McSally on Education

Arizona Department of Education building.


Jun 5, 2017

It can be a little difficult to pin down where Martha McSally stands on education. In general, her public statements reflect a desire to reduce the federal footprint and increase local control.  The amount of involvement (and in particular, funding) that she’d be willing to accept from the federal government seems to have shifted over time.


For example, in her 2012 campaign, she appeared to indicate that she didn’t want any federal funding of education at all, telling KGUN9 that she saw “no reason why we should keep having money be sent from here to Washington, D.C. to be sent back for education. So I think we need to go back to the federal government being minimally involved and this being state and local driven and funded.”[1]


In 2014, she disavowed that position, saying that she does support the federal funding of education and only wants to eliminate “red tape.”


In 2012, when asked at a debate what the federal government can do to help people deal with soaring college tuition, she responded, “As a conservative, the federal government needs to be doing less legislation, not more legislation, especially when it comes to these local issues. So I would propose no legislation to deal with these rising costs. Instead of having federal loans that keep piling up and raise the cost of tuition… what we need to do is make sure that we have the best education in the world, we’ve got good competition between those colleges, and students get to pick, and they’re able to compete for those dollars that they’re spending on their college education, and get the federal government out of the way.”


In 2014, she disavowed that position, calling it a misstatement. “I think we need Congress to be able to figure out how we can bring the cost of education down and make it affordable and available.” She said she was “very passionate” about finding “thoughtful solutions,” but gave no specifics.


There was much debate in 2014 over whether she supported Pell Grants. She said she did, but she also signed on to the Ryan Budget, which would have had a drastic impact on education funding: “Education funding would be cut by $145 billion over 10 years. Pell grants for college students would lose $90 billion. University students would start being charged interest on their loans while still in school, reaping $40 billion.”[2] Challenged on the apparent contradiction, McSally would only say that she had “problems” with the Ryan Budget.[3]


The Pell Grant issue is important to Arizona, where students were awarded over $1.1  billion dollars in Pell Grants for the 2016/2017 school year. Arizona State is one of the largest public universities in the nation, and more than 2/3 of its students are Pell Grant recipients.[4] The total amount of Pell Grant awards for McSally’s district and Raul Grijalva’s district in 2016/2017 (which includes the University of Arizona) was $159 million. [5]


President Trump’s 2018 budget proposes a $9 billion cut to the Dept. of Education, including a 3.9 billion cut in Pell Grants.[6] McSally has yet to comment on the proposed cuts.



McSally has been reluctant to express an opinion on the subject of President Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. This was notable when she was asked about DeVos at her February 2017 town hall in Sahuarita:

“She did seemingly try to weave around some questions, such as when she was asked about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The congresswoman spent a few minutes talking about her support for education and the cost of college before calls for an answer from the crowd led her to say that the Senate has the role to confirm nominees, not the House. ‘We will see what comes out of her department; she’s been appointed,’ she said.”[7]


McSally voted for the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind. Although the bill had broad bipartisan support overall, she was the only House Republican from Arizona to vote for it. In the Senate, John McCain voted for it, and Jeff Flake against.[8]