No question this is a big election year for our country and our state. The issues may seem to divide us but when you drown out the noise coming from both sides, a much clearer picture emerges of what really matters to Arizonans.
Public education is the second most important policy issue in our state, and related to that topic were focuses on teacher pay and school safety.
The 2019 "Arizonans Speak Poll" out of ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy shows 68 percent of people polled want teachers to make more money. That was second only to increased school safety.
Arizona consistently ranks toward the bottom when it comes to teacher pay and student funding. It is a big factor in Arizona's ongoing teacher shortage and helped fuel 2016's Red for Ed movement, which lead to the governor's 20 percent pay raise by 2020. The final phase of that takes effect next school year.
"We've pumped $4.5 billion in new investments into Arizona schools and with our latest budget, that number will rise to $6.6 billion," Governor Doug Ducey said during his State of the State address in January. "We've done all of this without raising taxes."
Still, the push for more funding is gaining steam.
"There's no way we can provide the opportunities our students deserve without adjusting our total revenue," said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association.
"These are heavy hitters, these are people that are here to fight for kids, fight for teachers," said Christine Bustos, who teaches at an East Valley elementary school.
On February 17, the "Invest in Ed" campaign re-launched its effort to generate nearly $1 billion by taxing a surcharge for some of Arizona's top earners. It needs about 350,000 signatures to get on the November ballot. An Arizona Supreme Court booted the initiative from the ballot in 2018 saying the language was too confusing.
School safety can mean a variety of things, from physical safety like barriers, fencing or security cameras, to psychological safety in the form of bullying prevention, mental health support and parental involvement.
Right now the Arizona Department of Education's School Safety Task Force says it is working to address all of it.
"Making sure that kids are happy at school, that they feel welcome, that it's an inclusive environment," said State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman. "All the way to the other end of the continuum which is, what is the reaction of the school when there is an incident, especially an incident of violence."
School districts are also finding new ways to tackle this issue. In a recent study session the Mesa Public Schools Governing Board discussed the idea of "crime prevention through environmental design" and is set to remodel several schools this summer with that in mind.