We’ve always known that education is an important issue for Arizonans, and now we can prove it. In late April, we conducted a survey that shows Arizona voters are concerned about the current state of education, disappointed in elected leaders and worried that the quality of the entire system costs Arizona economic and growth opportunities.

The bipartisan, statewide voter survey was conducted by national polling firms, Lake Research Partners and American Viewpoint, Inc. When questioned about the quality of the state’s education offerings, most Arizona voters expressed pessimistic feelings, with a plurality saying they are “concerned” (43%), followed by “frustrated” (15%) and “unhappy” (12%). Only 13 percent chose positive words, such as “satisfied,” “optimistic” or “happy.”

Lake Research pollster, Joshua Ulibarri, says the Expect More Arizona survey also found a notable trend in voters ‟sentiments about how the quality of education has changed over the past five years.” In similar polls in other states, when people want to express frustration, they generally say the education system is “staying the same.” In Arizona, voters have tipped all the way to the more critical description of viewing Arizona education as getting worse.

Specifically, the Arizona poll found: Forty-four percent believe the quality of education is “declining” and 38 percent say they believe education has not changed. Along the same line of questioning, a majority – 70 percent – described the quality of the statewide system as just fair or poor, but believe their regions are doing marginally better, with 43 percent ranking their local education system as excellent/good, and half rating it just fair/poor.

Respondents are also fully aware of the link between a solid education system and the success of the state’s economic future: Forty-three percent ranked the economy and education as the most important issues facing Arizona. In fact, nine-tenths indicate they agree economic development and job growth rely heavily on improving education across the entire continuum, and especially at the K-12 and higher education levels. Further, fewer than half (48%) said they believe Arizona is a good place for young people to start a career, a troubling statistic, given that Arizona’s college graduates are the critical workforce pipeline for a variety of the state’s current and future knowledge-based industries.

“Arizonans have for years said they want a high-quality education system, even before it became as critical as it is now to compete in the 21st century economy,” said Paul J. Luna, Chairman of the Board of Expect More Arizona. “We are finding that across the board, people are ready to take action; they realize the quality of education impacts their quality of life.”

When asked to rate elected officials on the job they have done in improving education, respondents overwhelmingly expressed dissatisfaction with their state (85%) and local (79%) elected leaders, saying they have done “just fair” or “poor.” Nearly three-quarters saying they don’t believe their elected officials are held accountable for their actions on education. However, there is an indication that voters are willing to make education a priority when casting ballots: Some 62% of those questioned say education will be one of their most or very important issue this election year.

When it comes to taking responsibility for improving education, more than three-quarters of those questioned (79%) said teachers have a great deal of responsibility, followed by parents (72%). Additionally, voters say others in government play a significant role: the Arizona Department of Education (73%), the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (70%), state lawmakers (62%) as a whole, the governor (56%) and their own state legislative representatives (55%). Nearly all of the survey’s participants (92%) said they believe they, too, assume at least some responsibility for improving education in the state.

The collective findings indicate that Arizonans are not satisfied with the state’s failure to prioritize education and may be more easily mobilized to demand more of themselves and their leaders.

“Arizonans are telling us they want a higher bar, and we are urging them to help effect change, get involved and be a voice for education – through community action and at the ballot box,” said Nicole Magnuson, Expect More Arizona Executive Director. “Arizonans have made it clear they know education is everyone’s business, and they are ready to make a change for the better.”

For a summary of the poll findings, please see click here to download a PDF.