Some LD13 candidates debate education, guns - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Some LD13 candidates debate education, guns

June 21st, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Some LD13 candidates debate education, guns

By Cecilia Chan
Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts of a Clean Elections sponsored debate for District 13 candidates

Candidates hoping to represent a portion of Gilbert in the state Legislature sparred recently over issues, including education funding, immigration, gun control and the economy during a recent debate.

Four of the nine candidates seeking the one Senate and two House seats participated in the virtual event for District 13, which also includes Sun Lakes and southern Chandler.

Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard, who is unopposed in his re-election bid did not participate. But Democrats Cynthia Hans and Michael Morris, who face off in the Aug. 2 primary to challenge Mesnard in the Nov. 8 General Election, did.

For the House seats, Democrat Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, who is unopposed in her primary, was a no show. And of the five Republicans running, only Josh Askey and Ron Hardin participated while Don Maes, Liz Harris and Julie Willoughby sat it out.
Public education funding

The candidates were asked if they believed public education in Arizona was adequately funded and if not, what changes would they make.

The Republicans favored school choice while the Democrats wanted more funding for public education.

Askey said nearly half or about $6.7 billion of the governor’s proposed $14.25 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2023 was going toward education.

“So, my concern is not how much are we spending,” said Askey, the father of three sons who all attended Basha High School in Chandler. “I would think from a parent and a student’s standpoint, it’s what’s the quality of our education for those funds?”

“I would really want to know how is my money spent on my son’s education or my kid’s education,” Askey said. “I think we spend a lot of public money on education and I would want to see better results for it and then we can maybe talk about how much more money do we need in specific programs.”

“Throwing more money at education is not going to necessarily give us the results that we want,” Askey said.

Hardin, a father, grandfather and small-business owner, said the state should look at the aggregate expenditure limit placed on school districts rather than if state funding was adequate or not.

The constitutional spending limit puts a ceiling on how much K-12 schools can spend in a fiscal year regardless of the total money they have to spend and the cap fluctuates annually depending on the previous year student enrollment.

“It’s been 40 years since that number’s been raised. So each time the school districts hit the threshold, you have to go back to the Legislature to get the OK, the authority to spend,” Hardin said. “I think those are some of the things we should probably look at versus saying whether or not the budget is adequate or not.”

Hardin added he would want to look at all the inefficiencies in the system before saying if funding should be increased or even decreased.

“Today, what I see in public schools is unacceptable. So yes we’ve got to have metrics, we’ve got to have the performance measures, we’ve got to have the accountability that’s there. ”

Morris, a veteran and a Realtor, stated that the state came in dead last in the country for funding public education.

“No wonder we’re not producing the results we want to see,” Morris said. “That makes no sense to give somebody 10 cents and then say, ‘well, why aren’t you producing anything for me?’ Because I don’t have the tools, I don’t have the resources, I don’t have the funding.”

Education Data Initiative in March 2022 reported that Arizona schools spend less on K-12 education than the national average and less on education per capita. The state ranked 47th in total spending and in funding, according to the research group, which collects data and statistics about the U.S. education system.

Hans, a mother, grandmother and retired educator, said public schools need more funding and that she wanted to see more accountability for the money that goes to charter schools.

“We don’t have enough money in education already and some of it keeps getting drained away by ESAs,” she said. Both Hans and Morris also supported more funding for trade schools.
Hardin said he fully supported public schools but that competition is good.

“We have to have alternative choices because everyone’s learning styles are different so you have to allow for that,” Hardin said. “That’s how you get better. Competition drives improvements across the system.”

Askey said he supported school choice and “ultimately what I want to see is that the dollars stay with the student and it moves with the student.” “The reality is that my parents, they paid (and) I went to a small private school back in Ohio,” Askey said. “What kind of irritated me the most is that they not only paid for my private education, they also paid for my public education through their taxes.

“So, the harsh reality is that my parents double paid for my education and that I see is unfair and that is definitely inequitable and so when we talk about ESAs, that is kind of the road that I would head down and so it truly becomes more competitive and the parents and the students really can take advantage of the funds, the taxes that they pay into and to make the decisions for their child’s education.”

Morris said with the state’s education spending so low, “why would you want to expand the voucher program and give more money to the private schools? That makes no sense.

State budget surplus

When asked how they would spend the state’s $5.3 billion surplus, some of the candidates tied it back to education spending.

“Education, education, education,” Morris said. “I would put it right straight into public education funding.

Hans said she’s lived through school budget cuts as a teacher and principal and would save some of that surplus.

“If I need savings in my home, Arizona needs savings for its home, also for that rainy day,” Hans said.

“So, some of that money needs to be spent,” she added. “I absolutely think a huge majority of it needs to go into schools, it needs to go into school classroom sizes, needs to go into paying teachers, paying all the support staff better, (and) the infrastructure in the schools need to be shored up.”

Hardin agreed with Hans that teachers shouldn’t be underpaid.

“You’re right, no one should be delivering pizza,” he said. “But when you go to school as an educator or when you go to school to get an education to become an educator you are not expecting to come out with the same pay as someone who majors in aerospace engineering so there is some accountability there for the choices we make as folks going into that profession.”

Hans shot back, “Somebody taught that aerospace engineer some basics before he got to that or she got to that point.”

Morris also called Hardin out for his comment.

“We are losing teachers left and right to Las Vegas and all these other places where they can make a living wage,” Morris said. “We have to attract and retain quality teachers by paying them a respectable wage.”

As for the surplus, Hardin said it should be returned to the taxpayers not as a check but maybe as another temporary reduction in income tax.

“I think we should look for those opportunities,” he said. “I’m certain that everyone would love to have more money in their pocket and that goes back into the Arizona economy. To me it’s just plain and simple, you give back to the folks that put it in the first place.”

Askey said he would return 25 to 50% to taxpayers, use some of the money to shore up public safety and the rest would be saved to help weather what he believed was a coming recession.
Gun control

Hardin said gun-control laws don’t create a safe environment.

“If anything, it’s going to probably make things worse because now the criminals know that you don’t have a gun,” Hardin said. “I am comfortable with the guns laws as they are today.”

“I think we need to do background checks,” said Hans, who has a concealed weapons carry permit but doesn’t own a gun. “I think we need to require training. “We lead the world in these kinds of shootings (yet) we don’t have any more mental illness than any other country.”

Morris, however, disagreed with his fellow Democrat.

“As you all know I have a background in law enforcement,” Morris said. “I have guns of my own. I will never ever, ever take somebody’s gun out of their hand.”

“That is our Second Amendment right. We have the right to bear arms. Now having that being said, there are some loopholes that I could see perhaps where we fall short.”

He pointed to gun shows where a seller doesn’t have to do a background check on a buyer.

Morris sided with Hans in that people should be trained on how to properly use guns.

Hans later said she was not opposed to people owning guns and supported the Second Amendment.

Askey said he was a big supporter of the Second Amendment and disputed Morris’ assertion that there is a gun show loophole.

Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers to initiate background checks prior to selling a weapon but private, unlicensed sellers do not.

“I take the word ‘should not infringe’ literally,” said Askey, a constitutionalist. “I would not be for too many restrictions on gun ownership especially when you realize the purpose of the right to bear arms is not to have just recreational shooting…the purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect all the other Amendments from a tyrannical government. An unarmed populace is really easy for someone that has lost their power to come and overtake the society.”