-12 education has been on center stage, at least here in Arizona. Here in LD 11, where I live, both Representatives Mark Finchem (running for reelection to the AZ House) and Vince Leach (running this year for the AZ Senate), have intimated they are supporters of education and have worked to restore funding back to 2008 levels.
First of all, I believe that if a politician doesn’t specify they are a supporter of PUBLIC education, they probably aren’t. Secondly, funding for Arizona public education is still almost $800 million short per year from 2008 levels, even with the plus-up in budget approved this year. And oh by the way, bringing our funding back up to 2008 levels isn’t exactly something to brag about, and the 5 percent raises promised teachers in 2019 and 2020 don’t count until they actually happen. For now, they are just promises that future legislators will need to make good on.
Secondly, the only way to really know where an incumbent stands on an issue is to look at the votes they cast, to include the budget they voted for. As former Vice-President Joe Biden once said,
Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.
That’s why it is important for all of us to delve a little deeper. One resource for learning about incumbents’ voting records on K-12 education bills is the Friends of ASBA (Arizona School Boards Association) “Educating Arizona” voting guide. It is published each year to show how Arizona legislative candidates voted on key bills impacting K-12 education. Votes on bills however, aren’t the only measurement ASBA uses to track support for public education. They also assess “how helpful (or not) a given legislator was in advancing the ASBA political agenda during the legislative session, and how the legislator acted toward public education in general.” (Note: ASBA’s political agenda is brought forth by Arizona school boards all around the state and contains agenda items from across the political spectrum. It is then condensed by a Legislative Committee made up of a very diverse group of school board members and finally, is voted on by representatives from each school board at our annual delegate assembly.) Helpful actions legislators take are considered for extra credit and include helping to get bills heard (or not) in committee and helping to prevent bad bills from advancing. Based on this total assessment, ASBA awards legislators a thumbs up (Champion), thumbs sideways (Friend), or thumbs down (Foe).
I thought I’d go back to the 2015 guide to see how my legislators have voted on K-12 education bills since they first got in office. That year, both Representatives Finchem and Leach voted with the ASBA position on only two of the ten bills. Among other bills, they voted to expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to children living on tribal lands and grandchildren being raised by their grandparents, as well as to replace common core.
In 2016, Finchem voted with the ASBA position on only three of seven of the bills and Leach only three of eight. They voted to establish caps on additional state aid, to phase-in empowerment scholarship accounts (ESAs), and to expand and modify administration of ESAs (vouchers). They also voted against eliminating the freeze on KidsCare.
In the 2017 legislative session, Finchem voted with ASBA on three of six bills and Leach on four. They both however, voted in opposition of ASBA, for SB 1431, the full expansion of ESAs. It really can’t get more anti-public education than that, and their “thumbs down” rating reflects that reality.
2018 saw both Finchem and Leach vote on eight key K-12 education bills and each of them voted with ASBA on six of them. The most significant bill passed was SB 1390/ HB 2158 which renewed Prop 301 for 20 years and kept public education funding from going off a cliff in 2021. Although they both voted for this bill, their lack of support in general, earned them another “thumbs down” and “Foe” moniker with regard to public education.
Just in case there is any lingering doubt about their focus when it comes to support for public education, Finchem writes on his website, “School Voucher Program expansion is an important element to creating a diverse and well qualified employment pool, a factor that many job creators look for when deciding on which state to locate in.” Leach does not include education as one of his top five issues, prioritizing the 2nd Amendment and support for Pro-Life over opportunity for students.
Elections matter, and I encourage all voters to be informed where candidates stand on the issues that matter most to them. As Franklin Roosevelt said,
Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.