Photia via diane555, Getty Images
Photia via diane555, Getty Images

As part of our efforts to help voters feel informed as the November election approaches, we’re creating an overview of local races throughout the state.

Three candidates vying to represent Arizona’s 21st Legislative District participated in a debate last month, where they discussed issues ranging from COVID-19 relief to the state budget. All issues, however, led back to education, as two of the candidates have openly run on vastly different pro-education platforms.

The three in attendance—incumbent Kevin Payne (R-Peoria), fellow Republican Beverly Pingerelli, and Democratic challenger Kathy Knecht—are running to fill two seats in the state’s House of Representatives. Voters in LD21 will be able to vote for up to two candidates for the House, and one candidate of the state Senate. 

Sen. Rick Gray (R-Sun City), who is running for reelection unopposed, did not attend the debate.


COVID-19

Knecht: Knecht says the topic of safely reopening schools during the pandemic comes up regularly in her conversations with voters, and that each district needs to consider when to reopen based on health safety guidelines. 

As a former school board member and president of the Arizona School Board Association, Knecht said that one of the ways the state needs to address the impact of COVID-19 on students is in the form of increased funding for school counselors. Arizona has the lowest counselor-to-student ratios in the country, Knecht said, and addressing student’s emotional and social needs starts with fully-staffed schools.

Pingerelli: As a member of the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board, Pingerelli voted in August to fully reopen schools in the district, despite high COVID-19 case rates in Maricopa County. Pingerelli defended her vote, stating that schools had the entire summer to prepare, despite teachers in the district requesting that in-person learning be delayed until October. 

However, reporting by The Copper Courier revealed that many school districts did not have the funds for personal protective equipment, and some schools that opened too realy were forced to close after reopening. Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman also advised against schools reopening too soon, saying that to do so would be a disservice to educators.


Support of the Invest in Ed Initiative

Knecht: While she voiced support for funding schools through bonds and overrides, Knecht stated that she, “longs for the day when we don’t have to ask our local taxpayers to tax themselves to pay for their local schools.” Knecht said increasing state funding needs to be a priority in the coming years, both to boost up Arizona’s education system, and as a way to maintain a strong economy,

Payne: Opposes Prop 208, the Invest in Education ballot proposition. Payne incorrectly stated that Prop 208 would add an additional tax for small business owners, when in reality, Prop 208 would add a surcharge tax for income over $250,000 for individuals, and over $500,000 for joint tax filings.

Pingerelli: Pingerelli says the issue with education isn’t lack of funding, but how those funds are used. While she pointed to a low percentage of high school students who are able to pass the state’s standardized AZMerit test for English, Pingerelli offered no solution to address low test scores in her district.


School Vouchers

Knecht: Far from supporting vouchers for use outside the state, Knecht, said that allowing education funding to leave Arizona will only drain funding out of Arizona schools and lead to further budget shortfalls. Instead, she said that the legislature’s focus should be that, ”every kid in every corner of the state has a quality school.


Payne: Payne came out in strong support of Arizona’s school voucher program, which allows residents to use taxpayer funds to send students to private and charter schools. He even went so far as to defend an expansion of the state voucher program that allows Arizona taxes to pay for students to attend out-of-state schools.


Continue Reading: The Copper Courier Voter Guide: Arizona’s 21st Legislative District