Setting education policy is a complicated process that takes place at many levels. Some decisions are made by elected officials and others by you the voter/parent/resident. To help you make sense of the process, here’s a look at which bodies are responsible for making decisions, and how your vote impacts the final outcome.
Close to home, you help elect governing board members for the school district in which you live. Board seats are up for election every four years. School district governing boards are responsible for:
• Hiring the district superintendent
• Determining curriculum for schools (which stipulates how educators teach the state-determined standards)
• Determining salaries of employees and creating and enforcing disciplinary policies for teachers and administrators
• Management of school property and acquisition of equipment and supplies
• Overseeing the district’s budget
Similarly, there are governing boards for the state’s community college districts. These elected members:
• Set policy and tuition
• Hire college presidents
• Manage the budget and determine how much local residents will support the colleges through taxes
Your vote also decides who will serve as the county schools superintendent. This little known position has important responsibilities such as:
• Providing assistance to school districts, charter schools and municipal libraries on the use of student data, staff development, curriculum alignment and technology to improve student performance
• Appoint representatives to unfilled school board seats
Here in Arizona, voters have a unique opportunity to change and create laws, levy taxes and make legislative changes through ballot propositions. These come in the form of referendums, and initiatives. Referendums are referred by the legislature to the voters and examples include Prop 123 for education funding for K-12 schools, and Prop 301, which was passed by voters in 2000 and generates over $660 million annually for Arizona schools. Initiatives are introduced by the voters themselves. An example is Prop 203, a 2006 citizen’s initiative that funds quality early childhood development and health.
Similarly, school districts have the ability to initiate bond or override votes within their district to raise funds for capital or ongoing expenses.
Your Vote Within the state legislature, House and Senate seats are up for election every two years. With one senator and two House representatives from each district, this body of 90 members:
• Creates our state’s budget, which includes a sizeable portion of schools’ funding
• Passes laws that can impact everything from school start dates to issues of school choice and access to programs like full day kindergarten
Arizona voters also directly elect the state superintendent of public instruction. This individual is responsible for:
• Distributing education funding and executing policies set by the state board of education, such as the roll out of AzMERIT testing
• Serving as a member of the state board of education, Arizona Board of Regents, First Things First board, Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, and others.
The highest office in Arizona is that of governor, who has significant sway in education. Aside from the ability to use political influence, the governor approves – or can veto – laws and budgets set by the legislature. They are also responsible for appointing the members of a number of boards and commissions, including:
• State Board of Education (sets K-12 education policies, determines K-12 state standards)
• Board of Regents (oversees AZ’s three state universities and influences higher education policy)
• Board of First Things First (statewide agency with regional partnership councils focused on early learning and health of children, birth through age five)
• Arizona State Board for Charter Schools
Your vote makes a difference!
In a state of 6.8 million, you might assume that your vote doesn’t carry much weight. But consider that the Prop 123 initiative was passed in 2016 with only 50.92 percent of the vote. On a local level, many bond and override measures in over the last decade have passed or failed by less than 100 votes.
In Arizona, we have dedicated educators and hard-working students, but they can’t do it alone. As voters, our children are counting on us to make sure education is a top priority for our elected leaders.
When it comes time to vote, how do you know where a candidate stands on education issues? Here are some questions you can ask to find out how candidates running for these offices might support our educators and students.