PHOENIX — A new survey by the Morrison Institute finds that Arizonans want to spend more money on education.
But paying for it? That’s another question.
The report being released today (eds: Monday) finds nearly 70% of the 975 Arizona residents questioned rate higher teacher pay as very important, meaning 8, 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. Similarly, about 57% support more counselors.
There also was strong support for school safety, smaller class sizes and improvements to school buildings.
At the same time, 42% concluded that Arizona’s high school graduates were “not as well prepared” as counterparts from other states.
Yet only 45% said they are willing to spend an extra $200 a year to improve Arizona’s public education system.
Economist Jim Rounds, who worked with the Morrison Institute to analyze the results, said the fact that a majority are not willing to shell out that much money is a crucial point that policymakers, looking at the poll results, need to consider. In fact, Rounds suggested that asking people what they’d like government to do really isn’t helpful by itself.
“I think the public has yet to be asked the comprehensive question,” he said, Rounds said that starts with what people would like to see, why, give them some additional information — and then tell them what that’s going to cost.
And it’s even more complex than that.
“You can’t necessarily go up to somebody and just say, ‘Would you like more money for schools’ and ‘What are you willing to pay,’ because what does that mean, ‘more money for schools’?” Rounds said.
“Does it mean that it going to go to teacher pay, it’s going to go towards better locks on the classroom, is it going to go toward something very specific or just in general?”
Rounds said that the more the questions are posed in general terms, the less reliable the results.
“You have to reduce it down to something specific,” he said.
On the larger question of dollars and cents, just one out of five people asked believes the state has enough revenue. Another 13% said Arizona collects more in taxes than it needs, with 50% saying there needs to be an increase in state revenues.
But there were no follow-up questions on whether — and how much — those who say more dollars are actually willing to spend.
A companion question, however, suggests a possible skepticism about giving state leaders more dollars with which to play.
A total of 44% of those polled said they have “not very much” confidence in state government, with another 10% saying they have no confidence at all. That left 41% who rate their confidence levels in state government at fair, and just 5% who have a great deal of confidence.
Education funding aside, the survey did find some consensus on a number of key issues.
Most notably, more than 83% want to require background checks before a gun can be sold to anyone else.
That’s already the case now when a weapon is sold by a licensed gun dealer. But there is no such mandate for person-to-person sales. And the law defines that to include sales made by individuals from their own collections at gun shows.
Efforts to close what some call the “gun-show loophole” have faltered amid stiff opposition from lawmakers who say that would infringe on the Second Amendment. And even Gov. Doug Ducey, who is pushing legislation he said would keep firearms out of the hands of those determined to be dangerous, has refused to support expanding the law to ensure that those who are on such a list cannot obtain their weapons from private sales or gun shows.
On other topics, 67% of those questioned said they believe drought is a threat to Arizona’s water supply, with an equal number seeing the state population growth as undermining the state having enough water. But 71% said that Arizona agriculture, which uses about 70% of the water in the state, is important to the nation’s food supply.
The Morrison survey also found 56% said they see climate change as a threat to that water supply, with 63% saying state government needs to do more to prepare Arizona for changing climate conditions.
There was somewhat less concern about water quality, with 59% seeing pollution and contamination as a threat to the water supply.
The issue of immigration is not a top priority for Arizonans, ranking below water quality, public education, health insurance, public safety and even affordable housing and senior care. Overall, 65% called it an important policy issue.
Slightly more than one in three questioned say they feel less safe because of undocumented immigrants living in Arizona. Conversely, close to 60% say they are either not in favor of or unsure about deporting all people in this country legally.
On that issue of affordable housing, 59% said they believe government funding should be expanded. But here, too, there is no specific suggestion of how much or who should pay.
They survey found some pronounced differences in attitudes based on age.
For example, on that question of being willing to taxed an extra $200 for education, 52% of those younger than 35 are willing to open their wallets. But support for that drops to 29% for the 55-and-over crowd.
Along the same lines, those with children younger than 18 at home are more likely to back a $200-a-year tax increase for education than those in homes without children.
Perhaps for the same reason, the issue of child care was far more important to younger people who were surveyed as well as to those with children at home than their more senior counterparts and those of whatever age who have no youngsters in the house.
Conversely, older respondents were more likely to feel less safe because of undocumented immigrants in Arizona.
But those 55 and older also were more sensitive to issues of water quantity than those who are younger than 35.
The survey, conducted in late June and early July, has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
One note of interest is that the survey was conducted online, allowing respondents to use desktop computers and mobile devices. But Morrison spokesman Steve Kilar said his organization believes it to be more accurate than a phone poll.
“With random-dial cell phone polls, it’s not even clear the person is living in the state since the calls are based on the area code,” he said. And Kilar said those asked to participate are part of a predetermined pool which is designed to be balanced according to income, geography, race and ethnicity.