Arizonans Agree on Increasing Support for Low-Income Students, Early Learning

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For years, opinion polls have shown that improving education is at the top of the list of what Arizonans want. What’s been more difficult is finding places where voters agree on just what should be done. Helios Education Foundation believes that improving education in Arizona is possible—but only if we can come together to acknowledge that we all benefit from the solutions, and if we can work together to outline clear approaches to addressing them.

That’s why findings from two complementary polls of Arizona voters provided a needed booster this week to Arizonans who, like those of us at Helios, believe that improving education is central to the success not only of individual students but to the entire state. And, perhaps more important, findings from these polls help to identify specific actions that voters strongly approve of that can provide a direction forward.

According to a poll released Monday by the Center for the Future of Arizona, Arizonans continue to value education and understand its central role to the success of our state. They want to close achievement gaps among demographics and want to see more students continuing their education beyond high school.

These findings reflect the core values of the Helios Education Foundation, which exists to create opportunities for individuals in Arizona and Florida to succeed in postsecondary education, with specific emphasis in Arizona on those students who are Latino and low-income. We may not be able to tackle every problem all at once. But we can do something that matters. We know that certain improvements along the educational pathway have a kind of multiplier effect: They help keep students on track and reap additional benefits later in a student’s academic career. And thus, by addressing the key strategic drivers that lead to other improvements, we believe that we can indeed make significant progress.

A second poll, conducted by Education Forward Arizona, provides a closer look at Arizona voters’ priorities for education, which can help to provide a roadmap for state policies that can bring meaningful improvements. 

The Education Forward Arizona poll shows that Arizona voters show strong support for low-income students: More than three in four voters (78 percent) say schools should be provided additional funding and resources to support their low-income students, including tutoring and counseling.

In addition, an overwhelming 82.6 percent of Arizona voters responding to the Education Forward Arizona poll support providing scholarships to Arizona low-income students to go to college, which suggests that voters would likely strongly support adding funding to the Arizona Promise Program. Arizona Promise provides scholarships for eligible low-income students to fully cover their tuition and fees if they enroll at one of Arizona’s three state universities. Last year, state lawmakers funded the program with an initial $7.5 million, and these poll findings suggest support for even more. The Governor’s Fiscal Year 2023 proposed budget includes $12.5 million in additional funding, as does the latest draft budget proposal. It’s a good start for a program that should be widely expanded.

Preparing students academically for college starts well before high school; it starts with quality early learning supports from birth through grade three that culminate in ensuring that students read proficiently by the end of third grade. According to the Education Forward Arizona poll, Arizona voters show significant support for several elements related to early learning, which should bolster lawmakers in their efforts to strengthen state policy that can significantly improve early learning in Arizona.

More than two out of three voters (68 percent) polled by Education Forward Arizona support investments in early childhood; three out of four voters (76.6 percent) support providing PreK for 3- and 4-year-olds for families who want it; three in four voters (75.8 percent) say they want students to begin kindergarten with knowledge and skills; and three in four voters (74.6 percent) support providing a full day of kindergarten. Together, this sends a powerful signal of support for early learning.

The message about the importance of third-grade reading is getting through to voters, as a whopping 96 percent of poll respondents express support for ensuring that students can read proficiently by the end of third grade. Such clear findings are the reason that early literacy legislation and focused budget requests have passed in both 2021 and 2022 to strenghten Arizona’s early literacy commitment. It’s clear voters see this milestone as critical and these findings should be read as a message that lawmakers have the support to bolster these efforts.  

Arizonans also understand the lingering effects of COVID-19 on student learning, with 70.8 percent of voters saying they recognize that it will take multiple years to recover from the disruption caused from the pandemic.

There’s a lot of work to do to accomplish what Helios is aiming for—doubling achievement in third grade reading and other key benchmarks on the pathway to college access and success. Helios has prioritized these areas in an integrated strategy combining policy, research, and investment. We are encouraged that Arizonans agree on these important benchmarks, which can help to align lawmakers with the will of voters and help to demonstrate that improvement in specific areas is both wanted and possible.

Paul J. Luna