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New group pushes upbeat image of Arizona’s education system

Even though K-12 education spending remains below pre-recession level

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.

television ad that ran Jan. 22 boasts about the state’s improvements in education spending and outcomes

An ad from the Arizona Education Project, a new nonprofit backed by business groups, notes the state's positive education news, like increased funding and academic achievements. (Screenshot from YouTube video)

An ad from the Arizona Education Project, a new nonprofit backed by business groups, notes the state’s positive education news, like increased funding and academic achievements. (Screenshot from YouTube video)

“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

9 comments

  1. If the situation wasn’t so sad, this would be laughable. You know things are bad when you have to spend six figures putting an upbeat spin on something. What got my attention is when several years ago the execs at Intel said if they were starting out now, they would not locate in AZ because they aren’t getting the quality of graduates they need. We need to be educating our students for jobs of the future, not mom & pop ice cream stores.

  2. I can see Tina’s point and I agree with the first part of her comments. The truth is teaching in Arizona has reached a new low. Never before has a teacher shortage depict the crisis in the classrooms. Teacher moral has never been lower and the true state of Special Ed. Law and practices are jeopardizing learning for all. 80% of the resources are being spent on 20% of the students. This ad is a total Joke and an insult. Please stop running this misinformation, the voters should know better.

  3. The current ad about education is an insult to every one in Arizona.. remember there is an election coming up and the only way to stop this Injustice of not funding and improving Arizona students education is to vote the Joker’s out of office

  4. Well sadly if you speak to the teachers you will find the truth instead of the fake news. This state is sadly the worst for teacher pay and support. I taught in pa and as a union leader I am appalled at what this state gets away with. PAY your teachers, pour tons of money into schools and it will still take a long time to catch up. So get busy republicans!!!!

  5. IF WE’RE GOING TO GET QUALITY TEACHERS IN ARIZONA, WE’RE GOING TO HAVE TO PAY THEM A LIVING WAGE. THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE TO WORK 2 JOBS TO MAKE A LIVING WAGE. WE NOW PAY THOSE WHO HAVEN’T YET GOT THEIR TEACHING CERTIFICATE BECAUSE QUALIFIED TEACHERS ARE LEAVING THE STATE WHERE THEY CAN GET PAID A DECENT WAGE. IS IT ANY WONDER THAT TEACHERS GOOGLE TO SEE WHERE THEY SHOULD GO IN OTHER STATES WHERE THEY CAN GET PAID? REMEMBER, THESE ARE PEOPLE WHO TEACH THE NEXT GENERATION. NOT IN ARIZONA!!!

  6. Propaganda! It is sad that this advertisement needs to prop up the business and political aspects of this state. Teachers are not in the inner circle of Gov.Ducey receiving 20%-67% raises. This group is stating they are non profit so this is being done for the betterment of education? A PS and the Chamber of Commerce has a stake in this. My daughter has taught for 16yrs and u see what a teacher DOES!Ducey would not be where he is IF didn’t have a teacher.

  7. Mark, I am curious, exactly what are you trying to say? Who are the students who are receiving the education and who are the students who are not being educated? I never heard this argument before. Or at least never noticed it. I, myself wonder what it would take to make this group of teachers happy? There are many people who have this type of income and don’t complain all the time. And the argument that our students don’t receive the type of education they need to please the business that have moved here I wonder on two points. First, maybe the businesses should have researched this point before they moved here, that’s on them. And second, it seems funny to me that teachers would complain about the higher level of education, they are the teachers, are they making a point that they are not doing their jobs? If everything is so bleak for education I fail to understand why our colleges are full of students working toward the degree to enter the workforce.

  8. I no longer work as a teacher in az. I started in flagstaff at fusd. Then Winslow. When I started we received 301 money as a bonus (prop 301). Then the legislature started stealing from that pool of money meant for education. It had been earmarked by a voter approved proposition. Every year they stole more. My pay would go up and that bonus would go down more. By the time I stopped teaching, I was making less than when I started. That was after 10 years. dug Ducey, pull your head out! Teachers aren’t as ignorant as you (are) think they are!
    I loved teaching and would have continued if I could only pay my bills. I now own my own business and make 6 to 8x my former salary.
    Why is there a teacher shortage in az? Think about it! May I reiterate, pull your head out!

  9. Concerned Educator

    Eva they maybe working toward that degree in AZ but they are not applying for the jobs in AZ! The income is not up to par and we push our teachers to the edge! Paid for performance? Teach to the test? What about teaching our students? Being their to teach the skills they need? Building relationships? I love what I do and I don’t do it for the money but it sure would be nice to be appreciated for what I do! Not have a ton of other jobs added because school doesn’t have the funding to pay for art, pe, custodial. Still under the state average of 48000? WHERE IS THIS SCHOOL??
    I worry for the quality of education for my children! If they leave AZ are they going to be educated enough for higher education? I worry about me. Am I going to have to work a 2nd job for ever?
    The question is why are the highly qualified teachers leaving? Why is it ok to have mediocre subs, that are not even qualified to teach? Why do we advertise false ****?
    Pay our teachers what they are worth! Teacher teach the Dr., cops, emt, video editors! Why should we be paid less!

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