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Positions on Common Core likely to determine support for schools chief

Republican Diane Douglas and Democrat David Garcia will face off in the race for Arizona superintendent of public instruction.

Republican Diane Douglas and Democrat David Garcia will face off in the race for Arizona superintendent of public instruction.

Defending Common Core will likely drive business federations to stand with the teachers union behind Democratic schools chief candidate David Garcia in the Nov. 4 general election.

Groups like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce haven’t started the process of who to endorse and support financially. But Common Core’s most ardent cheerleader, Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, lost in the Republican primary Aug. 26.

Huppenthal’s loss has put the business groups in a quandary of choosing between Garcia, a Common Core supporter who has the endorsement and financial backing of the Arizona Education Association, or Republican Diane Douglas, whose platform is flogging the learning standards.

Chambers of commerce and labor unions are natural enemies, but the business community has banked on Common Core, or as it is known here, Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, to build a more qualified work force in the state.

The standards, adopted in Arizona in 2010 by the state Board of Education, cover math and English, and are supposed to develop deeper thinking rather than relying on memorization.

They were developed by an association of states, and the federal government has provided financial incentives for states to adopt them. The standards have been opposed by the right and left nationally, but the Tea Party has been their chief critic in Arizona.

Huppenthal spent two years traveling the state to promote and defend Common Core, while Douglas has said the standards are President Obama’s way of taking control of education.

Representatives of the Arizona and Phoenix chambers said they’ll be interviewing the candidates to decide on an endorsement, but they stress that Common Core is important to the state’s economic development.

“The standards are important to us, so we’re going to give them an opportunity to come and talk about that and where they stand,” said Todd Sanders, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. “Taking the politics out of it for business owners, what they’re looking for is a qualified work force, and if you don’t have the right work force, businesses can’t expand.”

Garcia’s spokeswoman, Julie Erfle, said the candidate shares the same education agenda as the chambers. He has already received endorsements from the Chandler Chamber of Commerce and Tucson Chamber of Commerce. The Chandler endorsement was significant because Huppenthal previously served as a lawmaker representing the city.

“We do believe David will be the chambers’ choice,” Erfle said.

Huppenthal said in conceding on election night that his defeat was a referendum on Common Core.

“The overwhelming issue was the Common Core standards and the voters’ comprehensive rejection of those standards as being the epitome of federal overreach, somewhat of a totalitarian approach,” Huppenthal said.

Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said it was Huppenthal’s problems that cost him the election, not Common Core.

Huppenthal had gone through a series of self-inflicted blunders since May, one of which was the revelation he anonymously left offensive comments on political blogs.

Taylor said if there was a groundswell of opposition to Common Core, then Republican gubernatorial candidate Frank Riggs would have been elected. Riggs, who got 4 percent of the vote in the primary, promised to sign an executive order his first day in office to repeal Common Core.

The GOP’s gubernatorial candidate, Doug Ducey, however, has said Arizona can do better than Common Core.

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