A new nonprofit backed by business groups is running ads on television and online to put a positive spin on the state of Arizona’s education.
The Arizona Education Project, which is backed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, utility company Pinnacle West, among other contributors, wants to tell the “other side of the story” to counter the negative voices dominating the education debate in Arizona, the group’s spokesman, Matthew Benson, told the Arizona Capitol Times.
“Arizona schools aren’t perfect, but we’re making tremendous progress in the state,” Benson said.
In the first week, the group will spend six figures on local TV, cable and digital ads, and then gauge from there how much to spend more and where, he said.
The group has put up a website outlining positive points about Arizona’s K-12 system.
Spending on Arizona schools plummeted during the Great Recession, and the state has yet to return to the spending levels before the economy tanked. Arizona schools also rank among the lowest in the nation for teacher pay.
A television ad that ran Jan. 22 boasts about the state’s improvements in education spending and outcomes
“What if I told you there’s a state that has increased education funding by nearly $1.5 billion in the last three years?” the ad says.
It touts Arizona’s math and reading scores, as well as the teacher’s academy that provides free college education to future teachers, so long as they teach in the state for a few years.
“This state is Arizona. There’s much more to do, but Arizona schools are making progress,” the ad concludes.
Joe Thomas, the head of the Arizona Education Association, the teachers union, said most of the negativity he hears around schools in Arizona is about the Legislature and the governor’s policies. Thomas said his group isn’t saying schools aren’t doing a good job, but rather that elected officials need to do better.
“I call that realism,” he said, adding that education funding statistics back him up.
Thomas admits his group reacts negatively to elected officials who aren’t supporting classrooms, and said they will continue to do so.
“If you ever feel (we’ve been) negative, it’s probably because we’re pointing the finger at you,” he said.
Benson said that, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the group has no connection with any candidate, campaign or legislative effort. Instead, it’s a public education campaign to tell Arizonans that their schools produce a lot to be proud of, including performance, improvements and school choice, Benson said.
It’s great that Arizona has some of the top schools in the nation, Thomas said, but all kids in the state should have access to a quality public education, regardless of where they live.
While knowing the money behind the ad campaign isn’t public dollars, Thomas said businesses could instead donate to struggling schools, rather than “propagandize a dire situation.” Teachers will see the ads and find them offensive, Thomas said.
“I hope a PR campaign isn’t all we’re going to do to stop teachers from googling teacher openings in Las Vegas,” he said.
Benson said the group has nothing to do with Gov. Doug Ducey’s re-election campaign because it’s a nonprofit. As for whether the ad, which echoes Ducey’s talking points on education, could boost the governor’s re-election bid this year, Benson said it isn’t for him to speculate.
He said the effort is led by Arizona moms and backed by Arizona businesses. The group’s filing with the Arizona Corporation Commission shows three women as its directors: Jessica Connelly, Amy Paul and Melissa Luzader.
Here’s the full list of donors to the Arizona Education Project:
· Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry
· Pinnacle West Capital Corp, the parent company of Arizona Public Service
· Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
· Douglas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
· Sierra Vista Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
· Ambos Nogales Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
· Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association
· Services Group of America