Arizona Education Project unveils advertising blitz touting education system

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When Arizona residents turn on the television or watch the internet this week, they'll likely see a 30-second ad that shows how the state is spending money to help K-12 public education, as well. as some achievements of public schools.

When Arizona residents turn on the television or watch the internet this week, they’ll likely see a 30-second ad that shows how the state is spending money to help K-12 public education, as well. as some achievements of public schools.

The cheerful ad, with images of teachers in class and students gathered around a laptop, comes from a new nonprofit called the Arizona Education Project.

So far, the nonprofit’s donors include heavyweights: Pinnacle West Capital Corp., parent company of Arizona Public Service Co., Services Group of America, Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Arizona, the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association, and the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. –

All are allies of Governor Doug Ducey, who is running for re-election amid intense pressure to increase funding for public education.

The public education announcement is intended to counter the narrative of those who question the commitment of heads of state to adequately fund public education and highlight positive stories, said Matthew Benson, spokesperson. 501 (c) nonprofit group talk 3.

The announcements are not linked to any political candidate or legislative effort, he said.

“The message is pretty simple: Arizona schools aren’t perfect, but we’re making a lot of progress and too often in today’s climate it gets lost,” Benson said. The Republic of Arizona.

“There are groups and individuals who see gain and political advantage in denigrating our schools and teachers. There is another side, there is another story to be told about Arizona education and this is what we are going to talk about.

Why do this now?

Benson said the group chose to buy significant airtime now because “it is the dominant topic of Arizona public policy.” He said the group wanted to make sure the discussion also included “everything that is happening in our schools that is positive”.

Dawn Penich-Thacker, spokesperson for Save Our Schools Arizona, said those behind the ads “underfund and discredit Arizona schools for decades, then spend millions to praise the schools’ tenacity even they systematically attack “through underfunding and privatization. programs, she said.

Benson did not want to reveal how much money donors contributed to the project or how long the advertising campaign would last. He said the group will spend “six figures” on its first week of commercials, which will also air in Tucson.

The announcements run two weeks after the start of the state’s legislative session, which will be dominated by education funding.

Ducey, who is widely perceived as politically vulnerable in education, proposes $ 400 million in “new investments” for public schools. Of this amount, about $ 116 million, or about 30 percent, is legally required. The rest of the money would give schools extra money for building repairs, teacher salaries, and full-time kindergarten.

The spending plan, if approved by lawmakers, could help blunt criticism that it isn’t doing enough to fund public schools in a more meaningful way.

Defenders call for more spending

Some school advocacy groups and business leaders, for example, want Ducey to more quickly expand Proposition 301, the 0.6-cent education sales tax that injects $ 600 million into schools across the country. Arizona and is expected to expire in mid-2021.

And Ducey drew criticism last year of those who oppose his program to expand a program that diverts money from public schools and allows parents to use it to pay for private and religious schools.

The expanded Empowerment Scholarship Account is on hold after a group of parents and public education advocates collected enough signatures to allow voters to decide in 2018 whether they want to keep or reject the law.

Claims made in the ad

The 30-second Arizona Education Project announcement takes place against a backdrop of upbeat music.

“What if I told you that there is a state that has increased education funding by nearly $ 1.5 billion in the past three years,” asks a voiceover. “Or that the state has led the nation in improving math and reading in fourth and eighth grades since 2009. And opened a teachers’ academy to help college students graduate debt-free if they teach in public schools.

“That state is Arizona. There is a lot more to do, but Arizona schools are making progress.

The announcement refers to a figure the governor used to tout funding for schools under his administration. The figure includes dollars from Proposition 123, which voters passed as part of a state effort to settle a long-standing lawsuit over its underfunding of the costs of inflation.

However, state funding per student, adjusted for inflation, has declined by about $ 900 since 2008. It is around $ 4,100 today, compared to nearly $ 5,100 in 2008. according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

Arizona is one of the most improved states in math and reading in the past decade, according to National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, but still lags behind other states.

Ducey launched the teachers academy last year, saying it would help address a persistent shortage of qualified teachers across the state.

Spurious message?

Penich-Thacker, of the Grassroots Parents’ Group, said the message was misleading because these achievements took place “despite a lack of support” from adequate funding.

“What if I told you that there is a state that invests almost $ 1,000 less today in the education of your students than it did ten years ago? ” she asked. “Or that improvements in math and reading scores have occurred despite chronic neglect of teachers and students by elected leaders?” “

She added, “This state is Arizona. There is a lot more to do because Arizona politicians are starving the schools and hunting the teachers upon whom our state and our economy depend.”

Arizona chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor said business leaders were increasingly “more encouraged” by the state’s educational landscape.

“When you find out that five of the 10 public high schools are located here in Arizona, it’s a good story to tell,” he said. “When you see the increasing access to choice in Arizona, it’s a story worth telling. ”

Documents filed Jan. 12 with the Arizona Corporation Commission indicate that the Arizona Education Project “will share and promote information” about the state’s K-12 education system.

He plans to do so by showcasing academic achievements “and working to connect directly with parents – through paid ads, research, and direct contact programs like mail, emails, and phone calls -” to inform them of their child’s education options and educate them on how to take advantage of those options.

SPEAK POLICY: Listen to our Arizona politics podcast, The Gaggle, on Apple podcasts, SoundCloud, Stapler Where google play.

No expenditure report until 2019

As 501 (c) 3, the group is not required to file reports on its spending until 2019 – after the election. The group does not have to publicly disclose its donors, Benson said. He did so after repeated questions from The Republic.

Beyond the ad blitz, Benson said the group will also survey voters to gauge the effectiveness of the messages and to guide future ads.

“It’s not flash in the pan,” he said. “The negative education narrative that has been set in Arizona didn’t happen overnight, so we know it can’t be changed overnight.”

Arizona State Senator Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is seeking his party’s nomination to run against Ducey in the 2018 general election.

Farley tore up the ads, claiming in a press release that they are backed by “special interest companies” that “slide on Ducey’s balance sheet.”

Republic journalist Ricardo Cano contributed to this article.

Follow the reporter on Twitter @yvonnewingett and on Facebook. Contact her at [email protected] and 602-653-6248.

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