Poll reveals voters would support slight sales tax increase for education, but want funding tied to results

A new poll reveals Arizona voters would support a slight increase in an existing sales tax in order to fund K-12 education, but they want new funding tied to improved academic outcomes.

Voters were asked which method of taxation they would prefer to be increased for education. Respondents chose sales taxes over income or property taxes by a wide margin. While a sales tax increase was supported by nearly 45 percent of respondents, only 18.5 percent supported an increase in the state income tax, and only 16.6 percent supported a property tax increase.

Support for an increased sales tax is limited, however, and it comes with strings attached.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they support increasing the existing .6 percent sales tax to a full penny. Support dropped to 45 percent when respondents were presented with the option to raise the sales tax to 1.5 cents.

Respondents also said funding should be driven by outcomes.

Fifty-five percent of respondents said schools should be rewarded based on student academic growth and achievement with an emphasis on schools serving high poverty communities. Support was strong across all partisan affiliations and several subgroups, including Hispanics, who support results-based funding by 56 percent.

Only 31 percent of respondents support school funding based solely on socioeconomic status without a requirement to demonstrate academic growth or improved student performance.

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Garrick Taylor said the poll’s findings should buoy Gov. Doug Ducey, who supports results-based funding.

“Resoundingly, when presented with a choice, voters in both parties and across various demographics prefer funding schools in a way that rewards excellence and achievement, which is the strategy preferred by Gov. Ducey,” Taylor said. “When provided the option either to increase funding to schools earning improved student outcomes versus funding schools without demanding results, voters want to see more K-12 dollars invested in a way that brings more accountability to classrooms and rewards those teachers and students beating the odds.”

Voters also support the governor’s plan to raise average statewide teacher pay by 20 percent by the 2020 school year. Eighty-one percent of those polled responded in support of the teacher pay plan when they learned more about it.

Respondents were mostly unaware that the fiscal year 2020 state budget adopted by lawmakers in June contained a $660 million investment in K-12 education.

“While we have seen considerable local and national attention focused on Arizona’s education system and the gains made at the legislative level and the ballot box in recent years, voters are still significantly under-informed about the state of education in Arizona,” said George Khalaf in a memo accompanying the poll results. Khalaf is president of the firm Data Orbital, which conducted the poll. “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. Support for Results-Based Funding is strong and widespread, crossing partisan boundaries and drawing strong favorability from Hispanic voters. Looking ahead to 2020, education will continue to be a significant factor with 22 percent of voters ranking it their top issue, just behind healthcare and immigration.”

Despite the increased education spending, more than half of respondents said that more K-12 investment is still needed.

“The more voters learn about the financial commitment the governor and state Legislature have made to K-12 funding, the more they like,” Taylor said. “Still, voters are looking for increased investments to be combined with their desire for improved educational outcomes. Proponents of increased funding would be wise, though, not to overshoot. Voters aren’t going to write a blank check.”

The poll also found that voters are happy with the current state of affairs in Arizona, with 51 percent saying the state is on the right track. Gov. Ducey also has a favorable perception in the state with 36 percent favorable, 26 percent unfavorable.

Data Orbital conducted the poll through a live survey that collected 50 percent of the results from landlines and 50 percent from cell phones. The poll has a margin of error at plus or minus 4.18 percent.

Lorna Romero

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