Poll: Tepid support for plan to pay education-funding suit


October 20, 2015

The Republic | azcentral.com

A new poll shows Arizonans overwhelmingly support an early childhood development program and have mixed emotions about a proposal to tap money from the program to help settle the K-12 education-funding lawsuit.

Voters created the First Things First program in 2006, boosting taxes on tobacco to create programs aimed at preparing children to enter kindergarten healthy and ready to learn.

Republican legislative leaders now want to use money from the program to help resolve the five-year-old legal battle over the state’s underfunding of public district and charter schools based on a voter-approved inflation formula. Lawmakers have not said how much money they want to take from the program.

A lower court judge ruled the state must pay schools an additional $331 million a year after not fully funding inflation costs during the Great Recession. Legislative leaders are appealing that ruling.

The proposal would require voter approval, and the poll is the first public indication that supporters of the First Thing First program might mount a campaign to oppose the plan.

The poll found:

  • 71 percent of respondents said if given the chance in 2016, they would vote again to support First Things First, 20 percent would not and 9 percent had no opinion.
  • 42 percent of respondents support the GOP plan to shift the funds to K-12 education, 47 percent oppose the plan and 12 percent had no opinion.
  • When told the state has a budget surplus and rainy-day funds that could be used for K-12 education, support for using early childhood funds was even lower: 36 percent said they favored shifting the funds, 51 percent opposed and 13 percent didn’t have an opinion.
  • 46 percent of voters gave the Legislature a grade of D or F for its work related to public schools, 26 percent issued a C and just 13 percent gave it an A or B. The remaining 15 percent didn’t have an opinion.

Nadine Basha, who authored First Things First and now sits on its board, said lawmakers’ proposal to use the funds is shortsighted.

“Swiping money from First Things First is not going to settle the long-term problem — and it’s a very cynical move,” she told The Arizona Republic on Monday, adding the poll results are “gratifying” because they suggest the public is “continuing to stand with us.”

The survey, commissioned by Basha, was conducted by Moore Information between Sep. 23 and Sept. 25. Moore Information has polled for various successful candidates and initiatives.

It surveyed 404 likely voters on landline phones and cellphones. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.


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