2 tight races require statewide recounts

Ballots from the general election are boxed up at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. Two statewide races and an East Valley legislative district are headed for recounts. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona will recount two statewide races this year, the attorney general and superintendent of public instruction contests, as well as an East Valley state legislative race. It will be the first time Arizona has recounted a statewide contest since 2010.

The attorney general race was decided by a razor-thin margin, with Democrat Kris Mayes beating out Abe Hamadeh by just 510 votes when Maricopa County finished tallying votes on Nov. 21. Republican Tom Horne beat Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman by 8,968 votes for the superintendent job.

A state law signed this year that was sponsored by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, increased the threshold for an automatic recount from 0.1% to 0.5%.

Republican candidate for Arizona Attorney General, Abraham Hamadeh, smiles prior to a televised debate against Democrat Kris Mayes on Sept. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

The AG race was decided by a margin of just 0.02%, which would have triggered a recount even without the new law. But Horne’s margin of victory in the schools superintendent race was 0.36%, meaning that race will be recounted because of the change.

The race for one of Legislative District 13’s House seats will also go to a recount, thanks to the new law. In that race, both candidates are Republicans, so the GOP will retain control of that chamber.

GOP candidate Liz Harris finished with 32.57% of the vote in the race, just 270 votes and 0.2% ahead of fellow Republican Julie Willoughby, who took 32.37%. The top vote-getter in the district was Democratic incumbent Jennifer Pawlik, who will take the district’s other House seat in 2023.

No other federal, statewide, legislative or ballot measure contests will go to an automatic recount this year.

Democrat Kris Mayes, candidate Arizona Attorney General, smiles prior to a televised debate against Republican Abraham Hamadeh, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The full recounts will be conducted using electronic tabulators – the same method used in the initial vote count. They’re separate from a limited hand-count audit that will tally a small number of ballots in each county and is meant to confirm the accuracy of the machine count.

The recounts are set to begin on Dec. 6, after state officials certify the election on Dec. 5.

That certification could be in jeopardy after the Cochise County Board of Supervisors postponed canvassing the results of their election, with two supervisors citing concerns about voting equipment. The Secretary of State’s Office has indicated it will try to force the supervisors to certify the Cochise County election, and if that doesn’t work, will certify the state election without them.

The recounts will largely look like a do-over of tabulation that happened on Election Day and the days following.

In Pima County, the second largest county in the state, it will mean bringing the same staffers who scanned ballots on Election Day back to work, said Constance Hartgrove, the county’s elections director. But since the recount won’t include other Election Day tasks like gathering ballots and verifying early votes, the tabulation could move more quickly the second time.

“We’re going to have more people in the counting room, to try to get through this recount as quickly as possible,” she said.

The recount law was part of a larger push by GOP lawmakers to pass “election integrity” legislation in the wake of Arizona’s 2020 election, which some claimed was marred by fraud. Ugenti-Rita said the recounts should help voters have confidence in election outcomes.

“That’s the point of the recount – to give people assurances that every vote was counted,” she said in a phone call last week. “And if it doesn’t come back the way the original count did, then (the recount) did its job because it highlights problems. And then we can address it, then we can focus on something and fix it, instead of throwing out complaints with no real focus.”

The last time there was a statewide recount was in 2010 for Proposition 112, a measure that would have changed filing rules for ballot initiatives, according to information provided by the Secretary of State’s Office.

The state covers the cost of recounts and paid out $66,000 to counties as reimbursement for the 2010 recount. In a memo provided to lawmakers as they debated Ugenti-Rita’s bill this year, the Secretary of State’s Office added that it expected the costs of future recounts would be higher due to rising labor costs and the growing number of Arizona voters.

Recent history suggests the recounts won’t change race outcomes.

In the case of Proposition 112, initial results showed the measure failed by 128 votes, according to reporting at the time. A recount found the same result, but put the margin at 194 votes, or 0.012%.

In 2012, Republican Martha McSally beat out incumbent Democrat Ron Barber to represent Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District in a race that was ultimately decided by just 167 votes. A recount added six votes to McSally’s margin of victory.

And in the 2016 GOP primary race for the 6th Congressional District, Andy Biggs beat Christine Jones by just a handful of votes. Biggs’ initial 16-vote margin of victory widened to 27 votes, or about 0.03%, after a recount. Jones also filed lawsuits in efforts to change the results, but ultimately dropped the cases.

Two high profile candidates who lost their races this year have refused to accept their defeat: Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and GOP secretary of state candidate Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. But neither came within the margin needed to trigger a recount.

Finchem lost to Democrat Adrian Fontes by about five percentage points, or 120,000 votes. Lake was closer, losing her race to Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs by just 17,000 votes. Even so, the final margin in the governor’s race was 0.67%.

A few other legislative races were also close, but ultimately fell outside recount margin.

In Legislative District 9, Democrat Seth Blattman won the district’s second House seat with a margin of 0.65% over Republican Kathy Pearce. In Legislative District 16, Democrat Keith Seaman beat Republican Rob Hudelson by 0.62% in the race for the district’s second seat in the House.

Mayes, the likely incoming Democratic attorney general, addressed the recount in a statement after Maricopa County released its final results on Nov. 21, finishing the statewide count.

“As we head into this recount with a 510-vote lead, we feel confident that the end result will be the same, and I am very much looking forward to being your Lawyer for the People,” Mayes said.

“Thank you to all of our hardworking elections officials, poll workers and volunteers. We appreciate you,” she added.

Hamadeh, facing a narrow defeat, had a different message.

“We’re not done fighting and we are optimistic the recount will further expose the gross incompetence and mismanagement by Maricopa County officials that disenfranchised and silenced the voices of so many Arizona voters,” he tweeted on Nov. 21.


AG suggests measured words when making allegations of fraud in election

From left, Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Gov. Doug Ducey sign the formal certification of election results Monday as Attorney General Mark Brnovich, required to be there as a witness, observes. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
From left, Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Gov. Doug Ducey sign the formal certification of election results Monday as Attorney General Mark Brnovich, required to be there as a witness, observes. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Attorney General Mark Brnovich warned Monday that people “need to be really careful when making serious allegations” about election fraud or other issues or risk undermining democracy.

Brnovich’s comments came on the heels of the state formally certifying the results of last month’s election. There were no surprises in the legally required formality involving Brnovich, Gov. Doug Ducey, Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales.

But the results come after charges by Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, that there were irregularities in the procedures used. And Lines even has started his own party-financed “independent audit” of the practices in Maricopa County.

Ducey, as the top elected Republican in the state – and someone who got help from the state GOP – repeatedly dodged questions about the efforts by the party chairman to question the conduct of the vote.

“I refer you to Mr. Lines for those questions,” he said.

“We have had some concerns around certain issues,” the governor continued.

“But I’m not going to expand on that,” Ducey said. “I’m just going to say I’ll let his investigation or what he wants to focus on play out.”

Brnovich, however, gave a somewhat more direct response to the question about the activities of Lines, though he didn’t mention the state GOP, which also provided financial help for his own reelection effort.

“I think people need to be really, really careful when they make serious allegations,” he said. “One of the things I think that’s problematic in the country today is that people are undermining the integrity of institutions, all sorts of institutions.”

But the attorney general said this isn’t just a problem of the GOP’s making.

“Both sides are doing it and it needs to stop,” Brnovich said. “It’s why politics gets so nasty in this country.”

Neither Lines nor his press aide responded to requests for comment about not just the issue of undermining confidence but the fact that Ducey said reporters should seek him out.

But party spokeswoman Ayshia Connor said there is nothing to report yet on the audit that Lines launched on the practices of Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes after alleging voting “irregularities.”

In setting up the audit, Lines said it would focus on “allegations of fraud in the election.”

Lines, however, provided no examples. Instead, he said the party was hiring Attorney Stephen Richer to set up a website for people who submit information.

“We are still gathering information,” Connor said Monday. “We will keep you posted.”

The GOP move came after Republicans lost their stranglehold on all statewide elections.

While Ducey won handily, Democrats took over an open seat in the U.S. Senate and the offices of secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction. And one of the two seats up for grabs on what had been an all-Republican Arizona Corporation Commission also was clinched by a Democrat.

Republicans also lost four seats in the state House, reducing their margin to 31-29.

Other than general allegations of fraud, Lines wants his audit to also look into the decision of Fontes, a Democrat, to open “emergency voting centers” on the Saturday and Monday before the Nov. 6 election. Lines has questioned the legality of such centers, even though they have been operated before by Republican recorders.

And Lines wants to look at Election Day voting procedures, challenges, ballot counting and the process for reporting results.

At the formal canvass of votes Monday, Secretary of State Michele Reagan reported the statewide turnout was 2.4 million, or more than 64.8 percent of registered voters. While that was 17 points higher than the 2014 election, it did not set a statewide record, even for a midterm non-presidential election.

Reagan said, however, that new records for midterm elections were set in Coconino, Gila, Maricopa, Pima and Yavapai counties.

Behind the Ballot: Down-ballot drama


Tracy Livingston, a Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction, greets voters at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Livingston has been embraced by many in her party as the GOP’s best hope at keeping the office red. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

The race for superintendent of public instruction has historically struggled to garner voters’ attention and donors’ dollars.

And this election cycle is proving no different even with the energy that erupted from Red for Ed earlier this year.

But in allowing that old attitude to take hold, the GOP is failing to capitalize on the moment, and that could cost Republicans the office responsible for implementing education policy and distributing billions in school funding.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Candidates can’t count on recount in close races

Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins places a "vote" sign outside a polling station prior to it's opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins places a “vote” sign outside a polling station prior to it’s opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Any losing candidate in the general election who is counting on an automatic recount needs to come close to winning.

Really close.

In statewide races, there is a general law that requires a recount if the margin of votes between the two candidates is one-tenth of one percent. With perhaps 2.3 million votes already counted or yet to be tabulated in the race for U.S. Senate between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally, that would translate out to about 2,300.

But here’s the thing.

The same law says a recount is based on the lesser of that 0.1 percent or 200 votes. And given the number of votes cast statewide, it would be the 200 votes that would trigger a new count.

That same law applies to the race for school superintendent, though that contest does not appear close.

But the final tally in the race for secretary of state could come within that margin. In fact, at one point this week the difference was just 150 votes, with Democrat Katie Hobbs in the lead over Republican Steve Gaynor.

It could take days before the final tallies are in.

Recounts on legislative races require an even closer margin, with the process being triggered by a 50-vote difference.

State Elections Director Eric Spencer said there can be no action on a recount until the official canvass of votes. That’s set for Dec. 3.

If one of the races falls within the margin, don’t expect to see rooms full of workers examining ballots by hand. Instead, the machines that tabulated the ballots in the first place are reprogrammed and the ballots are fed back through them again.

There is a check of sorts on the machines.

Officials from both political parties select 5 percent of the precincts where the ballots cast there are then examined by hand.

If that hand count comes within the designated margin, then the machine recount is certified as correct. That designated margin is 2 percent for early ballots and 1 percent for polling places.

Spencer said if the hand count is outside that margin, an even larger random batch of precincts are added to the mix. And if that count also comes outside the margins, then Arizona would be looking at a total hand recount.

Recounts are not rare in Arizona.

Two years ago Andy Biggs won the Republican nomination for Congress after his margin of victory over Christine Jones came within the 200 votes. As it turned out, the recount added four votes to his tally and subtracted seven from hers, giving Biggs the win by a margin of just 27 votes.

McSally is no stranger to recounts. She got her congressional seat in 2014 by ousting incumbent Democrat Ron Barber by just 167 votes following a recount.

And in 2010 a bid by the Legislature to change the Arizona Constitution to reduce the amount of time people had to file initiative petitions failed on Election Day by 128 votes, triggering a recount. In the end, the margin of defeat was 194 votes.

Spencer said there is no provision in Arizona for an unhappy candidate or political party to demand a recount, even if offering to pay for it. But he said there are other sections of state law that allow someone to sue to contest the results.

But the law has only a specified number of grounds to support litigation, ranging from evidence of bribes and illegal votes to the candidate being ineligible to hold office.

Spencer said those challenges also have to wait until after the formal canvass.

Candidates for top education office have concerns about charter schools

Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs
Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs

Charter schools, insufficient public school funding and Proposition 305 were some of the topics in the first debate in the race for state superintendent of public instruction.

Republican Frank Riggs and Democrat Kathy Hoffman met at the forum hosted by the Arizona Association of School Business Officials on September 12.

Here is some of what they had to say.

The candidates’ responses have been edited for length. You can view the entirety of AASBO’s September 12 meeting here

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is now asking lawmakers to hold charter schools more accountable for how they spend their money. Should the Auditor General’ Office be authorized to take a more active role in looking into charter school expenditures?

Hoffman: I see charter schools as another school community that we need to make sure is being run well, that children’s needs are being met, that teachers’ needs are being met. And I’ve seen cases when there have been issues with this. … I look forward to continuing to learn more about what we can do to improve this. And I do think that charter schools need to be held accountable, especially when there’s a lot of money at stake. … And I do believe that it is the auditor’s responsibility to do that. That all circles back to fiscal responsibility. … I think that we need to look at it more globally and make sure that all of our students have what they need. But I do believe that charter schools have a place here in Arizona.

Riggs: No charter school should be chartered, no charter school charter should be extended unless there are a majority of disinterested individuals on that charter holding governing board. I’m talking about independent members on the governing board who are not related in any fashion, family, business or otherwise, with the founder and operator of the charter school. Number two, all of those individuals need to go through formal training in nonprofit and charter school governance, including their legal and fiduciary responsibilities. They must acknowledge in writing those responsibilities, including their duty to very carefully examine any related party transaction. And I intend to push for the state board of charter schools to implement that policy on day one, and if they don’t, I’ll be up at the Legislature.

Special education students require specialized programs and services as mandated by state and federal law. What should the state be doing to make sure the required services are provided and that funding is available to do so?

Riggs: The federally mandated share is inadequate. … It’s like so many federal programs where the cost-burden shifts over time to state and local education agencies, so what’s a federal law then becomes an underfunded federal mandate. … I just had a meeting with the new superintendent of Mesa Unified School District, Dr. Conley… and she told me something that stunned me, I mean stopped me dead in my tracks. She said, “I just want you to know, Frank, we’re preparing for the children of opioid-addicted parents who will be entering into our schools.” … We’re going to have to redouble what we’re doing for these students and for special ed across the board.

Hoffman: These are our most vulnerable and marginalized children in our schools, and they absolutely need highly trained teachers and providers with that special education training. Last year, actually the year before, the Legislature passed a law that said that any certified teacher can provide special education services. This was very alarming to me because the special education teachers and providers go through extensive education and training. It’s also an issue of attracting teachers to the profession. … If we want to be attracting highly qualified, passionate teachers to the profession, we need to treat them with the respect that they deserve and make sure that they have competitive pay.

Arizona leads the nation when it comes to providing students educational options other than traditional school districts. Should the state continue to expand programs like charter schools, empowerment scholarship accounts and private school tax credits?

Hoffman: We should not be expanding the ESAs and vouchers because our schools are so severely underfunded… and to take funds out of our public schools to fund private school tuitions – private schools only make up about 3 percent of Arizona schools. We need to make sure that all of our students, all of our public schools have the funding they need to be successful. And I know that on average these vouchers are about $5,000, but a private school tuition is on average about $15,000. So it doesn’t cover the tuition for a low-income family. It serves people who can already afford a private school tuition. It doesn’t provide more options in a neighborhood where there are no options available. … We need to solve our public school funding crisis before we take more funds out.

Riggs: I think parents have a fundamental right and responsibility to choose and direct their child’s education. … But with respect to Prop. 305, as a longtime school choice advocate, I’m a no on Prop. 305. … And I’m very concerned about the origin of the scholarship tuition tax credit program, and without calling out any particular legislators, I’m just going to say this: We absolutely have to have tight financial conflict-of-interest laws in our state that simply say that… if you, a family member, a business contact or associate stand to derive a financial benefit, you cannot author, you cannot sponsor, you cannot debate, you cannot vote on that legislation. And if you refuse to disclose your conflict of interest and recuse yourself, you would be subject to sanctions by the legislative body or legal action.

Carolyn Warner, former Arizona superintendent, dead at 88

Carolyn Warner, a longtime Arizona superintendent of public instruction and unsuccessful candidate for higher offices, has died. She was 88.

Warner died Tuesday night at her home and no information is immediately available on cause of death, according to Bethany Holder, Warner’s executive assistant at her education consulting business.

Long prominent in Arizona politics, Warner served 12 years as state superintendent in the 1970s and 1980s and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 1976 and governor in 1986.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said Warner lived a life of public service to Arizona and “will be remembered as a dedicated advocate for education.”

The Arizona PTA hailed Warner has a champion of public education and the state Democratic Party said she “was and will always be an icon” for the party.

Carolyn Warner, former superintendent of education, dead at 88

Carolyn Warner
Carolyn Warner

Carolyn Warner, who died Tuesday, could have been the first woman governor of Arizona if it weren’t for Bill Schulz.

And the state would have been spared the political wounds of having to impeach and convict a sitting governor.

After losing the general election in 1986, Warner, who had been state school superintendent, said she thought that Arizona just wasn’t ready for a woman to be the state’s chief executive.

But the truth is more complicated. And, curiously enough, her defeat at the hands of Republican Ev Mecham did eventually lead to the first woman governor two years later as Secretary of State Rose Mofford after Mecham was ousted.

Born in 1930 in Oklahoma, Warner was active in Democratic politics there.

After moving to Arizona in 1953 she and husband Ron ran a high-end furniture store in Phoenix before she decided to get directly involved in statewide politics by running for schools chief in 1974. She was elected as the first non-educator ever to that position, serving for three four-year terms, as this was before term limits.

There was a bid in 1976 for U.S. Senate, but she lost the primary to Pima County Attorney Dennis DeConcini.

The 1986 gubernatorial race came as incumbent Democrat Bruce Babbitt chose to focus his energies on a bid for president. Warner became the party’s nominee, with Mecham becoming the GOP standard-bearer after defeating House Majority Leader Burton Barr in a bitter primary.

But then Democrat Bill Schulz, who had run for U.S. Senate in 1980 against Barry Goldwater, decided he wanted a shot at the state’s top office. So he became a political independent and poured $2.2 million of his own cash on the race, a huge amount at the time.

The result was that Mecham picked up 343,913 votes against 298,986 for Warner — and Schulz tallying 224,085.

State lawmakers subsequently got voters to amend the Arizona Constitution to require someone to get at least 50 percent of the vote to get elected. But that was repealed after the 1990 gubernatorial race forced a runoff between Democrat Terry Goddard and Republican Fife Symington.

Mecham was subsequently found guilty by the state Senate of illegally lending $850,000 of proceeds from an inaugural ball to his Glendale Pontiac dealership and of obstruction of justice for telling the director of the Department of Public Safety not to cooperate into an investigation of death threats involving two aides.

He died in 2008.

In the years after leaving politics directly, Warner and former state schools aide Dave Bolger formed Corporate/Education Consulting Inc., a consulting, speaking and training firm. But she remained an active supporter of Democratic candidates and was a super-delegate for Hillary Clinton in 2008 even as then-Gov. Janet Napolitano backed Barack Obama.

Four years ago she endorsed David Garcia in his unsuccessful race for school superintendent against Republican Diane Douglas.

That did not stop Douglas from having some nice words about Warner on Wednesday.

“Although we were from different sides of the political aisle, there was no other former superintendent of public instruction that was nearly as gracious and kindhearted to me as Carolyn,” Douglas said in a prepared statement. Douglas also said that Warner remained active on education issues, with the pair serving together as co-chairs of the Career and Technical Education Quality Skills Commission.

She is the author of four books, including “The Last Word: A Treasury of Women’s Quotations.”

Arizona finally got its first elected woman governor in 1998 in Republican Jane Hull. She actually had become governor the year before after Symington was forced to resign after being indicted on charges of fraud.

Chris Kotterman: Former Boy Scout committed to seeing children succeed

Cap Times Q&A

Chris Kotterman, the Arizona School Boards Association director of governmental affairs, likes to help people – “It’s the Boy Scout thing.”

He volunteers his time as a certified EMT – but says no one is walking around today simply because of him – and works as a firefighter when NASCAR comes to town. But he has devoted his life to helping those in an arena the Kotterman “brand” has been a part of for decades.

His mother worked for 25 years as an educator here before becoming president of the Arizona Education Association.

Penny Kotterman ran unsuccessfully for superintendent of public instruction against Republican John Huppenthal in 2010. And with her blessing, her son became an unusual addition to Huppenthal’s administration.

For years, Kotterman always got the question, “Oh, are you Penny’s son?” But recently, as he has settled in his career, that question has flipped.

Chris Kotterman (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Chris Kotterman (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

What was working with Huppenthal like as a Democrat?

Obviously, it was understood that he is a Republican, a more conservative guy. There were going to be things that he wanted to do that I didn’t agree with, and that was fine. He runs the joint, so he got to decide… People try to make politics personal all the time, and people may draw conclusions about me based on my political past. But at the end of the day, I try very hard not to make it personal. We, obviously, get invested in the issues emotionally, and we try to “win” for our side… His strength as superintendent was knowing what he didn’t know.

What’s your take on the current administration at ADE?

Superintendent Douglas has a very – and I don’t say this pejoratively – righteous view of what public education should be. She has a very specific idea, and she doesn’t want to deviate from that. That’s great when you’re running a campaign, but it’s really hard to adhere to that when you’re running an agency. I’ll give her this: She’s very true to the principles that she has laid out. They’re not always compatible with efficient governance, but she is 100 percent committed… She’s independent. She exists in her own space. That can make it hard to get things done politically sometimes because you need allies. But I give her credit for being committed to her vision.

What’s your take on what we’re seeing in Arizona’s education system?

First of all, I’m optimistic. From my time at the department through today, I’ve worked with people who are super committed to making sure that students get the best education that they can get. I don’t think that people on the outside understand the level of commitment. The idea that adults get really excited when they’re able to help children learn – that can come across as very corny. Educators are true believers. They live to see children succeed. It’s crazy – crazy in a good way. It’s not contrived. It’s not corny. It’s legit… But I’m also frustrated because I see that happening, and in the world that I operate in daily, there’s a greater level of cynicism on the part of policymakers about the true motivations of teachers, administrators. A distrust of government generally and it’s ability to do good things. That’s unfortunate… They really want to help students reach their full potential, and right now, in some ways, they can’t. And that’s sad.

What’s the biggest obstacle facing Arizona’s education system?

The 800-pound gorilla of school policy right now is, far and away, Proposition 301. Not just the renewal of it but how we’re going to find enough resources to both maintain the level of funding it provides but also find us enough resources to get back to the level that the funding formula provides… And then, on top of that, is teacher recruitment and retention. Resources are the overarching issue that drives all of these things, but that issue is the number one thing that is of concern to public schools. We don’t pay our teachers enough for the work that we ask them to do, and they’re not staying because of it. I said earlier that they are insanely committed individuals, and they are. But we have to break through this idea that just because you’re committed to the success of children means that you don’t deserve to make as much money as you otherwise might somewhere else.

Stepping back from the state level for a moment. Your Twitter account seems to suggest you see the president as something of an obstacle for the country.

I am not a fan of the president. Not because I want him to fail. I actually don’t… I don’t want a president who shoots off the cuff. I want someone to undertake reasoned decisions, even if those decisions are things I don’t agree with… I’m known as a more liberal Democrat, but this flag right here, John McCain had that flown over the Capitol for me when I became an Eagle Scout. I am raised from solid, Midwestern, Republican stock. My father was a registered Republican. I own a firearm. I have a lot of respect for institutions. I respect the presidency, so I won’t say terrible things about him, like “not my president” or anything like that. I’ll criticize him politically. But this Boy Scout thing, when he says the leader of the Boy Scouts called him and told him it was the best speech that had been given to them ever. And then, of course, they say, “No, we didn’t say that.” Now, either the Boy Scouts are lying or the president is lying. That’s somewhat of a microcosm, but in my view, the president of the United States should not put himself in that position. It’s just not smart… Do your political thing. You’re going to pursue policies that I don’t agree with, and that’s 100 percent appropriate. You’re the president, and you get to do that. But it bothers me because it tends to undermine America. And despite the fact that I’m a registered Democrat, I like America.

Democrat with little political experience becomes most effective in 2019

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman asked the House Education Committee in February to repeal laws that govern how homosexuality can and cannot be taught in high school. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman asked the House Education Committee in February to repeal laws that govern how homosexuality can and cannot be taught in high school. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Democrats won big at the ballot box in 2018 with gains in the state House, two statewide offices and a U.S. Senate seat.

But even with the 17-13 split in the Senate, the 31-29 split in the House, the Democrat who accomplished the most during the First Regular Session of the 54th Legislature is the one who was criticized for her lack of political experience during the campaign – and she wasn’t even a lawmaker.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman accomplished a majority of her legislative agenda and was directly responsible for Gov. Doug Ducey signing three bills into law; more than any other Democrat in the House or Senate. Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, got two bills signed into law, while eight other Democrats each got a single bill passed and signed.

Hoffman said her first session exceeded her expectations and credits her new policy team for making that possible.

“We got more done than expected. … Overall we were really proud,” she said.

Stefan Swiat, Hoffman’s spokesman, said her approach to advancing departmental initiatives is the biggest difference he can think of compared to Superintendent Diane Douglas, his former boss.

“Superintendent Hoffman prefers to create task forces and invite stakeholders affected by the program or policy to the table to govern by consensus,” he said, giving as an example the handling of the menu of achievement tests the State Board of Education was charged with selecting. “Stakeholders from all sides of the political spectrum all weighed in on how to proceed before the superintendent brought a solution to the State Board.”

He said in contrast, when Douglas, a Republican, felt passionately about an issue she would proceed based on her beliefs, even if there wasn’t a consensus from stakeholders.

Hoffman highlighted her biggest accomplishment as the repeal of a 1991 law barring the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle and safe homosexual sex in mandated HIV and AIDS education in public schools, known as the “no promo homo” law.

“I would not have predicted that would pass so quickly,” she said adding that LGBTQ issues are not as controversial as they once were.

She said the Legislature likely balked at repealing this in recent sessions because it prevented legislators from having to vote on it.

“They may not support the issues, but they didn’t want to vote against something in the best interest of kids.”

Even though her support was crucial in the repeal, Hoffman does not take sole credit. She said this wouldn’t have happened without the help of Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who made it known to lawmakers that he would not defend a legal challenge to the law filed two weeks before the April 11 vote to repeal it.

“I helped propel it forward and then [Brnovich] helped propel it forward. It was a snowball effect that got it rolling in Lege.” she said.

Hoffman addressed this issue as a top concern in her State of Education speech to the House Education Committee in early February and it got the immediate attention of Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge.

Shope credited Hoffman’s speech as the reason he became aware of the law that needed to be repealed, so he sponsored a floor amendment to the only education bill available and it passed 55-5 before the Senate would approve it 19-10.

In addition to the repeal that was years in the making, Hoffman’s support was pivotal in reducing the English Language Learners time block from four to two hours.

Educators have pushed lawmakers for years to revise the mandate, which requires English-learning students to take four hours of English immersion every day, where they are separated from their peers.

Though it wasn’t always pretty, Hoffman was still able to cross party lines to achieve her goals on divisive topics such as a bill that holds harmless some Navajo families in the Window Rock area from reimbursing the state after unintentionally spending their Empowerment Scholarship Account dollars illegally.

Hoffman said she was proud of how it came together in the end. It passed unanimously in both chambers and Ducey signed the bill on June 8.

Working across party lines was a priority for Hoffman coming into the session she said, going as far to figure out who the moderate Republicans are and the legislators on the Education Committees.

“It was strategic,” Hoffman said.

All three of the bills Hoffman pushed to become law had Republican sponsors. The ELL bill had Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, “no promo homo” would not have made it to the floor without an amendment from Shope, and Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, sponsored the ESA bill.

Hoffman said she did not work with Petersen or Sen. Rick Gray – who pushed a mirror bill in the Senate – on the ESA solution for the Navajo students in Window Rock.

After just one session, one where politicos applauded Hoffman for her “upset” wins over her political opponents, she accomplished a lot she set out to do, but she still has three years left.

“There is still more to do,” Hoffman said.

Doug Ducey soundly wins re-election

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, R, speaks to supporters, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at an election night party in Scottsdale, Ariz. Incumbent Ducey defeated democratic challenger David Garcia for his second term. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, R, speaks to supporters, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at an election night party in Scottsdale, Ariz. Incumbent Ducey defeated democratic challenger David Garcia for his second term. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Gov. Doug Ducey, the Arizona Republican with perhaps the biggest target on his back this year, defeated Democrat David Garcia Tuesday, according to early vote totals.  

Despite facing a spirited Democratic opponent, an unusually energized Democratic electorate and scores of teachers still fired up by the Red for Ed movement this year, Ducey emerged victorious this election cycle.

In fact, Ducey crushed Garcia Tuesday by more than 17 percentage points — a wider margin than when he defeated Democrat Fred DuVal in the 2014 governor’s race.

But Tuesday’s election results aren’t exactly surprising. Weeks out from the election, Ducey was poised to easily win the election. Most political pundits had written off the contest long before Election Day.

In his victory speech at the Arizona GOP watch party, Ducey struck a bipartisan tone as he talked about successes in his first term, namely pulling the state out of a $1 billion budget deficit.

“The progress our state has made, none of it could have happened without people coming together and working together,” he said. “Not only in our Capitol community, but across our state.”

But Ducey also looked ahead to the next four years. Ducey said his goal has always been to be a governor for all Arizonans and that goal didn’t change during his contentious re-election fight.

“We celebrate tonight,” he said. “Tomorrow we get to work and it is work we do together, putting the campaign behind us and letting politics stand down.”

Ducey’s tone on Election Day was noticeably different from candidate Ducey, who stumped with President Donald Trump and came out swinging in the first of two gubernatorial debates with Garcia.

While Democratic momentum may propel some Democratic candidates to big wins this election cycle, polls showed Ducey leading Garcia by double digits — a lead that would be hard for any candidate to overcome.

Garcia, who has been campaigning for more than a year, put up an exuberant fight. But the odds were stacked against him considering the sheer amount of money Ducey and his allies poured into the race.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee David Garcia gives a victory speech after winning a three-way Democratic primary challenge Tuesday. Garcia, who will take on Gov. Doug Ducey in the governor's race, spoke to more than a hundred supporters packed into a Phoenix bar and restaurant. PHOTO BY CARMEN FORMAN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Democratic gubernatorial nominee David Garcia  PHOTO BY CARMEN FORMAN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Garcia was also a unique candidate in that he tacked further left than any other statewide Democrat. Garcia’s progressive gubernatorial campaign was far different from his 2014 bid for Superintendent of Public Instruction, which he lost to Diane Douglas by 1 percentage point.

A public education advocate and professor at Arizona State University, Garcia jumped into the race when Ducey signed legislation expanding the Empowerment Scholarship Account program. He also appeared to try to ride momentum among the education community stirred up by the Red for Ed movement in the spring.

Many Arizona teachers have been increasingly frustrated with Ducey. More than 70,000 teachers walked out of their classrooms in the spring and marched on the state Capitol demanding higher teacher pay.

Red for Ed supporters were also devastated when the Invest in Education Act — a ballot measure to boost K-12 education funding by boosting taxes on the wealthiest Arizonans — was kicked off the November ballot by the Arizona Supreme Court. Ducey vehemently opposed the measure.

Ducey campaigned heavily on the economy and the border — bread-and-butter GOP issues.

After taking office in a post-recession era wherein the state was still strapped for cash, Ducey takes credit for helping grow Arizona’s economy and lower the state’s unemployment.

He frequently touted his Border Strike Force on the campaign trail and attacked Garcia for his positions on immigration and border security.

Despite a long history of Arizona governors not serving their full terms and speculation he may seek higher elected office or may be tapped for a presidential appointment, Ducey has vowed to serve out his full, four-year term.

Governor’s race race by the numbers

*Doug Ducey: 57.8 percent


David Garcia: 40.2 percent

* Denotes incumbent

Douglas proposes Christian-based academic standards

State schools chief Diane Douglas and Lucas Narducci, president of the state Board of Education, chat ahead of the Sept. 24, 2018, board meeting to discuss revamping science and social studies standards. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
State schools chief Diane Douglas and Lucas Narducci, president of the state Board of Education, chat ahead of the Sept. 24, 2018, board meeting to discuss revamping science and social studies standards. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

A parade of teachers, parents and others lined up Monday to ask the state Board of Education to reject efforts by the state schools chief to alter — and they believe dilute — academic standards.

During a meeting lasting hours, several people testified that Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas is seeking to undermine the science standards crafted by a group of teachers. They specifically took aim at what were last-minute changes she and her staff made in language dealing with climate change and changes in references to evolution.

But they also told board members they should ignore a bid by Douglas to adopt charter school standards crafted by Hillsdale College, a private Christian school, for all public schools in the state.

“Those are standards coming from a politically conservative, religiously conservative school with a Euro-centric sort of base to the world,” said Karen McClelland, a member of the Sedona-Oak Creek school board. “We need our students to have equal emphasis on the rest of the world.”

The board took no action, deferring any final vote for at least a month.

Hillsdale, in promoting charter schools based on these standards, say they will “train the minds of and improve the hearts of young people through a rigorous, classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civil virtue.”

But the standards themselves have a religious bent.

For example, the standards for sixth grade history include references to what the college calls “basic ideas in common,” including “the nature of God and humanity” and the Old Testament. The standards also say students should learn the “important stories” of creation, the Tower of Babel, and The Ten Commandments.

The New Testament is not ignored, with lessons including the Nativity, the baptism of Jesus, walking on water, and the Resurrection.

Douglas called what Hillsdale created the “gold standard for K-12 academics.” She also said it’s exactly what’s needed to deal with what she said has been a series of failures in Arizona education to actually educate students and not, in her words, simply make them “worker bees.”

“We’ve stopped caring about making kids citizens and giving them the knowledge they need to be successful as citizens in this country,” she told Capitol Media Services.

“It’s become all about what’s your career going to be,” Douglas continued, saying the citizenship part of it has been neglected to say, “we’ll just job train you enough to get you a job.”

By while Douglas’ focus on the Hillsdale standards are based on an increased focus on history and citizenship, her attempt to have them adopted is linked to her fight over the science standards.

More than 100 people took part in crafting the new science standards which have not been upgraded in 15 years. But in a series of back-and-forths with Douglas’ Department of Education, some things were altered.

Some of those changes occurred in the last few months after Douglas appointed Joseph Kezele, a biology teacher at Arizona Christian University and president of the Arizona Origin Science Association to the review panel.

Kezele did not testify Monday. But he told Phoenix New Times reporter Joseph Flaherty that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that there was “plenty of space on (Noah’s) Ark for dinosaurs.”

Douglas, a member of the board, sat silently while science teachers from across the state urged the board to rescind those last-minute changes.

Sara Torres, executive director of the Arizona Science Teachers Association, said returning the standards to what was first proposed “will ensure that teachers of science are not put in the position of teaching non-scientific ideas.”

It’s not just a question of whether the teaching of evolution is being undermined.

Eileen Merritt, who is a teacher at the Arizona State University College of Education, said there are some very specific examples of what was removed, she believes improperly.

One would require students to “analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate change models to make evidence-based predictions of the current rate and scale of global or regional climate changes.”

“Also removed, the idea that science and engineering will be essential both to understanding the possible impacts of global climate change, into informing decisions on how to slow its rate and consequences for humanity and for the rest of the planet,” Merritt said.

Douglas, for her part, suggested she was happy with those last-minute changes. But she also told board members that if they’re unwilling to adopt the standards in the form she presented them, then they should scrap all of that — and the years of work that went into them — and simply adopt the entire Hillsdale-created standards.

That suggestion annoyed Tara Guerrero, curriculum coordinator at the Crane Elementary School District.

“It is both disheartening and demoralizing to hear that this body of work that Arizona educators have committed to may be dismissed by the adoption of a single school district’s curriculum,” she said.

Douglas and her bid to adopt the Hillsdale standards had some supporters, including Bob Branch who teaches at Grand Canyon University, a local Christian college. Branch recently ran against Douglas in the Republican primary for state school superintendent; both lost to Frank Riggs.

And Corrine Haynes, who described herself as a mother, grandmother and retired teacher, said Arizona students need what Hillsdale created.

“It has become alarmingly evident that we are a nation without its sense of history,” she testified. “What unites us as Americans has been under attack for decades in our educational system for decades and we are now experiencing the consequences.”

Not all of the objections to both the Douglas-altered science standards and adoption of the Hillsdale plan came from the academic community.

The Rev. David Felten, pastor at The Fountains United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills, urged the board to construct a strict line between education and religion. And even if they choose not to, Felter said it would be a mistake to believe that what’s in the Bible actually supports the idea of “creation.”

“We believe that evolution is something that needs to be promoted, that it is not, in fact, in conflict with the Bible,” he said of Methodist beliefs. And he took a shot at those who would put creationism or the modified form of “intelligent design” into science standards.

“This board is about to take the advice of people who believe the earth was created in six days and the earth is only 6,000 years old,” he said.

Douglas unrepentant as her ‘Camelot period’ ends

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas in her office on Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas in her office on Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Diane Douglas may be out, but she’s not down.

The outgoing superintendent of public instruction is making way for her successor and thinking about the possibilities ahead.

She has started packing up her office at the Arizona Department of Education, leaving some personal effects unboxed for now. There’s the bowl of M&Ms just outside her door for guests, a yellow school choice scarf draped over a chair. And just behind her desk, a framed copy of the 2015 Year in Review edition of the Arizona Capitol Times, on which a cartoon image of Douglas giddily tosses pink slips from the top of a building.

She has known this was coming for months now. Her re-election bid ended when she lost the Republican primary to Frank Riggs by less than 1 percentage point, a margin that did not spell victory for him in the long run. Democrat Kathy Hoffman defeated Riggs in the General Election.

Douglas said she’ll miss the privilege of serving Arizona’s children, but not the politics. Her tenure was frequently marred by political drama.

Yet she blamed her defeat not on what she called her “bumpy start” as superintendent, but on a fractured Republican Party and a chaotic political landscape that included Red for Ed.

A final blow

When Douglas would embark on her statewide listening tours, she said she always heard much the same thing from the communities she visited: They expressed the utmost support for teachers, with whom they sympathized over low pay and lackluster classroom conditions.

She said she doesn’t hear that anymore, though, not since April when teachers and support staff walked out of their schools on strike and marched at the state Capitol.

Red for Ed activists’ decision to strike was horrible for the state, Douglas said. And she believes it may have also been horrible for teachers who risked parents’ support.

Her disapproval set her on a path to one of the final blows to her image when she suggested the certifications of participating teachers were in peril despite the state’s ongoing teacher shortage.

“Do we let our teachers just walk out on children any time they feel like it at the behest of any political operative who comes along and pulls their strings?” Douglas told Capitol Media Services in June. “I guess the rhetorical question is, if you do something wrong that you normally get disciplined for, if you do it with enough people, do we then just say it doesn’t matter anymore?”

Many in the movement interpreted her comments as tone deaf at best and threatening at worst. In any case, Douglas’ call for discipline, which went nowhere in the end, won her few allies in the education community.

But that wouldn’t be the last time she sparked controversy in the final months of her administration.

She stirred up trouble beyond the Red for Ed movement when she advocated for science and social studies standards that critics argued were influenced by her personal religious beliefs. Her proposal died easily but not before a hefty dose of public outrage.

Speaking on the PBS program “Arizona Horizon” on December 10, Douglas again did not take responsibility. Instead, she said the narrative about her proposed standards was simply fake news.

A primary defeat

Those were just the final tortured moments in a series that made her look like a loose cannon, as “Horizon” host Ted Simons put it.

“With all due respect, that image was created by the media,” Douglas said, “The media that didn’t want me in the office in the first place.”

Whatever the cause, the image seemed to have stuck through to her ill-fated re-election campaign. It was an image she could not beat and one that left Republicans unable – or unwilling – to unite behind her.

She said the party wrote her off when she first ran in 2014 against Republican incumbent John Huppenthal. The message she got was: “We don’t run against incumbents.”

But when four Republicans stepped up to challenge her this year, she said she was left on her own, struggling to stay on message and attract donors.

“I am admittedly very conservative,” she said. “And it just became a five-person race of trying to out-conservative each other.”

While she was running on her record, she said her opponents ran on political rhetoric to get votes. That left the party with Frank Riggs as the nominee.

Now, she will be succeeded by a Democrat, the first since C. Diane Bishop took office in 1987.

Douglas offered no reflection on what that might say about her tenure in the office, arguing as she has since the primary race that she was the right choice for her party.

And she’s concerned that Hoffman is coming in with a knowledge gap that won’t be resolved by her experience as an educator.

“She needs to know what she doesn’t know first and foremost,” Douglas said of Hoffman.

If she can’t do that, Douglas fears the learning curve ahead could spell chaos for kids.

The end of an era

She’ll miss the kids, she said. But there’s no love lost between Douglas and the political realm.

She won’t miss the political games that deliver only “fads and gimmicks” rather than real solutions for education. And she has no regrets, not for her late stumbles and certainly not for her early squabbles with Gov. Doug Ducey and the state Board of Education over her firing of the board’s executive director, Christine Thompson, and Thompson’s top aide.

Ducey said Douglas had acted illegally, and the board voted 7-1 directing Douglas to let the pair back into the Department of Education building.

Douglas said she kept her promises to voters, and she didn’t back down when faced with political ramifications.

“No disrespect intended, but we talk a lot about cleaning the swamp in Washington. Well, it’s not the only political swamp that exists,” she said on “Horizon.”

She declined to single out any legislator. She said elected officials collectively need to take their jobs more seriously and understand what they’re voting on before they rubber stamp legislation that impacts millions of students.

“We are cranking out functional illiterates at an alarming rate, not just in this state but across the nation,” she said, adding that’s because adults are trying out theories while kids’ educational time dwindles.

She’s leaving office concerned for the future, and her worries won’t cease when she’s gone.

She started her journey to the superintendent’s office 30 years ago. Now, the “Camelot period” of her life may be over, but her work in education is not.

She was almost cryptic on “Horizon” about what comes next as Simons speculated that she’s likely to continue to be involved in public education.

“I think I just might be,” she said.

The truth is, she doesn’t know.

Love her or hate her, though, this Arizona firebrand isn’t likely to fade away.

Douglas: Legislature shortchanges school voucher program

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas in her office on Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas in her office on Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas accused Arizona lawmakers of routinely underfunding the Department of Education’s effort to oversee the state’s voucher program, leaving millions of dollars earmarked for administrative costs untouched.

State law dictates how much money is set aside to cover the costs of administering Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, a taxpayer funded program that pays for private and religious school tuition, tutoring and home schooling for certain students.

But it’s the Legislature that has the authority over whether that money is actually spent.

In all but two years since the voucher program was launched in 2011, lawmakers have allowed the Department of Education to spend less than half of what’s prescribed by law, according to a memo sent by Douglas to legislative leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey.

Douglas, a Republican who lost her bid for re-election, has presided over ESAs amid news reports of rampant mismanagement and misuse of the now $75 million-plus voucher program.

In one of her final acts as superintendent, Douglas called out the Republican-controlled Legislature for handcuffing her staff’s ability to properly manage the voucher program and hold parents accountable for how scholarships are spent — efforts that could stamp out the very fraud that’s been reported.

“As the duly elected official responsible for the oversight of this program, I refuse to let this disparity be ignored as the efforts of my ESA staff to improve both service to parents and oversight of taxpayer dollars are scrutinized,” Douglas wrote to top Republican lawmakers on December 13.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said she’s perplexed that the department consistently gets shortchanged amid budget negotiations. Year after year, education officials have told lawmakers they’re understaffed, she said.

“Given what we’ve heard, it has concerned me greatly that there wasn’t more oversight, particularly when you turn around and criticize the department for a lack of oversight,” Brophy McGee said. “I’ve always understood it to be a staffing shortage issue. We already know there are problems with the database. So it has always seemed to me that is something we must shore up so that this relatively new program can show that it’s accountable to the taxpayers who fund it.”

The issue predates Douglas’ time in office. Even under John Huppenthal, a Republican who served as superintendent when lawmakers approved ESAs, the Legislature held back funding from the department.

Meanwhile, dollars earmarked for administrative costs go unspent, and are left to accumulate.

“I would just hate to think in any way, shape or form that it was politics or special interest groups,” Douglas told Arizona Capitol Times on December 20. “But it’s almost hard to not think they’re not playing a role. And to what end?”

Douglas suspects the endgame is the privatization of ESA administration, removing the program from the department’s oversight entirely. Associate Superintendent Charles Tack, who oversees the ESA program at the department, added that ESA advocates don’t trust the department to manage the program according to their vision.

Those advocates had the ear of like-minded legislators, he said.

“They were not convinced that giving our department more money would be beneficial to the program,” he said. “To me, that’s extraordinarily counter-intuitive.”

Even when legislators voted to pass a bill expanding the program in 2017 – an effort that ultimately died with the failure of Proposition 305 in November – Douglas alleges they have been unwilling to ensure the Department of Education can keep up with growth.

State law dictates that 5 percent of the total funding for empowerment scholarship accounts are earmarked for the Department of Education and the state Treasurer’s Office to cover the costs of administering the program.

Of that, 1 percent is earmarked for the treasury, while the remaining 4 percent is dedicated for the Department of Education.

But state law also states those dollars are subject to legislative appropriation. And since the inception of empowerment scholarship accounts in 2011, the Legislature has authorized only a fraction of what’s earmarked for administrative costs.

For example, roughly $3.8 million is earmarked for ESA administrative costs in fiscal year 2019. That’s 5 percent of the estimated $75.9 million in funding for ESAs.

State law requires 1 percent of those funds to be transferred to the Treasurer’s Office. The remaining 4 percent, roughly $3 million, is set aside for the Department of Education.

The budget approved by lawmakers in May only authorized the Education Department to spend $1.25 million on administrative costs.

Even the Treasurer’s Office got shortchanged. Instead of the $760,000 prescribed by state law, the Legislature only authorized $304,400 for the treasury to spend on administering ESAs.

Douglas previously called attention to the lack of administrative funds made available to her department after an auditor general’s report excoriated her office for its handling of the ESA program.

Her latest memo to top legislative Republicans and Ducey blasted the audit for failing to mention that her office is woefully underfunded. If the audit is meant to help lawmakers understand how administration of ESAs can be improved, “it is, in my opinion, completely injudicious to minimize the fact that the department has not been given spending authority for anywhere near the full 4 percent of administrative funding,” she wrote on December 13.

The Legislature has continued to provide inadequate funding even as enrollment in the ESA program grew year over year, she said.

“I have struggled with this the whole time because clearly it is, for lack of a better term, a pet project of the Republican side of the Legislature, for school choice fans,” Douglas told the Capitol Times. “You would think, as a pet project, they would want it to be absolutely as successful as possible, yet to underfund the administration of it, undermines it.”

In January, the ESA program will no longer be Douglas’ responsibility. She lost her re-election bid in the August primary to Republican challenger Frank Riggs, and Riggs went on to lose to the incoming superintendent, Democrat Kathy Hoffman.

Ducey pushes for bipartisanship, water reform in inaugural address

Some of the crowd for Monday's inaugural. The first two rows were for family members of elected officials, with other state, federal and foreign dignitaries in Row 3. And behind them were those who made donations to the inaugural committee to have seats in the reserved section; the bleachers at back were for those without tickets. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Some of the crowd for Monday’s inaugural. The first two rows were for family members of elected officials, with other state, federal and foreign dignitaries in Row 3. And behind them were those who made donations to the inaugural committee to have seats in the reserved section; the bleachers at back were for those without tickets. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey kicked off four more years as Arizona’s governor Monday by welcoming two Democrats into the ranks of statewide officeholders with a message of bipartisanship and working together, especially on urgent issues like adopting a multi-state drought contingency plan.

Ducey also pledged during Arizona’s inauguration ceremony, in which six statewide officeholders were sworn into four-year terms, to build on the economic progress of his first term and hold the late Sen. John McCain as an example of public service.

The governor was sworn in for his second term along with Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Mine Inspector Joe Hart. Republican Kimberly Yee was sworn in as state treasurer and Democrats Katie Hobbs and Kathy Hoffman were sworn in as secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction, respectively.

Arizona’s elected officials should look to the state’s history when tackling major issues like the state’s water future, Ducey told the thousands of people who showed up to the inauguration ceremony at the state Capitol.

Hinting at the bipartisan approach former Republican Sens. Jon Kyl, Barry Goldwater and Democratic Sens. Carl Hayden and Morris Udall along with former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, adopted when addressing state water issues, Ducey urged Republican and Democratic officials to rise above party to secure Arizona’s water future.

“Democrats and Republicans rose above party labels,” Ducey said. “They brought skeptical and reluctant stakeholders to the table. And they acted – and they did it with good faith and honest intentions.”

State lawmakers have been tasked with adopting a multi-state drought contingency plan to stabilize water levels in the Colorado River as Lake Mead sits on the brink of a water shortage. Federal officials set a deadline for the seven Colorado River Basin states to adopt the plan that divvies up water cutbacks by Jan. 31. If they don’t, the Bureau of Reclamation will take matters into its own hands.

Gov. Doug Ducey prepares to take his oath as his wife, Angela Ducey, holds a Bible at the governor’s inauguration Jan. 7. Their son, Jack Ducey, stands behind them. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Gov. Doug Ducey prepares to take his oath as his wife, Angela Ducey, holds a Bible at the governor’s inauguration Jan. 7. Their son, Jack Ducey, stands behind them. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

On several occasions, Ducey has expressed his commitment to passing the drought contingency plan, even committing $30 million in state dollars to help Arizona water interests weather water cutbacks in order to boost water levels in Lake Mead. But Ducey’s clear commitment to water reforms in his inaugural address hint at what may well be his top priority once the legislative session gavels in next week.

Among his other, high-level priorities for his second term, Ducey doubled down on growing Arizona’s relationship with Mexico — the state’s top trading partner. He also promised to see through the teacher pay raises, spread out over three years, that he committed to last year.

Ducey also pledged not to raise taxes in the next four years, following up on a campaign promise he made ahead of his first term. Some Republican lawmakers have said Ducey went back on his “no taxes” pledge when he signed into law a new, $32-per-vehicle registration fee last year.

But the state’s economic picture is drastically different now than it was four years ago, which Ducey addressed in his remarks.

When Ducey entered office, Arizona was on the tail end of the Great Recession and the governor faced a $1 billion budget shortfall. Onstage, Ducey bragged that the state now has the largest projected budget surplus in a decade, which he attributed to economic growth, economic development efforts and keeping government from getting in the way of business.

“Arizona is open for business,” Ducey said. Government has gotten out of the way, the people are benefiting, and it’s going to stay that way.”

Ducey closed his speech with a nod to McCain and other former Arizona leaders — both Republicans and Democrats. He urged Arizona’s politicians to heed McCain’s motto of “country first” to create a state the late senator would be proud of.

The governor and his staff played an integral role in helping plan McCain’s memorial services last year. Ducey also spoke at an intimate ceremony for McCain’s friends and family when McCain was lying in state at the state Capitol.

“John McCain gave us the model for how public servants should carry out their duties – with honesty, integrity, compassion, and above all, a commitment to serving a cause greater than one’s self,” Ducey said.

Other statewide elected officials also gave brief remarks at the ceremony and some like newcomers Hoffman and Hobbs outlined some of their top priorities moving forward.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs takes her oath of office on Jan. 7, 2019. She is joined by her husband, Patrick Goodman, right, and her daughter, Hannah. (Not pictured: Hobbs' son, Sam.) PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs takes her oath of office on Jan. 7, 2019. She is joined by her husband, Patrick Goodman, right, and her daughter, Hannah. (Not pictured: Hobbs’ son, Sam.) PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Hobbs, who replaces Secretary of State Michele Reagan, pledged to create a cybersecurity task force to ensure elections security and oppose any efforts to restrict voting in the state.

As secretary of state, Hobbs is first in the state’s line of succession and Democrats’ highest statewide elected official. She pledged Monday to do everything she can to make it easier for Arizonans to vote.

“The greatest responsibility of this job is one that constitutes the heart of democracy — protecting the sacred right to vote for everyone who is eligible to do so,” she said.

As she takes the reins as the state’s superintendent of public instruction, Hoffman’s paid homage to public education.

She called for greater investment in the state’s public schools and competitive pay for everyone involved in public education — from teachers to support staff and beyond. She also pledged to conduct an audit of the Department of Education and explore ways to put an end to the state’s teacher shortage.

“Imagine if all our students, no matter their background and no matter their zip codes had the support and services they needed in their local school to be successful,” she said. Well, guess what? I’m done saying,’imagine if.’”

Brnovich and Yee both gave deeply personal speeches that referenced their families and their unique heritage.

Yee, who upon being sworn in today became the country’s first Republican Asian-American woman elected to a statewide office, talked about her ancestors first coming to the United States from China at the turn of the 20th century. At the time, they called the United States “Golden Mountain” because it represented a land of opportunity and prosperity.

“My parents taught me that I could be anything I wanted in in this great country,” she said.

Yee, Arizona’s new state treasurer, previously broke barriers as the first Asian-American woman to serve as Senate majority leader in the state Legislature.

While the other elected officials were sworn in by Chief Justice Scott Bales of the state Supreme Court, Brnovich was sworn in by his wife Susan Brnovich, who was recently named a U.S. district court judge.

Brnovich, upon being sworn in as the state’s top lawyer, talked about growing up in Arizona as a first-generation American whose family’s primary language was not English. Brnovich’s mother was born in Yugoslavia and came to the U.S. after WWII.

“Our family didn’t read about history, we lived history,” he said. “I think when that’s the case, you have a unique understanding and appreciation for how important the Constitution is and how important freedom is.”

But being attorney general isn’t about interpreting the Constitution and law how you want it to be, it’s about leveling the playing field and ensuring everyone plays by the rules, Brnovich said, rattling off highlights of his first term.

Four years ago, Republicans swept the statewide offices. Democrats Hobbs and Hoffman bring a new flavor to statewide elected offices and could create an environment of increased bipartisanship in state politics.

Ducey skips CPAC, Trump, focuses on AZ

Sculptor Tommy Zegan, polishes his statue of former president Donald Trump on display at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. Zegan says he has to wipe finger prints off the statue every hour or so. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Sculptor Tommy Zegan, polishes his statue of former president Donald Trump on display at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. Zegan says he has to wipe finger prints off the statue every hour or so. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

As Republicans across the state and country face a party identity crisis about moving on from former President Donald Trump or to keep embracing him and his ideals, Gov. Doug Ducey has seemingly separated himself from the drama.

The 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, took place the final weekend of February in Orlando, Florida., but Ducey did not attend. Trump was the main attraction as his base embraced him, hoping he can remain the Republican Party’s best chance of becoming president again in 2024.

Ducey has not attended a CPAC event since 2017, but this year he is the chair of the Republican Governors Association, putting him as one of the top elected Republicans in the country. 

Doug Cole, a Republican strategist at Highground Public Affairs who served under former Gov. Fife Symington, said Ducey made the right call in not attending CPAC. 

This particular CPAC, Cole said, had taken on an aura of “what’s next for Donald Trump.” 

Not attending a weekend event with the most conservative members of the party appears to send a message, but Ducey’s communications director, CJ Karamargin, gave a simple answer for why he did not travel to the Sunshine State.

In this October 19, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump pauses with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey during a campaign rally in Tucson. Ducey spent much of Trump's presidency trying not to provoke confrontation with the president or his fervent defenders. When state law required Ducey to certify Arizona's presidential election results and sign off on Trump's defeat, four years of loyalty wasn't enough to protect him from the president. PHOTO BY ROSS D. FRANKLIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this October 19, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump pauses with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey during a campaign rally in Tucson. Ducey spent much of Trump’s presidency trying not to provoke confrontation with the president or his fervent defenders. When state law required Ducey to certify Arizona’s presidential election results and sign off on Trump’s defeat, four years of loyalty wasn’t enough to protect him from the president. PHOTO BY ROSS D. FRANKLIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“There is a lot going on in the Legislature right now. A lot of very important things and there’s a lot of work to be done here in Arizona,” Karamargin said. 

Mum on specifics, Karamargin said three areas Ducey was focusing on prevented him from attending an event that several Republican legislators attended themselves. Those areas are “education issues, amendments of the gaming compact, and at the top of the list – Covid,” he said. 

Education leaders, like state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, are trying to game-plan how schools can completely reopen, something Ducey is in favor of doing. 

Ducey’s years-long legislative priority of amending the state’s gaming compact with Arizona tribes stalled in Senate Appropriations on February 23, as the chairman, Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, held a gaming bill from Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, in favor of his own effort to add historic horse race betting, which Ducey and the tribes won’t support. There’s a mirror bill to Shope’s in the House from Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, which is still alive. Karamargin wouldn’t provide details on what Ducey’s office was planning to do on this topic.

“I’m not in position to go into any details right now, but suffice it to say, stay tuned,” he told Arizona Capitol Times, adding that he does, in fact, have details, he just cannot share them. 

And for Covid, Arizona continues to vaccinate its way through the pandemic – to paraphrase the governor. Nearly 2 million people have received at least one dose, including Ducey himself who got his first shot on March 2.

Karamargin did say that there was a standing invitation for all GOP governors to attend CPAC, Ducey just chose not to go.

Ducey has spent the better part of 2021 telling several media outlets what the Republican Party looks like to him and slowly beginning to distance himself from Trump, without explicitly saying that’s what he is doing. 

Cole said while CPAC focuses on Trump and his part to play for Republicans in the future, Ducey can focus on being the Republican Governors Association chair and actually work to help more Republicans get elected throughout the country.

“[Ducey’s] key task is not to support whatever Donald Trump may or may not do next. His focus, rightly so, is raising money, recruiting candidates, and keeping current governors in their seats if they face re-election,” Cole said. 

The events that transpired in Washington, D.C. on January 6 caused a domino effect of major corporations changing or contemplating a change in political spending, which is a “sobering situation for the head of the Republican Governors Association,” Cole said, adding that Ducey is in a position to lead the party with fundraising — something that has been a great strength for him in his own races to date. 

Ducey repeatedly condemned the rioting and said Trump deserves some blame for what happened. 

Cole said of Ducey, “His job is to put the infrastructure, the candidates and the financial resources in the coffers of the Republican Governors Association and be successful. He made the right decision by all counts.”

Of course, Ducey is still tasked with leading Arizona for the next two years and managing what remains of the year-long Covid pandemic, where he is the sole person who can put an end to the emergency declaration he put into place on March 11, 2020. 

Karamargin deferred questions to the state Department of Health Services about where Arizona has to be for Ducey to feel comfortable ending the emergency declaration. 

Steve Elliott, the DHS spokesman, said there isn’t a magic number of vaccinations that need to be administered for the emergency declaration to end. 

“But it likely would include a combination of decreased case counts, decreased patient counts, and slowing vaccine demand, which would suggest that Arizonans who want to be vaccinated have been vaccinated,” Elliott said. “When conditions are such that there’s no realistic potential of cases exceeding hospital capacity, it will be time to discuss lifting the emergency order.”


Ducey vetoes sex ed bill, issues executive order instead


Calling it “overly broad and vague,” Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday vetoed a sweeping sex education bill that opponents feared would have prohibited any acknowledgment of LGBTQ people in the classroom. 

Instead, Ducey issued his own executive order, which will require all schools to post sex education curriculums online. He framed his action as a way to preserve parental rights, while not risking the possibility that schools could stop teaching younger students about recognizing, reporting and preventing child abuse. 

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

“Arizona is and will remain a national leader in parental rights, and I support the underlying principles and intent of this legislation: More parental involvement in education, especially around the very personal and sensitive topic of sex education,” Ducey wrote in his veto letter. 

As approved by Republicans in the House and Senate, SB1456 would have banned all forms of sex education before the fifth grade. It also would have required parents to sign permission slips any time sexual orientation or gender identity came up in school curricula, even if it wasn’t connected to sex education. 

Sen. Christine Marsh, an English teacher who recently moved from high school to middle school, said that it could prevent her from talking about some themes in Catcher in the Rye, a commonly assigned book that contains subtext suggesting at least one character is a repressed homosexual. 

Other Democrats who opposed the bill said it could stop history lessons, including acknowledging the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, or, on a local level, teaching students in Tempe about how their city had the first openly gay elected mayor in the country.  

Parents, activists and LGBTQ students who rallied outside the Heard Museum last week to catch Ducey’s attention when he arrived to sign an unrelated bill described the bill as a way to revive the so-called “no promo homo” law overturned by a bipartisan Legislature in 2019.  

Nancy Barto
Nancy Barto

Kerrie Green, who identifies as a nonbinary parent of a nonbinary middle schooler, drove up from Tucson to participate in the event. Green said parents who don’t want their children to learn about human development can already opt out of instruction or choose to attend a different school, and Sen. Nancy Barto’s bill created problems without fixing any.  

“I send my kid to school to learn to open their mind to grow as a human being, and I don’t want to go backwards,” Green said.  

From 1991 to 2019, Arizona law mandated education about HIV and AIDS but prohibited the promotion of a “homosexual lifestyle” or acknowledgements of possibilities for safe sex between anyone but heterosexual couples. Democrats tried in vain in subsequent years to repeal the clauses about not promoting homosexuality, but it took a lawsuit and the unlikely team of Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich to finally pass a repeal in April 2019. Ducey quickly signed the bill, which he called a “common sense solution.” 

Within months, conservative Republican lawmakers were attending meetings and sharing videos purporting to show a leftist agenda to sexualize children. House Speaker Rusty Bowers called Hoffman a “radical,” Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, claimed he had to “deprogram” his son after exposure to sex education courses in California and the issue appeared poised to be one of the most contentious issues of the 2020 session 

Instead, after former Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, attracted national attention for a bill that would ban sex education before seventh grade and appeared to again prohibit discussions of homosexuality, Republican leaders killed sex education bills they deemed too controversial to take up during an election year.  

With no such electoral compunctions this year, Barto’s SB1456 sailed through the House and Senate with unanimous support from Republicans.  

As LGBTQ activists rallied outside the Heard Museum last week, Equality Arizona Executive Director Michael Soto said allies in the business community were with Ducey in the museum and would advocate for him to veto the bill in private conversations. Backlash from business leaders in 2014 prompted then-Gov. Jan Brewer to veto a bill cosponsored by Barto that would have guaranteed businesses that cited religious beliefs the right to deny services to gay and lesbian customers.  

“We know that the business community doesn’t want this,” Soto said. “We’re seeing all over the country such incredible backlash from corporations, from sports teams, all sorts of major companies against states that are legalizing discrimination.” 

Hoffman thanked Ducey for “standing up to bigotry and intolerance” in a tweet after the veto.  

 “All students are welcome in Arizona’s public schools and today’s veto reaffirms that,” she wrote. 

The socially conservative Center for Arizona Policy, meanwhile, panned the news. In a written statement, organization President Cathi Herrod said Ducey sent parents a message that the government knows better.  

“Parents have the fundamental right and responsibility to raise their children,” Herrod wrote. “Exactly what they are taught regarding human sexuality, and when, is up to parents, not the government.” 

Ducey agreed, to an extent. His executive order will mandate that sex education curricula can only be adopted at public meetings with at least twoweeks notice and that parents can review the curriculum online or in person at any time. Parents are already able to opt their children out of any lessons.  

“Too often, parents are left out of this process, and the importance is even greater when it comes to educating students about deeply personal matters like sex education,” Ducey said in a written statement. “This executive order ensures that parents are in the driver’s seat when it comes to overseeing the education of their children.” 


Ducey won’t commit to more funds for school voucher program


Gov. Doug Ducey won’t commit to providing the funds that schools chief Kathy Hoffman says she needs to properly administer the state’s voucher program.

“I believe that we can do better on Educational Savings Accounts,” Ducey said Wednesday, referring to the vouchers of state funds to send children to private and parochial schools by its formal name.

“We want the families that properly qualify for this benefit to be able to access it so their kids can get the proper education,” the governor said. “We believe that the parent knows better on that.”

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

In the meantime, however, there have been a series of complaints by parents who say they cannot get their kids enrolled. Issues range from the inability to get calls answered at the state Department of Education to the processing time for applications taking too long, to the point where approval – if it comes – is too late to use for the school year.

Hoffman has not denied the delays. But she said much of it can be blamed on lack of dollars.

Specifically, Hoffman pointed out that the voucher law entitles her agency to funding equal to 4 percent of the amount administered. That would come to $3.6 million.

Instead, the budget that was approved by lawmakers provided just $1.3 million.

The governor told Capitol Media Services he was aware of the issue.

“I know that there are resources necessary,” he said, promising to “work closely with the superintendent so we can fix this issue.”

But the governor dodged a question about how Hoffman – and even predecessor Republican Diane Douglas – said the agency needs the full $3.6 million to do the job properly and yet the budget he signed for the current year provided just a fraction of that.

“We’re going to review the budget request in proper order,” he said.

Stefan Swiat, spokesman for the Department of Education, stressed this isn’t a one-time thing or a new issue.

Swiat, who worked for Douglas, said she, too, requested but did not get the dollars she said are necessary. In fact, Swiat said, while the law provides for funding at 4 percent, it has never been higher than 2 percent.

He said Douglas did not go quietly, writing to the governor, the Legislature and the Auditor General’s Office that she did not understand why the department never got the full spending authority if this is a “pet project.”

The sometimes-controversial program provides tax dollars to parents who meet certain conditions to send their children to private and parochial schools. Cash also can be used for certain educational expenses for home-schooled students.

In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Kathy Hoffman, a public school speech therapist, is a Democratic candidate running for superintendent of public education, in Phoenix. Hoffman is running against three-term California congressman Frank Riggs, the founding president of an online charter school. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Kathy Hoffman (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Originally promoted to help children with special needs, it has been expanded year after year to where it also covers foster children, children of the military, children who live on reservations and children attending schools rated D or F.

With statutory caps on enrollment, there are about 6,500 youngsters currently getting funding, which ranges from $5,400 a year for basic aid to more than $30,000 for students with special needs.

Swiat acknowledged the complaints from parents who want to put their children into the program but say they can’t get the information they need or their applications processed quickly enough.

He said, though, that’s because the agency’s employees dedicated to the program – there are just 12 now – have instead been focused on auditing the expenditures of parents whose children already get vouchers to be sure that they are not misspending the dollars. And Swiat said there’s a good reason for that.

“That’s what the Auditor General asked us to do last year,” he said, referring to a report which found that parents had made fraudulent purchases and misspent more than $700,000 in public funds. “We’re following the direction of our bosses.”

And that, he said, is why the need for more dollars.

He said Hoffman’s budget request for the coming fiscal year includes hiring an additional 20 staffers “and have justified that ask based on call volume.”

“We keep adding to the program,” Swiat said, with an anticipated 7,000 youngsters expected to get vouchers next budget year. “That means more reporting and funding has stayed flat the last few years.”

Swiat said that Hoffman has not had direct conversations with Ducey about the funding need but that “our offices talk.”

It is the budget plan that Ducey will roll out in January that becomes the starting point for negotiations. But Hoffman also will need to convince the lawmakers who have to vote on the package before sending it back to the governor.

Earlier this month members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted to seek a review of where the money is going now.

That report is due in April. And some committee members said their views on requests for additional dollars could depend on whether the audit shows that the existing dollars are being spent properly and efficiently.

Swiat said he’s not sure how much more Hoffman can do to promote the funding, saying that she actually has higher priorities, starting with the amount of dollars the state provides on a per-student basis and teacher salaries.

“Per pupil funding is among the lowest in the nation,” he said. And Swiat said it is a question of Hoffman putting her attention in getting funding where it will do the most for the most children.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported there are 5,500 children in the ESA program. The actual number is 6,500. 

Fractured GOP vote in superintendent’s race spells trouble

Diane Douglas
Diane Douglas

With five Republican contenders dividing the vote, the GOP primary race for Superintendent of Public Instruction is too close to call.

Unofficial results show that Frank Riggs is less than one percentage point ahead of the current runner up, Bob Branch. Only 739 votes separate the two candidates.

Incumbent Diane Douglas is also trailing closely behind Branch. Only 2,197 votes separate her and the current top contender.

With each of the top three candidates currently receiving about 21 percent of the vote – Douglas is followed by Tracy Livingston with Jonathan Gelbart rounding out the pack – it appears Arizonans looking for a change were unable to rally behind an alternative to the incumbent.

Douglas never quite escaped criticism after clashing with Gov. Doug Ducey early in her first term over the firing of two State Board of Education employees, and she has continued to irk many in the state, even in her own party, over the years. Most recently, she offended public school teachers after criticizing the Red for Ed movement’s decision to strike and suggesting teachers’ certifications may be at risk because of it.

Still, political observers had speculated she would benefit from sheer name recognition in a crowded Republican field.

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face off against Kathy Hoffman in the Nov. 6 general election. Hoffman edged out David Schapira in the Democratic primary.

Superintendent of Public Instruction By The Numbers


486,978 votes cast

Diane Douglas 21.49 percent

Bob Branch 21.79 percent

Frank Riggs 21.94 percent

Jonathan Gelbart 14.77 percent

Tracy Livingston 20.02 percent


415,434 votes cast

Kathy Hoffman 53 percent

David Schapira 47 percent

Garcia makes ‘dramatic tilt’ left in run for governor

In this April 12, 2017, file photo, Democrat David Garcia announces his run for Arizona governor at the state Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Bob Christie, File)
In this April 12, 2017, file photo, Democrat David Garcia announces his run for Arizona governor at the state Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Bob Christie, File)

You can’t eat David Garcia.

The curious saying stems from when the Democratic gubernatorial candidate served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army.

Garcia and his Army cohorts were told by a commanding officer that their military handbook included the phrase, “you cannot eat another soldier.”

Your fellow soldiers could get you killed, leave you in a foreign land or get you blown up, but they couldn’t cannibalize you, Garcia said at a June 7 fundraiser.

Garcia, who ran for state superintendent of public instruction in 2014 and lost by about 16,000 votes, is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor this cycle.


Well, because you can’t eat him – you can’t destroy him, you can’t get rid of him.

Garcia’s gubernatorial campaign shares some similarities to his previous campaign mostly because he is just as vocal about the fight for public education as he was four years ago.

But in his gubernatorial bid, Garcia is running to the left of where he was four years ago when, as the more mainstream candidate in the general election, he garnered some Republican support and a surprising endorsement from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Now, Garcia is occasionally compared to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — who lost to Hillary Clinton by double digits in Arizona — as he promises free college tuition, shuns big money and backs a ballot initiative that would boost taxes on Arizona’s top earners.

Garcia, who is in a three-way Democratic primary battle, claims he is the same candidate he’s always been: A strong supporter of public education, but this year, he’s running in a totally revamped political environment and he’s letting his progressive flag fly.

A professor at Arizona State University, Garcia was born and raised in Mesa. An Army veteran with his master’s and a doctorate degree in education policy, Garcia jumped into the governor’s race just after Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law expanding vouchers last year. Garcia has never held elected office before, but he has worked on the policy side of government, having served at the Arizona Department of Education and with the state Senate Education Committee.

Democratic candidate for governor David Garcia speaks with a voter June 10 as he canvassed a west Phoenix neighborhood. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)
Democratic candidate for governor David Garcia speaks with a voter June 10 as he canvassed a west Phoenix neighborhood. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)

Education governor

Much of Garcia’s previous campaign experience translates to his gubernatorial campaign because education is the top statewide issue this year.

Education funding makes up nearly half the state budget, and education translates to other issues like economic development, prison reform and mental health, he said.

“Arizona’s biggest stumbling block is education,” Garcia said. “We do not invest in our people. We do not invest in our schools.”

This coming from the candidate who rented a school bus as his primary mode of campaign transportation. The bus, which has been wrapped in purplish campaign signs, has been retrofitted with solar panels to help power the work stations and appliances located inside.

But on top of fighting for K-12 education, Garcia has promised free college tuition — an idea made popular by Sanders’ presidential bid — if he’s elected governor.

Garcia has also been extremely vocal in speaking out against dark money and contributions from special interest groups. In his bid for schools superintendent, Garcia was aided by hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures spent in favor of his campaign and against his opponent, a large chunk of which came from an education nonprofit partly funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He said his campaign did not solicit the outside funding, and had no idea it was coming. Ultimately, Garcia said he had no control over outside groups supporting his campaign.

“As a campaign, you want as much control over what you do as possible, and dark money is not in your control,” he said.

In his gubernatorial bid, Garcia has sworn off lobbyist and corporate PAC money in favor of a small-dollar fundraising strategy that has become increasingly popular among progressive candidates. Garcia has more campaign donors than his opponents, but he has trailed both Ducey and his main primary opponent state Sen. Steve Farley in fundraising.

Sanders revolutionized the small-dollar donation strategy in his presidential bid, creating a model for other candidates to follow, Garcia said.

“There was no meaningful small-dollar path until Bernie Sanders came along,” Garcia said.

A tale of two campaigns

Garcia proponents and opponents attribute his shift to the left as a necessity of running in a competitive primary and a factor of him running for a more partisan statewide office.

Julie Erfle
Julie Erfle

The governor’s race is far more political than the superintendent position, said Garcia’s former campaign spokeswoman Julie Erfle. She helped on Garcia’s campaign for superintendent.

In 2014, Garcia largely talked about education, which isn’t generally thought to be a partisan issue, she said. That race was about presenting a vision for the best education policy going forward, she said.

But far more contentious issues crop up in the governor’s race because there are other areas of policy the governor has to address, Erfle said.

“I think he definitely is coming off as a much more progressive candidate this go-round,” she said. “Though, again, I think that has more to do with the race, and the nature of what’s happening right now in the state.

It’s a different race and a different time, Erfle said.

The political world has been turned on its head in the past four years.

“The world has shifted,” Garcia said. “You’re asking a comparison between 2014 and 2018, but you’ve got to remember 2016 turned everything on its head in lots of ways. There are folks that are out there that are active, that are involved in ways in ‘18 that were not there in ‘14.”

Garcia and his staffer rattled off a list of grassroots movements that have galvanized Democratic support in recent years, including Red for Ed, Black Lives Matter, March for our Lives and annual women’s marches.

Progressive and minority candidates are also making waves, and winning across the country as the backlash against President Donald Trump steamrolls through the 2018 midterm election cycle.

But the political environment has also gotten significantly more polarized in the recent past.

Unfriendly Republican

As Garcia went door to door in a west Phoenix neighborhood — where nearly everyone answered the door in Spanish — on a recent Sunday, the candidate encountered a Republican voter who wasn’t interested in his pitch.

Garcia approached the burly man, who was working on a truck parked in the driveway of a modest, one-story home. Upon hearing Garcia is Democrat, the man exasperatedly waved the candidate and his posse away.

But the encounter didn’t end there.

The man hopped in the truck and circled the block, following Garcia and his staffers as they hit other, nearby homes. At one point, he rolled down a window to chastise Garcia for not knowing better than to solicit a home occupied by strong Republican voters. Later, he appeared to take down the license plate number of a Garcia staffer’s vehicle — the car the group piled into to get to the neighborhood.

And while Republicans typically aren’t as unfriendly, they won’t be keen on supporting Garcia this time around either.

For starters, Garcia is unlikely to get that coveted Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry endorsement this year.

The chamber is a big Ducey supporter, and while the incumbent governor clinching the endorsement is not a done deal, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion.

So, why did the chamber endorse Garcia for superintendent in 2014 — the first time the group supported a statewide Democratic candidate in nearly a decade.

Garrick Taylor
Garrick Taylor

In 2014, Garcia fashioned himself as a commonsense, reform-minded Democrat who was willing to listen to education ideas that were outside of the liberal viewpoint, said chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor. The chamber also liked that Garcia was a proponent of school choice and a supporter of Common Core, which his Republican opponent Diane Douglas vowed to rip apart.

But the Garcia of 2014 is not the one chamber members are seeing on the 2018 campaign trail, Taylor said.

“The David Garcia of 2018 does not appear to have made a slight tilt leftward, but a dramatic tilt to the left — more in line with the Bernie Sanders wing of the party,” Taylor said.

One issue that has really drawn the chamber’s ire this cycle is the Invest in Education Act — a proposed ballot measure to boost income taxes on wealthy Arizonans — a move that the chamber argues could hurt Arizona businesses. Garcia proudly supports the initiative.

But Garcia says his campaign message hasn’t changed. He still supports school choice and Common Core and he’s still railing against standardized tests.

“I ran in 2014 as a strong public education supporter. I’m running in 2018 as a strong public education supporter,” he said. “I’m running again on the idea that we need to get rid of standardized testing, and invest in public education.”

Farley, the state senator from Tucson, recently criticized Garcia for working with Arizona Republicans on education policy. He was specifically referring to former Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, who as a lawmaker in 1994 sponsored legislation to create charter schools in Arizona. Garcia worked at the Department of Education and then, as an associate superintendent of public instruction under Keegan.

Part of why Garcia was able to pick up some Republican support and the chamber’s endorsement in 2014 was because the business community was worried about Douglas and her positions on education, said former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera. But Molera, a Republican and a Ducey supporter, also pointed to the Invest in Education Act as an example that Garcia is endorsing more progressive policies this go-round.

Molera attributed Garcia’s shift to the left to the contested Democratic gubernatorial primary in which Garcia faces Farley and Kelly Fryer, CEO of the YWCA Southern Arizona.

Garcia is speaking almost exclusively to members of his party right now, he said. He’s trying to nail down support from progressives, the unions, and environmentalists — that’s why he’s tacking to the left, Molera said.

Molera endorsed Garcia’s 2014 bid for superintendent. Garcia would still make an excellent candidate for superintendent, but he’s not the best candidate for governor, he said.

Ducey’s political adviser J.P. Twist labeled Garcia as too “extreme” for Arizona.

“David Garcia very easily is the most extreme candidate of either party to seek the governorship in modern Arizona history,” he said. “As voters learn about the candidates, they are seeing the real Garcia, a big-spending liberal who would bankrupt the state many times over.”

Garcia has jumped headfirst into his campaign, but he’s also already imagining what it would be like to be governor of Arizona.

“When we win this, and we’re there in the Governor’s Office and you’re wondering what Garcia is going to do. … Know one thing, folks. They can’t eat me,” he said.

Goldwater Institute sues Arizona Department of Education over vouchers

new laws on the books

The Goldwater Institute today sued the Arizona Department of Education, alleging it mishandled the state’s school voucher program in a way that breaks state law. 

The lawsuit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on behalf of several families, alleges the department engaged in illegal rulemaking when it developed its Empowerment Scholarship Account handbook and has no authority to demand that parents repay voucher funds the department determines have been misspent. 

Goldwater Institute attorney Timothy Sandefur said Goldwater has no problem with the department developing a handbook, provided it follows the state’s rulemaking process. Without doing so, the department has no authority to enforce any provisions in the handbook, he said. 

“I think it would be an excellent outcome if the department said ‘We’re going to follow the rulemaking process that the law requires and allow public input and discussion and so forth before we impose these rules on people,” Sandefur said. 

Goldwater filed the lawsuit on behalf of four Maricopa County parents — Maisha Byrd, Chauncey Hallford, Kayla Svedin and Prisca Walton — who have children with special needs who participate in the voucher program. 

According to the complaint, Walton was informed in January 2017 that she had misspent voucher funds for one of her children, and neither of her children would have their accounts restored while she appealed.

The complaint does not lay out how the other plaintiffs have been harmed by current department policies. Rather, it focuses on the process by which the department developed those policies, saying the ESA handbook is a set of rules and therefore should have been adopted under a rulemaking procedure that allowed for public comment.

“Our complaint is not focused on any particular past injury, but seeks instead prospective relief from doing this again in the future,” Sandefur said.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in an opinion in 2017 that his office did not consider the ESA handbook a set of rules but instead saw it as informational guidelines for parents. As such, Brnovich determined that the Department of Education didn’t need to follow a formal rulemaking procedure to draft the handbook. 

Neither the Department of Education, nor Brnovich’s office, had received a copy of the complaint before the Goldwater Institute sent it to the media. Department of Education communications director Richie Taylor said the department is consulting with legal counsel and has nothing further to comment. 

The problems alleged in the complaint all seem to predate Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman’s tenure, but she was named as a plaintiff in her official capacity – as was Brnovich.

Hoffman asks lawmakers to fully fund distance learning

Kathy Hoffman
Kathy Hoffman

Arizona’s top education official told lawmakers Tuesday they need to ensure that schools get as much money for online courses as the law now provides them for kids in seats.

Kathy Hoffman said public schools are expected to lose up to $500 million in aid because the state law funds distance learning at 5% less than in-person instruction.

She acknowledged that Gov. Doug Ducey did come up with some one-time dollars to compensate.

That was $370 million the governor took from money he got from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

But Hoffman, speaking to members of the Senate Education Committee, said that still shorted schools statewide by $247 million. And aides to the governor said he has no interest in coming up with the difference.

At the same time, however, Ducey is pushing ahead with a plan to permanently cut taxes by $200 million in the next budget year, a plan that calls for that rising to $400 million in cuts the following year and $600 million the year after that.

“It is absurd to talk of tax cuts when there are so many families with basic needs our state can help meet,” Hoffman said.

She noted that Senate Republican leaders have apparently taken a different position than Ducey and are supporting full funding of distance learning this year. And the schools chief said there’s no reason not to.

“When the state sits on a billion-dollar rainy day fund and projects a $2 billion surplus, there is no excuse to not fully fund every school,” Hoffman said.

“There has never been a more urgent time to tap into our safety net and provide for Arizonans,” she continued. “Anyone who thinks it’s not raining in Arizona right now needs to check their privilege.”

What ultimately is needed, she said, is “predictable, sustainable funding” that would allow schools to plan their budgets and lure and fairly compensate education professionals.

She said voters share that belief, citing the approval in November of Proposition 208. That measure enacted a 3.5% tax surcharge on any income above $250,000 a year for individuals and $500,000 for married couples filing jointly, a measure proponents say could raise $940 million a year — but not until the 2022-2023 school year.

The initiative’s legality is being challenged in court by business interests and some GOP legislators.

Hoffman did give a tip of the hat to Ducey’s plan to use some cash to boost literacy at early grades. But she said that’s not a permanent solution.

“One-time grant funding simply doesn’t cut it for staffing our schools,” Hoffman said. “When we use a patchwork approach to funding our schools, our students lose out.”

She also had kind words for Ducey’s plan to expand broadband access “as it will be critical to bridging the opportunity gap for students and families.” But here, too, Hoffman said more is needed.

“Even for our schools where internet is reliable, the cost of virtual learning is staggering,” she said. “From ordering expensive devices to hiring additional IT staff to manage the issues that rise on digitial platforms, to training educators on new digital tools, I cannot overstate the implact distance learning has had on schools’ budgets.”

Technology aside, Hoffman said lawmakers need to provide more cash for public education if they want better results and to keep qualified teachers in the classroom. And the situation, she said, has only been exacerbated by COVID-19 and teachers either dying or quitting amid concerns.

“For too long, Arizona has been in a crisis with a shortage of educators, not because we lack the talent, but because too many exception teachers have burned out from overcrowded classrooms, non-competitive pay, and a lack of essential resources for students,” she said.

“We could not afford to lose a single educator at the state of 2020,” Hoffman said.

“But the demands of navigating a classroom in a pandemic has exacerbated the strain on our workforce,” she said. “We already know of teachers who have either bought themselves out of their contracts or are planning to not renew their contracts for the next school year.”

It’s not all about classroom learning, the schools chief said. She said students, just like adults, have been struggling with mental health issues during the pandemic and the school closures.

Hoffman said she is pushing for putting another $43 million into the state’s School Safety Grant Program, more than double current funding. She said that could add another 355 counselors or social workers to schools.

Hoffman endorsed a couple of measures being pushed by Democrats.

SB 1227 by Sen. Christine Marsh of Phoenix would set up a committee to study what is an “appropriate class size” and identify methods — and funding — to reduce the number of students in a classroom, something that also could require additional facilities. It already has cleared the Senate Education Committee, with only Republicans Nancy Barto of Phoenix and Tyler Pace of Mesa in opposition.

Hoffman also said she was glad to see that the House Education Committee had approved HB 2015. That proposal by Sen. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Cashion, seeks to provide $15 million this coming school year and another $22.5 million the following year in grants to schools for precshool programs.

She also supports SB 1756 by Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, to provide family and medical leave insurance benefits.

“In times of sickness, we care for each other by ensuring that we can take time off and still make ends meet,” Hoffman said. “Those assurances are important not just for our educator workforce but for all workers.”


Hoffman calls for 2-weeks of remote learning

In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Kathy Hoffman, a public school speech therapist, is a Democratic candidate running for superintendent of public education, in Phoenix. Hoffman is running against three-term California congressman Frank Riggs, the founding president of an online charter school. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Kathy Hoffman, a public school speech therapist, is a Democratic candidate running for superintendent of public education, in Phoenix. Hoffman is running against three-term California congressman Frank Riggs, the founding president of an online charter school. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The state’s top school official wants Gov. Doug Ducey to keep schools closed to in-person learning for two weeks following the explosion of COVID-19 cases in the state.

“Given the severity of our state’s situation and the virus’s trajectory after the holiday period, Gov. Doug Ducey should order schools to remain in distance learning for a limited two-week period,” Kathy Hoffman said Saturday afternoon. And she told Capitol Media Services that opening schools immediately after the Christmas holidays given the level of infection is “reckless.”

Hoffman pointed out that the Department of Health Services has found that the risk of infection in the state is considered “substantial.” That includes an average of 648 cases per 100,000 residents, far above what is considered in the moderate risk range of anything below 100 cases.

She also noted that 17.5% of the tests for the virus are coming back positive and that more than 14% of hospital visits are for COVID-like illness.

Even more significant is that the figures the health department uses to determine current risk levels in Arizona actually are two weeks old. Since that time all of the numbers have gone even higher and hospitals are at record-low level of beds to care for patients.

But an aide to the governor said he has no interest in doing that.

“Gov. Ducey will not be considering this request or issuing this kind of mandate,” said spokesman C.J. Karamargin. More to the point, he said there is no need for such an action.

“This is a local decision,” Karamargin said, with online learning already an option for those districts that want to offer it.

And even if it were not, he said that Ducey doesn’t think that keeping schools closed any longer makes sense.

“The governor has repeatedly made his preference clear: Kids have already lost out on a lot of learning and he wants schools opened, safely,” Karamargin said.

Hoffman told Capitol Media Services the two-week period she is suggesting is designed to coincide with a standard quarantine period after people may have been exposed. And she said she understands that nothing in either state law or gubernatorial guidance precludes a local school board from unilaterally extending online learning for another two weeks.

But the schools chief said a broader mandate is appropriate.

“We’re coming back from the holidays and cases are through the roof,” Hoffman said. “Right now it seems reckless for any schools to be offering in-person instruction.”

The most recent data shows another 46 deaths were reported Saturday, bringing the statewide total of 9,061. And another 8,883 new cases puts the statewide tally at more than 539,000.

Even with all that, the superintendent of public instruction said that there are some districts that are not listening to the recommendations of their local health departments which have warned of the spread of the virus if students go back to class.

Anyway, Hoffman said, it’s not like she proposing that schools remain shuttered for some indefinite period, even with the spike in cases.

“It’s just for two weeks,” she said. And Hoffman said that schools still are generally required to provide  a safe place for students during the day, even if all learning is remote.

What makes it more dangerous, Hoffman said, is that Arizona hospitals are filling up.

More than 60% of beds in intensive-care units are occupied by patients with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. When other non-COVID patients are added to the mix, that leaves just 132 ICU beds available statewide for those who need it, just 7% of capacity.

Inpatient bed usage also remains at record levels, with just a 7% vacancy rate.

And there are more patients on ventilators now than there have been since the pandemic began.

Banner Health Systems, the state’s largest hospital network, already is turning away ambulances and transfers from other hospitals, though it is still accepting walk-in patients who need emergency care.

Several hospitals also have stopped doing elective procedures, those that doctors determine can wait a few weeks without endangering the life or health of the patient.

“Our teachers who are being asked to go teach in person despite the very high risk and high spread of COVID in the community are very fearful because they’re worried because if they get sick are they going to be able to get care in a medical facility,” Hoffman said.

The schools chief noted there is another reason that a delay may help stop the spread.

She pointed out that the priority that state health officials have set for who gets the vaccine puts teachers and school staff into the 1-B category, second behind health care workers and staffers in long-term care facilities. That 1-B category also includes child-care workers, public safety personnel and those age 75 and older.

State health officials have said they hope to begin administering to those in the 1-B category this month, though for the moment that will include only the first of what needs to be a two-shot regimen. But there is believed to be some protection offered from just that first inoculation.


Hoffman says parents should reconsider keeping kids out of kindergarten

k-12 school, students, kids, classroom, teacher, testing

A sharp drop in the number of youngsters in Arizona kindergartens this year due to COVID-19 could have ripple effects for years to come on their education.

State schools chief Kathy Hoffman said while enrollment in public schools is down 5% from the same time a year earlier, the preliminary figure is about 14% for kindergarten.

Hoffman said parents are telling her that their concerns about the coronavirus are causing them to keep their children at home. That’s allowed as kindergarten is optional.

But Hoffman, who as a speech therapist worked with young children, said there are major implications to skipping this stage of organized instruction. And those who do not attend could end up with issues, not only when they go into the first grade a year from now but even further down the road.

“One of the greatest benefits is the social and emotional learning and being able to play with other kids,” she said. But Hoffman said parents also are worried about the spread of the virus in the classroom.

But the schools chief said she remains convinced the best bet is to get those kids into kindergarten for at least a few hours a day.

“Some of the most important skills that they’re learning are the letter sounds, the name for the letters and the alphabet,” she said. Kids also start reading their first simple words.

“They’re learning to count objects and they’re learning what numbers look like and how to name numbers,” Hoffman continued. “So those are very important foundational skills as they go through the grades.”

The schools chief said the failure to pick up on those — and early — could come back to haunt those kids later on.

Central to that is Move On When Reading. That law says students cannot be promoted from the third grade if they score “far below” that grade reading level on the statewide assessment.

Hoffman’s not a big fan.

“Our kids come from so many different backgrounds,” she said. “The kids that are struggling readers are typically coming from disadvantaged homes.”

More kids starting regular school without the benefits of what kindergarten can teach, Hoffman said, could lead in a few years to more youngsters being told they’re not going on to the fourth grade.

“And it is a huge social and emotional impact on students to be held back a grade,” she said.

But it remains the law.

Then there are the less measurable but also equally important social skills.

“They’re also learning how to be a student,” Hoffman said.

“They’re learning to get in line, they’re learning to take turns, to share, to problem solve,” she explained. Even learning how to have social interactions with other kids, Hoffman said, is “very critical.”

“I think all the impact of what we’re seeing right now is yet to be seen,” she said.

Hoffman isn’t the only one worried about youngsters missing out on what they learn in kindergarten. Christine Thompson, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, an education advocacy group, said if youngsters don’t learn the basics in kindergarten, especially of letter recognition and reading, it’s going to “take a lift” to ensure that they’re not held back in third grade.

For parents who don’t want to send their kindergarten students into classrooms, there are online options. But Thompson doesn’t see that as a realistic option for picking up reading skills.

“When you think about how technologically savvy you have to be in order to navigate the web, it’s really falling on parents to help them,” she said.

Thompson said she’s sure there are programs that can help young children learn their letters and sounds.

“But you really need those educators with kids, helping to identify what the challenges are or what things are going to get a kid hooked on reading or really understanding the contents that are so incredibly important, especially in those really early years,” she said.

And there’s a more practical concern.

“Being online can be really exhausting, especially in these really little kids,” Thompson said. And then there’s the fact that pediatricians have stressed the importance of young children having only limited screen time.

“To go from that to having school online is a massive shift,” she said. “So we’re going to have a lot of ground to make up.”

Hoffman said her message to parents planning to keep their kindergartners at home would be to reconsider.

“As far as we can tell from the research that’s been done this year, the spread of COVID-19 is extremely low for the K thru eighth grades,” she said.

“Missing out on a whole year of school can have detrimental effects in the long term,” Hoffman continued. “And school provides such amazing opportunities and wrap-around support for our kids, not just academically but also socially.”

And then there are the opportunities to learn skills that they’re unlikely to pick up at home like music and science and other specialties if parents don’t have the resources.

“I’m always going to advocate that school is incredibly important and we don’t want any child to be missing out on any of these opportunities,” Hoffman said. “But I can also understand why families are feeling uncertain or scared and making some really difficult decisions right now.”

Hoffman also said if parents are still not comfortable with sending their youngsters to kindergarten this year she would prefer that they just wait a year and enroll them next year for the program and not just send them on to first grade.


Hoffman victorious in schools chief Democratic primary

Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman chats with Republican candidate Frank Riggs during the Arizona Capitol Times' Meet the Candidates event. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman chats with Republican candidate Frank Riggs during the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Kathy Hoffman shocked political observers across the state during the Aug. 28 primary as she pulled off a victory in the Democratic primary race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Hoffman came out ahead with a slim lead over challenger David Schapira in early ballot returns, and held it through the night. It is currently unclear who she will face in the Nov. 6 general election as the Republican primary is still too close to call.

In a text shared by Hoffman’s spokeswoman Emily Brent, Schapira congratulated Hoffman.

“Looks good for you so far,” he wrote, according to the message shared with the Arizona Capitol Times. “Congratulations! We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Speaking briefly to the Capitol Times from her watch party, Hoffman described her excitement at seeing a green checkmark beside her name, indicating a win called by a local TV station. She said she was elated and honored to continue to the general election.

As a speech therapist in Arizona public schools, Hoffman has appealed to the post-Red for Ed enthusiasm on the left. Her former campaign manager, Noah Karvelis, led that movement, and she stood behind the teachers, frequently rallying with them at the Capitol.

Schapira did too, a fact that speaks to what has been one of the most significant challenges in the Democratic primary race: distinguishing one candidate from the other.

Hoffman and Schapira held many of the same beliefs about Arizona’s public education system and efforts to increase school funding, including through the Invest in Education Act initiative seeking to raise taxes to pump up dollars for public education. Instead, they focused largely on the differences in their backgrounds – Hoffman with her greater experience in the classroom, and Schapira with his time in a variety of administrative and elected positions.

Hoffman’s frontlines message appears to have won the day, but she still faces a tough road ahead as a Democrat seeking statewide office.

A Republican has held the seat for more than 20 years. But with the momentum of the Red for Ed movement still fueling the conversation around education in Arizona, political observers foresee a competitive general election contest for the seat.

Superintendent of Public Instruction By The Numbers


415,434 votes cast

Kathy Hoffman 53 percent

David Schapira 47 percent


486,978 votes cast

Diane Douglas 21.49 percent

Bob Branch 21.79 percent

Frank Riggs 21.94 percent

Jonathan Gelbart 14.77 percent

Tracy Livingston 20.02 percent

Hoffman: Schools should reopen based on metrics, not dates

State schools chief Kathy Hoffman in March year with Gov. Doug Ducey announcing schools would be closed for the balance of the year. Hoffman is now providing a ``roadmap'' of issues for schools to consider when deciding how -- and if -- to reopen. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

Schools should be empowered to reopen their campuses this fall based on public health data rather than aiming for a particular date, Arizona’s top education official said Tuesday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said she outlined her priorities to Gov. Doug Ducey, who is expected to announce the next steps for schools this week. He has previously delayed the start of the school year until Aug. 17.

Hoffman outlined several metrics she said would be helpful to school officials deciding when to welcome children back on campus. They include a downward trajectory in new confirmed COVID-19 cases, a decrease in the rate of positive test results and the widespread availability of testing with timely results.

Schools also need a guarantee of full funding for distance learning, she added.

“Like all educators, I want students back in the classroom because that’s the best place for learning and growing,” Hoffman wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. “However, we cannot ask schools to make decisions that will impact the teachers’ and students’ health and safety without first providing them with the necessary public health data and funding to make safe decisions.”

Ducey and his top health official, Dr. Cara Christ, said last week that they would prefer for their own children to be in school on campus.

Hoffman’s early days in office calm compared to predecessors

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman speaks at her inauguration on January 7, 2019. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman speaks at her inauguration on January 7, 2019. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Arizona’s current school’s chief has many differences compared to her two predecessors. She’s only 33-years old, she’s a Democrat, and the first few things she accomplished in her new position took a more progressive approach to improving education in the state.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman’s first few months in office were also free of the strife that engulfed the previous two administrations of the Arizona Department of Education – Republicans John Huppenthal and Diane Douglas.

Hoffman gave her inaugural State of Education speech to the House Education Committee in February where she outlined her agenda for her first term. She said she hoped to repeal the “no promo homo” law that discriminates against non-heterosexual children in schools, and cut the English Language Learner program from four hours to two.

She accomplished both.

Educators have pushed lawmakers for years to revise the mandate, which requires English-learning students to take four hours of English immersion every day, where they are separated from their peers.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, sponsored SB1014 to help accomplish this reduction. It passed through the Senate and House unanimously, and Gov. Doug Ducey signed it into law on February 14.

The ELL program became Hoffman’s first popular accomplishment, whereas the first acts of Huppenthal and Douglas caused uproars.

In 2011, when Huppenthal, a former legislator, took on his new role, he immediately sought to ban the ethnic studies in Tucson Unified School District. Huppenthal said the school district’s program, known as Mexican American Studies, violated state law because of materials that repeatedly referred to white people as oppressors of Latinos. The program’s website showed it was designed primarily for Latino students and materials repeatedly emphasized the importance of building Latino nationalism, Huppenthal said.

The law to ban ethnic studies forbade classes that promoted ethnic solidarity, promoted the overthrow of the U.S. government, and were designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or promoted resentment toward a race or class of people.

Huppenthal gave the district 60 days to change or eliminate the ethnic studies program or he warned they would lose up to $15 million in state funding. A federal judge eventually declared the ban as unconstitutional.

When Douglas took office, she quickly fired the top staff of the Arizona State Board of Education, Christine Thompson, the executive director, and Sabrina Vazquez, assistant executive director. At the time, Doulas did not give any reason for the firings, which led several education pundits to wonder if this was anything more than a political decision.

Greg Miller, president of the state board at the time, said he thought the firings were an attempt to shut down Common Core, the learning standards that Douglas vowed to get rid of during her run for the office.

The firings also got the attention of newly-inaugurated Gov. Doug Ducey, who overturned both dismissals, allowing Thompson and Vazquez to return to work.

From that point forward Douglas and Ducey didn’t see eye to eye, and things became tense.

Douglas then persisted to kill Common Core in Arizona and enlisted the Legislature to do it for her. A bill made its way through the House along party lines, but failed in the Senate twice.

Like Huppenthal before her, Douglas only lasted one term, eventually losing in the Republican primary to Frank Riggs, the former California congressman who would go on to lose to Hoffman in the general election by more than 70,000 votes.

After her ELL success, Hoffman didn’t sit idly by. She powered on through to get the “no promo homo” law repealed.

With the help of Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, sponsoring a floor amendment and Attorney General Mark Brnovich declining to defend a corresponding lawsuit, the repeal sailed through both the House and Senate on its way to Ducey’s desk. The Board of Education then agreed to settle the lawsuit after nobody came forward to defend it.

If Hoffman’s State of Education speech in early February is an outline to her tenure as state schools chief, these few accomplishments won’t be the only changes she tries to make. Following along her speech it seems next on her agenda would be helping to fix the teacher shortage or improving parental leave.

Horne takes lead in SPI race

Arizona Department of Education Superintendent Kathy Hoffman speaks during a news conference in Phoenix, July 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

Tom Horne took a slight lead over incumbent Kathy Hoffman overnight. sitting at 50.2% and Hoffman at 49.8%.  

Both Hoffman and Horne have held the office before but stand diametrically opposed on their approaches to education policy.  

Hoffman took office in 2019. Before her term, Hoffman worked as a pre-school teacher and speech language pathologist. 

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne smiles during an interview in Phoenix on Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

During her time as Superintendent of Public Instruction, she has established the Office for Educator Recruitment and Retention, created a Teacher Residency program, lowered the student-to-school-counselor ratio by 20% and awarded $14 million in $1,000 grants to Arizona educators.  

Her policy priorities are addressing the teacher shortage, raising teacher pay, expanding mental health services for students, bridging digital divides in rural and tribal communities and bolstering Career and Technical Education programs.  

She has been a proponent of lifting the Aggregate Expenditure Limit and spoke in favor of bills looking to increase school funding in the 2022 legislative session.  

Hoffman also opposed bills barring transgender youth from participating in sports and seeking gender-affirming care.  

Horne served as Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2003 to 2011. He also served as the Attorney General from 2011 to 2015. Horne’s policies stick with conservative stances on education.  

He opposes critical race theory, hurls stones at “cancel culture,” wants to shore up discipline in schools and cites his previous experience as “a crusader against mediocrity, laziness, and political indoctrination as a substitute for academic teaching.” 

In 2010, Horne headed an ethnic studies ban, outlawing courses promoting resentment toward a race or class of people or advocating for ethnic solidarity. The law was struck down by a federal judge, citing “racial animus.”  

He wrote on his site his desire to attempt to outlaw ethnic studies again with assurance from a “more conservative U.S. Supreme Court.”  

In a press conference on Sunday, Horne also spoke against social and emotional learning and said he wanted to end bilingual education in Arizona.  

Horne has seen some controversy in his campaign as lawsuits over campaign law violations during his first and second bid for Attorney General resurfaced, and opponents took shots at Horne’s ties to former legislator and convicted sex offender David Stringer. 

This story has been revised to include updated numbers. 

Horne, Hoffman debate LGBTQ+ website

Kathy Hoffman, Tom Horne, Superintendent of Public Instruction
From left are Kathy Hoffman and Tom Horne

The Republican candidate for the state’s top educational official is lashing out at incumbent Kathy Hoffman for her agency’s decision to promote a web site for LGBTQ+ and “questioning teens.”

“I think it’s very harmful,” said Tom Horne, referring to QChat during a debate Wednesday for superintendent of public instruction. He said the site, which can be accessed directly from the web page of the Arizona Department of Education, is designed to undermine the rights of parents to know what their children are viewing.

“Kids can go on there without their parents’ permission,” Horne said.

“They give detailed information about themselves,” he said. “They give detailed information about their sex lives or sexual thoughts.”

And he said there even is a function designed to help youngsters keep their parents from finding out what they’re doing: an “escape” button on the page that replaces what is on the screen with a Google page.

Hoffman, seeking reelection, does not dispute what is on the site. But she said Horne is making too much of it.

“The QChat is recommended by the CDC and the national organization Mental Health America as a resource helping to support our LGBTQ youth,” she said.

Hoffman said the decision to post a link came after consulting with a committee of parents, educators and LGBTQ+ students. She said it’s part of her agency’s role in providing resources for these students.

“This is a group of students who far too often are facing hate in the world and communication that’s attacking our LGBTQ youth,” Hoffman said, and she added they need resources. And she called Horne’s attacks “political.”

Horne, however, questioned whether students were getting real help.

He said the moderators are not licensed professionals.

“We don’t know how many of them might be predators,” Horne continued, though the site says the “facilitators” are “verified.” And then there’s keeping parents out of the loop, citing the escape button.

The solution for kids who can’t talk with parents, he said, is to go to “trained, licensed counselors in their schools.”

“This is outrageous for the parents to not play any role,” Horne said. “If you’re comfortable having your child talk with a stranger about sexual matters without your participation, please vote for Kathy Hoffman.”

For her part, Hoffman called the debate over the web site – it also has resulted in a lawsuit against Hoffman by Republican activist Peggy McClain – a diversion.

“What I am focused on is not these culture wars attacking the LGBTQ youth,” she said, but rather on issues like why Arizona does not fund preschool or full-day kindergarten. “If we want our state to be moving forward, let’s be supporting public education, including making our schools safe and inclusive for all kids.”

Hoffman also launched an attack of her own, saying if Horne is concerned about child welfare he never would have accepted support from former state Rep. David Stringer. The Prescott Republican stepped down from the legislature in 2019 following disclosure he had been arrested years earlier on various charges, including paying to have sex with an underage boy.

Horne said the only involvement Stringer had in his campaign this year was his decision to erect some campaign signs for him at a cost of $1,400. Stringer then posted pictures of himself next to those signs.

But when the support first came to light, Horne initially defended Stringer, saying he was innocent of those 1983 charges from Maryland and there was never any conviction. Only later did he distance himself from Stringer and reimburse him for that $1,400 expense.

During the half-hour debate aired on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate, the pair also found themselves on opposite sides of the decision earlier this year by the Republican-controlled legislature to create a universal system of vouchers to allow students to attend private and parochial schools at state expense.

“I think public education dollars should stay in public education,” Hoffman said. She said the new law provides no accountability, like standardized testing, to ensure students going to priavte schools with tax dollars are learning what they need to know.

Horne, however, said he sees vouchers, formally known as empowerment scholarship accounts, as an important equalizer.

“Rich people can send their kids to any school they want to,” he said.

“Poor people should have that ability as well,” Horne said. “And the whole idea of the ESA program is to give the people who don’t have as much money the ability to do the same thing that rich people do now.”

House education committee grills apologetic Hoffman over voucher blunder

In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Kathy Hoffman, a public school speech therapist, is a Democratic candidate running for superintendent of public education in Phoenix. Hoffman is running against three-term California congressman Frank Riggs, the founding president of an online charter school. In a wild card movement shaking up U.S. midterm election campaigns, hundreds of teacher candidates are running for elected office. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman faced tough questions from Republicans on the House Education Committee Monday over her department’s mishandling of private Empowerment Scholarship Account data that was improperly redacted and given to the press and an advocacy group opposed to voucher expansion. 

Hoffman was at the committee hearing to present her State of Education address, a summary of the department’s initiatives and progress in the last year. But things turned testy when House Education Chair Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, opened the floor for questions.

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

GOP lawmakers, especially Rep. Regina Cobb, were quick to steer the conversation to ADE’s blunder, which became public last week when the Capitol Times reported that the department had fulfilled a records request for voucher account balances with a database that also included the e-mail addresses and names of parents and guardians holding nearly 7,000 voucher accounts. 

Cobb asked Hoffman to describe when and how the data was mishandled, what steps the department has taken to remedy its mistakes and whether Hoffman would name and discipline the individual responsible for the faulty redaction, something the superintendent avoided addressing during the hearing. 

“I want to be forthright and apologize,” Hoffman told Cobb. “I know that many families have been distressed because of this.” 

The voucher program allows parents to access state funds to send their students to private schools if they meet one of several different conditions, such as if they have special needs, if they have parents in the military or if they attend D or F rated schools. 

Hoffman told the committee that the department began reviewing its data governance standards and contacted the U.S. Department of Education to determine if there was a violation of federal student privacy laws immediately following the incident. 

But Republican lawmakers continued to turn the screws. Cobb pointed to Hoffman’s previous opposition to voucher expansion, which the Kingman Republican said could create the perception that the data breach was intentional, something the department denies. 

Cobb also took aim at the Arizona Republic and the Capitol Times, which she accused of “battering” parents that were already feeling vulnerable after the publication of the data, which also included information about the learning disabilities of their children, though there were no childrens’ names listed. She asked Hoffman if there was anything she could do to stop the media from reaching out to parents in the database, while Hoffman countered that she could not speak on behalf of the press.

The mishandling of the ESA data has given rise to calls from the right to move the ESA program out of the department, possibly relocating it to the Arizona State Treasurer’s office under Kimberly Yee, a Republican. 

“Right now, we have a duty to manage the program,” Hoffman said. “It’s growing rapidly.”

Education Committee Democrats came to Hoffman’s defense on a number of occasions. Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, said the committee was unfairly shifting blame to the department instead of taking responsibility for better oversight of the voucher program. Namely, she pointed out the fact that several voucher accounts have unspent balances exceeding $100,000. 

“$33 million is being hoarded by a small group of families,” Blanc said. “[Roughly 7,000] scholarships are costing the taxpayers $100 million.”

The program is taxpayer funded and an estimated $110 million was appropriated for the current fiscal year, according to the Department of Education. The total balance added up from all accounts exceeds $33 million.

And while Hoffman conceded that she had opposed voucher expansion in the past, she told the committee that she has repeatedly asked for extra funding to administer the program to no avail. 

Under statute, 5 percent of the total funding for the ESA program can be used for administration — 4 percent to the Education Department and 1 percent to the Treasurer’s Office. But the department has gotten less than that year after year, despite requests from Hoffman and her predecessor, Diane Douglas, for more. And despite the growing size of the program, staffing to administer the fund has remained stagnant. 

In the 2020 fiscal year, the legislature could have authorized up to $4.4 million for administrative costs, but the department estimates it only received $1.2 million. 

“I think we’ve done everything in our power to support the program, and that includes requesting the funding … that is supposed to be allocated for us to support the program,” Hoffman said. “When that money was withheld last legislative session, I was … quite shocked that the same people who say that they support this program and want it to be successful are not fully funding it.”

And while she told the committee she thinks that education funding should be a nonpartisan issue, the fact that Hoffman is the first Democratic superintendent in 25 years colors the debate around vouchers, she said. 

“They had a lot of the same struggles [under Douglas],” Hoffman said. “And yet at that time there was not the same level of attacks against the department. And there were no calls to move the program out of ADE.”

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that eligible students in the Empowerment Scholarship Account program can use the funds on charter schools. 

Major takeaways from last night’s primary elections

A woman arrives to her polling station, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. Elections officials say 62 polling locations in the Phoenix area weren't operational when voting began in Arizona's primary. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A woman arrives to her polling station, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. Elections officials say 62 polling locations in the Phoenix area weren’t operational when voting began in Arizona’s primary. (AP Photo/Matt York)

In case you missed our coverage of last night’s primary elections, here are the major takeaways.

  • Arizona voters handed Secretary of State Michele Reagan the pink card in an apparent rebuke over troubles and misfires her office has made. Challenger Steve Gaynor, a political newcomer and a businessman, crushed her at the polls.
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas also appears to be on her way out, although the race on the Republican side remains too close to call. Fewer than 2,000 votes separate Douglas from front-runner Frank Riggs in the crowded GOP primary. Meanwhile, candidate and educator Kathy Hoffman is posed to pull off an upset in the Democratic race for superintendent of public instruction. Hoffman has built what appears to be an insurmountable lead over David Schapira, a former legislator.
  • David Garcia, a professor at Arizona State University, dominated his primary rivals to clinch the Democratic nomination, while Gov. Doug Ducey cruised to victory against former secretary of state Ken Bennett.
  • Darin Mitchell is struggling in his re-election bid for the House in Legislative District 13, where Rep. Timothy Dunn and Joanne Osborn appear to have secured the two spots in the GOP primary. In the Senate race also in the same district, former legislator Don Shooter, who was expelled from the Legislature over allegations of sexual harassment, failed in his comeback attempt. In Legislative District 5, Rep. Paul Mosley, whose campaign was engulfed in the controversy over his alleged abuse of legislative immunity, has fallen behind in the House race to incumbent Rep. Regina Cobb, and Leo Biasiucci.
  • Finally, U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema will face U.S. Rep. Martha McSally in the general election for the U.S. Senate after the two candidates secured their parties’ nominations. For the first time in Arizona history, a woman is assured to hold seat vacated by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, who is retiring.


Newcomer sheds doubts to win Democratic schools chief primary

Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman chats with Republican candidate Frank Riggs during the Arizona Capitol Times' Meet the Candidates event. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Democratic nominee for superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman chats with Republican nominee Frank Riggs during the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Nothing can capture the feeling Kathy Hoffman had when she knew she was victorious quite like a photo tweeted shortly before 10 on primary election night.

The photo by KJZZ reporter Mariana Dale shows Hoffman with a wide smile on her face, head slightly back, eyes closed and one hand mid-motion like she might be bringing it to clutch her chest.

She had won the Democratic nomination for superintendent of public instruction. The final tally would put her ahead of her challenger, David Schapira, by nearly 22,000 votes.

Her Republican opponent in the November 6 general election is former California Congressman Frank Riggs, who won the GOP primary by a razor-thin margin and beat the incumbent, Diane Douglas.

Hoffman is a political novice as has been pointed out throughout her campaign. But her experience as a speech therapist gave her a boost during an election cycle that has seen widespread success for others like her, she said.

Her victory surprised political observers who had anticipated a slim margin but not one that would ultimately lean in her favor.

And she does not fault those people for their shock. She felt it, too.

“In the beginning, I definitely was not sure that I was qualified to run, and I had no confidence that I could win,” she said. “But fortunately, I had a lot of support… and I saw very quickly that my message was resonating.”

She said she matched Schapira’s name recognition with a focused ground game, going to festivals and traveling to far-flung locations across the state to connect with voters. And she emphasized her bilingualism, doing interviews in Spanish and focusing on issues important to the Latino community.

Hoffman and Schapira may have been equally passionate about their fight for public education, but she communicated the message in a more personal way, she said.

She was able to draw from her own experiences in public school classrooms and give the political stumping an intimate touch.

She also drew strength from this year’s Red for Ed movement, the roots of which are evident in that same photo from primary night.

To the right of the frame, her former campaign manager and Arizona Educators United organizer Noah Karvelis is seen cupping his hands over his mouth as he yells out in celebration.

Karvelis ultimately had to step away as Hoffman’s campaign manager because of the movement he began, but that didn’t stop her from appearing as a staunch supporter from day one.

She often appeared alongside red-clad protestors and appealed to calls for an educator to lead the state Department of Education at last.

Schapira also tried to play the role of an educator, harkening back to his short time teaching and the administrative roles he held. But he was better known for his time as a state legislator and Tempe City Council member. He was cast not only as the legislator versus the educator but also as a bully – Hoffman launched an ad in which two unidentified women alleged Schapira had been an aggressive administrator who was unable to control his temper.

Hoffman said she spoke to Schapira the evening after her victory. He had actually texted her congratulations at the moment that photo was taken.

The message seemed early and caught her off guard, she said.

She could only compare it to an experience from high school, when she qualified for the national swimming championship in one event. She said she was flown all the way across the country to swim just 50 yards.

That’s how her primary win felt, she said. You have this thing that is such a big deal, but really, it’s just a small moment in time.

She’ll have to prove herself again in November against Republican Frank Riggs if she wants to hold onto that feeling.

Poll: Schools chief race tied, many independents undecided


The General Election race for superintendent of public instruction is a dead heat, according to a poll released by OH Predictive Insights.

The poll puts Republican Frank Riggs ahead of Democrat Kathy Hoffman by just 1.2 percentage points. Nearly 600 likely voters were surveyed, equally split between cellphones and landlines. The poll has a margin of error of plus-minus 4.01 percentage points.

The poll also found that nearly 20 percent of those surveyed are undecided heading into November, leaving either candidate ample opportunity to jump ahead.

“[It’s] shaping up to be a barn burner” said pollster Mike Noble.

The polling results mirror the equally close race in 2014. Current Superintendent Diane Douglas, who placed third in the Republican primary contest in Aug. 28, defeated Democrat David Garcia by just 1 percentage point.

Riggs is enjoying a slight edge among male voters, but Hoffman’s advantage among female voters is slightly more pronounced.

And Hoffman appears to have rapidly consolidated the support of her party; more than 80 percent of Democrats surveyed said they would vote for her. That’s a significant changed since the Primary Election when she defeated David Schapira by a margin of just about 6 percentage points, or roughly 22,000 votes. Additionally, she’s winning the crucial battle for independents’ votes. Roughly 42 percent said they would vote for Hoffman over Riggs, with just about 27 percent leaning in his favor.

Democratic consultant Chad Campbell has told the Arizona Capitol Times that independents may be especially important to Republicans in this cycle, especially in races like this. Whereas Democrats are enjoying a higher turnout rate nationwide, he said Republicans do not have a clear path to increased turnout from their own voters. So they’ll have to appeal to independents and folks across the aisle.

Riggs also seems to have unified his party, with 74 percent of Republicans surveyed saying they’d vote for him. That’s despite a split vote in August. Riggs claimed victory by just 249 votes, or less than 1 percentage point, out of roughly 572,000 votes cast.

Maricopa and Pima Counties are effectively split evenly between the two candidates, with Hoffman getting a modest advantage in Maricopa County. But Riggs is ahead in rural areas by about 5 percentage points. Twenty percent of rural voters surveyed were undecided.

Campbell said those rural voters, and rural democrats in particular, will be interesting to watch and could have a sizeable affect similar to independent voters in this election.

He said knowing how urban and suburban folks will vote is fairly easy to predict, but rural voters are not necessarily attached to the same issues and cannot be counted on to vote along party lines.

That may prove particularly challenging for Hoffman. Campbell said the divide between urban and rural Democrats can sometimes be just as significant if not greater than the partisan divide.

Primaries 1-year away, races taking shape

A poll observer stretches outside a polling station on Election Day, early, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A poll observer stretches outside a polling station on Election Day, early, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

With just less a year to go until the 2022 Arizona primary, most races have started to take shape.  

Legislative and congressional districts could change dramatically after redistricting, and some newcomers and incumbents alike are waiting to see what the new districts look like before they decide whether to jump into a race. Others are taking advantage of a state law that allows them to gather signatures from both their old and new districts. 

Statewide, only Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly are running for re-election to their current posts, leaving the races for governor, secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer wide open.  

It all adds up to a lengthy and expensive campaign season in a state that finally started its long-anticipated blue shift and an election cycle that historically would favor Republicans.  

That advantage is twofold: first, GOP voters more consistently turn out in non-presidential elections, and Democrats hold the White House and Congress. Typically, the president’s party does worse in midterm elections. 

Pollster Paul Bentz said 2022 is more likely to resemble 2010 than 2018. In 2010, Arizona Republicans had a 12-point turnout advantage, compared to seven points in 2018, when Democrats worked hard to mobilize voters and succeeded in flipping the U.S. House and electing Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Hoffman.  

“I do think Republicans will be more motivated to participate because (Joe) Biden won the election,” he said. “The only caveat to that is all of this election fraud discussion, and all of the behavior changes that we saw because the former president cast doubt on early voting in Arizona. That might impact what should traditionally be a very Republican year.” 

Multiple Republican lawmakers have warned that their voters have said they won’t participate in what they view as a rigged system, and Bentz said Georgia’s Senate runoffs bore out some of those fears. Democrats won both January elections with lower-than-usual Republican turnout after former President Donald Trump spent two months claiming the election system was rigged. 

“It should be a motivation for Republicans to try to wrap this audit up, because the longer the audit drags on, the less time they have to recover from it and restore integrity and Republican belief in the system enough to take advantage of what is traditionally a more Republican-friendly cycle,” Bentz said.  

State races 

The top of the ticket for statewide races pits five Republican candidates against three Democrats, with front-runners already emerging. Former TV anchor Kari Lake is in prime position to take the Republican nomination if she can keep her early grassroots momentum, and her likely opponent at this point is Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who continues to capitalize on her opposition to the Senate’s audit.  

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake leaves the stage at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. Lake, a former news anchor, is in prime position to take the Republican nomination if she can keep her early grassroots momentum. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK
Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake leaves the stage at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. Lake, a former news anchor, is in prime position to take the Republican nomination if she can keep her early grassroots momentum. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK

Lake is running against former Congressman Matt Salmon, who lost the gubernatorial race to Janet Napolitano two decades ago; former regent Karrin Taylor Robson; State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, hoping to follow Gov. Doug Ducey’s footsteps to the governorship; and businessman Steve Gaynor, who lost his 2018 bid for secretary of state and could self-fundraise as much as $10 million.  

Hobbs is joined by former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez and state Rep. Aaron Lieberman, who is expected to resign from his seat before next year to campaign full time.   

Depending on how long it lasts, the audit could determine the fate of secretary of state candidates, which could be a major swing for Democrats in the field. It’s a race between House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding and former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. Fontes has name recognition, but Bolding has the advantage of not recently losing the county needed to win a statewide election as a Democrat.  

That winner will take on the victor between three lawmakers and an ad executive. Stop the Steal supporters Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, are locked in a two-person race to scoop up votes from hardcore audit supporters, while Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale is distancing herself from the crowd that recently booed her off stage and is running on her extensive election integrity track record. Beau Lane is also in the mix, but hasn’t made much noise yet, outside of a video that claims people are spreading lies about the election – the 2016 election.  

The race to become the state’s top prosecutor hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet, which could signal a problem candidates will face in 2022 – not enough voters care about down ballot races. That’s particularly problematic for Democrats, who historically are worse at turning out – and voting down-ballot – than Republicans.  

Kris Mayes, a former Republican from Prescott, seems like the favorite on the Democratic side against Rep. Diego Rodriguez, but progressives are skeptical, considering her Republican history. Mayes has a history of working across party lines – she was on Democratic Governor Napolitano’s staff before being appointed to the Arizona Corporation Commission. 

In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona's Electoral College in Phoenix. Hobbs on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022 while denouncing the Republican-controlled state Senate's ongoing audit of the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona’s Electoral College in Phoenix. Hobbs on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2022 while denouncing the Republican-controlled state Senate’s ongoing audit of the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Meanwhile, the most recognition Rodriguez has received came in a loss to now-Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery in the 2016 race for Maricopa County attorney. Robert McWhirter, who finished the 2020 Democratic primary for county attorney in last place, is also running.  

So far, three Republicans are in the race and none have much name ID, though former congressional candidate Tiffany Shedd has campaign experience. Former Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould was the first to jump in, followed by Shedd and Lacy Cooper, who formerly worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona. 

All three plan to run on the top Republican issue – the border, so it’ll be other issues that will separate them. Perennial losing candidate Rodney Glassman and Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Dawn Grove, who was just named as one of AZ Big Media’s most influential women, also entered the race.  

Yee’s gubernatorial run leaves open the treasurer’s race for the seventh consecutive election. So far on the Republican side, Rep. Regina Cobb of Kingman and Sen. David Livingston of Peoria are in the race and Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson, a former East Valley lawmaker, is expected to jump in any day. Cobb is entering her fourth year as chair of the budget-setting House Appropriations Committee, and Livingston has spent his past several years drafting complex financial legislation.  

No Democrats have yet entered the race, nor has a Democrat been elected treasurer since 1964. Sen. Tony Navarrete is the only Democrat expected to run this year. 

Hoffman is in prime position to remain as superintendent of public instruction. She will face the winner of a crowded field of mostly unknown Republicans plus former state schools superintendent and former attorney general Tom Horne. 

The five-person Corporation Commission, widely considered the state’s fourth branch of government, has two available seats next year and offers a chance for Democrats to seize a narrow majority.  

Olson, who was first appointed to fill former Republican Commissioner Doug Little’s seat in 2017, isn’t expected to run again. Democrat Sandra Kennedy is seeking re-election to her seat. 

Olson’s deputy policy adviser Nick Myers is running on a GOP slate with Mesa City Councilor Kevin Thompson. Ex-commissioner Little and public relations official Kim Owens are also seeking the Republican nomination.  

Kennedy will run on a slate with Tempe City Councilor and environmental activist Lauren Kuby as the Democrats in the race.  


It’s still too early to make any predictions about the balance of the next Legislature until new maps are drawn, Bentz said. And with a one-vote margin in each chamber, all eyes are on the Independent Redistricting Commission.  

Democrats fear the commission, vetted by Ducey appointees, will draw maps that favor Republicans. Republicans, who have spent the past decade insisting the current districts are gerrymandered in Democrats’ favor, say they think they’ll finally have “fair” districts.  

From left, Paul Boyer and Anthony Kern.
From left, Paul Boyer and Anthony Kern.

While many candidates, including roughly half the current Legislature, have filed to run, their districts might change. Republican voters anticipate a high-profile primary matchup between former lawmaker Anthony Kern and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. Kern is a Trump elector, short-lived audit volunteer, and outspoken figure in the “Stop the Steal” movement. He was photographed on the U.S. Capitol steps and video recorded in the doorway of the building after his fellow protesters breached multiple barriers and broke into the building on January 6. Boyer is the most vocal GOP critic of the audit and the first Republican legislator to publicly admit Biden won the election. 

But the two could end up in different districts, given that the northwest Valley has experienced substantial growth over the past decade and their districts will likely be geographically smaller. 

In other current swing districts, Democrats may get a leg up in Chandler as Rep. Jeff Weninger hits term limits and the current Legislative District 17 won’t have a Republican incumbent. Democratic consultants roundly criticized last year’s decision to run a so-called single shot campaign in the district, which already had a Democratic representative in Jennifer Pawlik.  

A north Phoenix race could also change depending on whether Lieberman serves his full term or resigns to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. Resigning would give his appointed replacement the advantage of incumbency.  


Several Republicans have announced their intent to take Kelly in Arizona’s fourth Senate election in as many cycles. While Attorney General Mark Brnovich appears to have a slight edge over other Republicans in what little polling is available so far, he may struggle to get the one endorsement that could matter the most in a GOP primary. 

Trump has repeatedly alleged that the 2020 election was stolen from him and has castigated Brnovich and Ducey for not overturning President Biden’s narrow win in Arizona.  

Ducey has said he is not running for Senate, but it hasn’t completely squelched speculation he might jump in. Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, mused in a podcast interview in July that he might be able to get Ducey to run.  

Gov. Doug Ducey( AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
Gov. Doug Ducey( AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

“I think we have a shot with Doug Ducey,” Scott said. “I think there’s a chance he will run. He’s a very popular governor.”  

Also running for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination are Blake Masters, who is backed by billionaire Peter Thiel; former Arizona National Guard Leader Maj. Gen. Michael “Mick” McGuire, and businessman Jim Lamon, who launched his campaign with ads in New Jersey to attract Trump’s attention.  

The balance of power in Arizona’s congressional delegation may come down to where lines are drawn in southern Arizona. Ann Kirkpatrick is the only incumbent so far to announce she won’t run again, and the 2nd Congressional District flipped parties twice over the past decade. 

“I think southern Arizona in that District 2 general area, which has been a swing district in the past, is likely to be the one that most people are paying attention to because those lines will really make a difference on if that one stays Democrat or Republican,” Bentz said.  

  • Nate Brown contributed reporting.  

Put party politics aside, support teachers, students, families


For some, being elected to lead a department as massive and complex as the Department of Education would be a daunting task. However, leading this department as an educator with a dedication and passion for public education is precisely why I ran.

The position of state superintendent of public instruction holds a unique place in the Arizona political and educational landscape. It is both a role of advocacy, careful management and service to our students and schools. As state superintendent, my vision for our public schools will remain true to the spirit of my campaign. My Department of Education will value the voices of underserved communities such as our rural schools, ensure public schools across the state have equitable funding, and commit to serving the unique needs of our students and educators.

Kathy Hoffman
Kathy Hoffman

This vision has already been put in place with two recent hires: Chief of Staff John Carruth and Communications Director Richie Taylor. Carruth spent over 20 years working at the Vail School District as a special education teacher, special education director and finally as the assistant superintendent for the past 15 years. Richie Taylor is a native of Safford and was greatly influenced by his childhood teachers, including the current Graham County superintendent, Donna McGaughey.

Together, we bring over 30 years of education experience with a unique focus on rural and special education. With the help of John and Richie, the Department of Education will move toward being an agency of service for all our schools whether they be in Douglas or Flagstaff. We are also assembling a team of experts to help plan our transition and guide the early work of the department in the coming months.

For too long, our schools have not had an assertive, positive voice for the solutions and practices that work for our students and teachers. I’ll lend my voice and the weight of my position to push for policies that provide sustainable funding for our schools and reduce barriers to access for our students, like removing the burden of the four-hour English-only block. I’ve also begun the critical work of collaborating with our elected officials to prioritize charter school reform to eliminate corruption. With the help of diverse partners, we can start to rebuild Arizona’s public education system and better serve our students and communities.

Teachers have also lacked a staunch ally at the Capitol. Our teachers work tirelessly to serve every student, yet on average they receive one the lowest salaries in the nation and have seen their workloads become increasingly demanding while resources vanish due to budget cuts. In my role, I will be a much-needed champion for teachers by advocating for policies that provide all educators a living wage, advanced training and improved benefits like paid maternity and paternity leave. We cannot put our students first if we continually put our teachers last. I am committed to treating all educators — meaning everyone from our school psychologists, paraprofessionals, counselors, to our general education teachers — with the utmost respect.

Our schools need a leader who will prioritize service to our children, schools, and communities — and as state superintendent, that’s precisely what I’ll do. It will take collaboration and legislative support across party lines. However, this election showed that communities across Arizona value public education and there is bipartisan support for pro-public education policies.

I look forward to what we can accomplish together when we put aside party politics and get to work supporting our students, teachers and families alike.

— Kathy Hoffman is state superintendent of
public instruction-elect.

Republicans balk at Douglas in primary, teachers split

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas chats with a constituent's son at the Arizona Capitol Times' Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Douglas is seeking re-election this year, but she faces four Republican challengers in the August primary. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas chats with a constituent’s son at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Douglas is seeking re-election this year, but she faces four Republican challengers in the August primary. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Republican leaders are abandoning state Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas in her re-election bid, favoring a former teacher they consider their best shot at keeping the office red.

But some in the Red for Ed camp that took over the Capitol this spring say Douglas is their pick for the GOP nomination – just not for the reasons she hopes voters will turn out for her.

Arizona Republican stalwarts like House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough snubbed Douglas and instead endorsed Tracy Livingston, a Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board member with more than a decade of public school teaching experience.

They’re hoping she’ll be an antidote to current perceptions of the office and its holder. With the August 28 primary election fast approaching, they’ll soon find out whether voters agree.

Ditching Douglas


Livingston’s war chest may be lacking — according to her most recent campaign finance report, she has less than $3,000 cash on hand – but she has had no trouble attracting the endorsements of better-known conservatives.

In addition to Mesnard and Yarbough, her campaign website boasts the blessings of House Education Committee Chair Rep. Paul Boyer, Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Sylvia Allen and former Superintendents of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan and Jaime Molera.

“I don’t even want the title. I want the ability to change,” she said, adding that she is the state’s “one chance for a teacher to lead, an actual, real, non-frustrated teacher.”

But the support behind Livingston hasn’t fazed Douglas.

“Endorsements are nothing but favor factories,” Douglas said. “The only endorsement I care about is the endorsement of the citizens of Arizona.”

In her eyes, endorsements are just promises from one politician to another. Specifically, she said both Graham Keegan and Molera are involved in the school choice movement, and their endorsements may signal that they see something “advantageous” in Livingston.

But that may be exactly the kind of language that drove Douglas’ predecessors and others away from her.

Molera did not support Douglas in 2014 either. Instead, he chose to stand behind the Democrat in the general election, his former associate superintendent, David Garcia.

“There was a concern that Diane would become the superintendent that she has become,” Molera said.

He said she hasn’t provided a strong conservative voice within the office, and outside of the Arizona Department of Education, he said she’s been divisive even with other Republicans.

Because Douglas has lived up to those expectations he said he believes the incumbent is vulnerable.

And that’s exactly what some voters on the left are counting on.

Red for Ed  

While Republicans shy away from their own incumbent, educators are crowdsourcing political insight on platforms like Facebook and devising their own strategies for the race.

Two schools of thought frequently emerge among backers of Arizona Educators United, a coalition of teachers and education support professionals: that Douglas is the best Republican candidate in the primary because educators know what to expect from her if she wins the general election, or that she is the best Republican candidate because she is the most likely to lose to a Democrat.

Those who subscribe to the former say Douglas has the name recognition to pull off a win in November – a result not favored by many participating in candidate forums – but that she poses the least threat to their movement.

“Diane Douglas basically gives us the best opportunity to mitigate the damage that could be done by someone else,” said Ryan Reid, a fifth grade teacher in the Washington Elementary School District. “We kind of know who she is. … So I think from the Republican field, she’s the lesser of two evils.”

From left, David Schapira, lobbyist Cheyenne Walsh, and Tracy Livingston discuss the 2018 elections at the Arizona Capitol Times' Meet the Candidates event on August 1. Schapira, a Democrat, and Livingston, a Republican, are running for superintendent of public instruction. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
From left, David Schapira, lobbyist Cheyenne Walsh, and Tracy Livingston discuss the 2018 elections at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event on August 1. Schapira, a Democrat, and Livingston, a Republican, are running for superintendent of public instruction. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Reid is an independent voter who said he will vote for Douglas in the primary, but he intends to vote for the Democrat in November – he favors David Schapira in the Democratic primary. Reid said he could live with Douglas being re-elected, but he doesn’t trust Livingston. He believes her husband, Republican Rep. David Livingston, has not supported public schools, and he expects the same of Tracy Livingston despite her classroom experience.

Tiffany Huisman, a ninth grade teacher in the Phoenix Union High School District, is skeptical of Livingston, too, and the other Republican candidates: Frank Riggs, who served in Congress representing California in the 1990s; Jonathan Gelbart, the former director of development for BASIS Charter Schools; and Bob Branch, a teacher of teachers at two Christian universities.

Huisman said Republican voters have no easy choice, but she’s encouraging votes for Douglas, who she believes will be unable to hold her own against either Schapira or his primary challenger, Kathy Hoffman.

As for Huisman, she’ll be voting in the Democratic primary, though she’s not yet sure for whom.

“A lot of people like to vote with their heart,” she said. “At this point in my career and my life, I want to vote for the person who is going to beat the GOP candidate.”

But while voters like Huisman believe Douglas will make the seat easy pickings for a Democrat, the candidate herself said she is confident she can thwart their plan.

Douglas said she knows she’s the only Republican candidate who can defeat a Democrat in the general election because she already has. She pulled off a win against Garcia in 2014, albeit by a single percentage point.

And she intends to win again by appealing to more than just teachers.

“I wasn’t elected to be the president of the teachers’ union,” she said. “I was elected to be the superintendent of public instruction, to represent the citizens of Arizona as citizens of Arizona.”

The man who was elected to be the president of the state’s largest teachers’ union, Joe Thomas of the Arizona Education Association, said he’s not surprised that some in the Red for Ed movement are being strategic about their votes.

Nor was he surprised that Douglas has not been cast in a flattering light among teachers.

Douglas did not support the six-day strike that began in late April and eventually forced the governor and the Legislature to pass a 20 percent teacher pay raise plan. Douglas later went on to suggest there could be consequences for the thousands of teachers who participated.

More importantly, though, he said she has failed to show she has a “master plan” for public education even after four years in office.

And without that vision for the state, he cannot say Douglas has done her job well.

“You want an advocate out there. You want someone who can work with the Legislature and the governor to paint a vision of a quality public education for all of Arizona,” Thomas said. “And we don’t have one.”

Bigger fish

No matter who ultimately claims the Republican nomination, the down-ballot race will struggle to attract the attention and dollars afforded to other contests.

And that’s nothing new.

Consultant Chris Baker said the same trend has been consistent through past election cycles. The office is simply a difficult one to raise money for without an established donor base.

“And if you have an established donor base, you probably ain’t running for superintendent of public instruction,” he said.

You’re running for another office, one that ultimately holds more sway over education policy, like the governor.

As a donor, choosing whether to pump money into the governor’s race versus the superintendent’s race is a no-brainer. One gets you one vote on the Arizona State Board of Education because the superintendent sits on the board, and the other gets you the power to appoint the ten other voting members, Baker said.

“Superintendent of public instruction and mine inspector are in some ways anachronistic offices in the sense that they probably should be appointed,” he said. “But they’re locked into our Constitution, so we’re stuck with them.”

The superintendent’s office is not where the action is on education policy, Baker said. It’s intended to be more of a bully pulpit from which to advocate when necessary and implement the policies in place.

Billions of dollars

The Arizona Department of Education, over which the superintendent presides, is also responsible for distributing billions of dollars in local, state and federal funding.

In the grand scheme of the elections, Baker said the primary reason Republicans have an interest in holding the seat is to deny the Democrats a statewide post.

But that mentality may prove fatal to the Republican Party come November.

While Livingston has been the recipient of her fellow conservatives’ support thus far, she said the party has failed to capitalize on the energy behind education and control the narrative.

Livingston said she understands that higher offices are the main priority. But she fears victories like Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to increase teachers’ salaries and the extension of Proposition 301 may be lost in the perception that the party doesn’t care about public education.

“Now is the time for our party to absolutely lead in the discussion of education and moving our classrooms forward,” Livingston said, “and I would have to say that conversation is probably not the focus.”

Republicans vote to expand voucher program, revamp oversight


Republican senators advanced a bill that would expand eligibility for Arizona’s school voucher program and strip oversight of those vouchers from the newly elected Democratic head of the Department of Education.

On 6-4 party lines votes, lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee approved both SB1395 and SB1320. Sponsored by advocates of the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, Arizona’s version of vouchers, the bills were criticized as a subversion of the will of the voters.

It was only months ago that voters rejected a sweeping effort to expand vouchers, Democratic senators and opponents noted.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, the sponsor of SB1395, presented the measure as needed reforms for the ESA program that would provide more certainty for the parents who are given state dollars to pay for specialized, private or parochial education for their children.

The Snowflake Republican argued that the voters’ overwhelming rejection of Proposition 305, a ballot referral to block a 2017 law expanding access to the ESA program, sent a different message to lawmakers.

Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)
Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)

“This debate over Prop. 305 was over the expansion, and not over the reforms in that original bill,” she said. Her bill is only about reforms, she added.

But even some Republicans on the committed conceded that the bill would certainly grant more schoolchildren access to the ESA program, both by broadening the school boundary lines that determine if a student is being served by a failing school and widening the age range at which children can enter the ESA program without having first attended a public school.

Still, Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he doesn’t believe Allen’s legislation is an expansion bill.

“If you change a definition and it snags a few extra folks, I don’t know if that’s really an expansion,” Mesnard said. He added that the failure of Prop. 305 “should not paralyze” the Legislature in attempts to improve the ESA program.

A legion of red-clad teachers and parents testified that Mesnard and Allen’s consideration of what “expansion” means was flawed, as did the Finance Committee’s four Democrats.

“What I am opposed to, what my constituents are opposed to, is expanding vouchers and expanding this program,” said Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Chandler.

A host of parents that utilize the ESA program said there are other key provisions in SB1395 that will ensure they’re using the program’s funding responsibly and efficiently.

Dr. April Adams, a mother from Gilbert with a 6-year-old son, said Allen’s intent is to reform, not expand, the voucher program.

“One of the most frustrating things is not knowing how we can spend money for our son,” she said.

Other parents shared similar stories of frustrations with the advice they receive from the Department of Education on the use of their ESA funding. Misspending funds can result in those dollars being frozen for parents.

Dissatisfaction with ESA management was also at the heart of the debate on SB1320. Sponsored by Sen. David Livingston, the bill would place management and oversight of vouchers in the hands of State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, a Republican.

In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Kathy Hoffman, a public school speech therapist, is a Democratic candidate running for superintendent of public education, in Phoenix. Hoffman is running against three-term California congressman Frank Riggs, the founding president of an online charter school. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Kathy Hoffman . (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Livingston, a Peoria Republican, denied that it was his intent to strip oversight from the new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, because she’s a Democrat. It’s his intent that the treasurer’s office would hire a third party vendor to run the ESA program, he previously told the Arizona Capitol Times.

And Mesnard claimed that Livingston’s proposal was no new idea — a nearly identical bill was sponsored last year while a Republican still served as superintendent, he said.

The Arizona Capitol Times could find no record of such a bill sponsored in 2018.

Allen’s SB1395 would also strip the education department of its ESA management duties by requiring, rather than allowing, the department to hire a private vendor to operate the program.

Democrats urged Livingston to table his proposal in favor of giving Hoffman more time to begin running the program. They cited rave reviews from parents who utilize vouchers of Karla Escobar, who Hoffman hired as ESA director on January 12.

And Hoffman recently formed a task force with ESA supporters and opponents to research better ways to serve the ESA community.

Sen. Lupe Contreras urged parents that use ESAs for their children to have patience while voting against both bills.

“Let things happen. There’s positive change coming,” said Contreras, D-Avondale. “Let it take its course, and you might be very happen with what you see if you just give it a chance.”

Revamp of special-ed funding formula goes nowhere

A stack of books with a red apple on top in front of an out of focus chalkboard. Back to school or education concept. Vintage effect with vignette added.

Arizona’s formula for funding special education will be at least 40 years old before it is adapted to reflect the effects of school choice.

The Legislature was presented with a bill to do just that this session, but it died.

The formula in place does not account for the movement of students out of their traditional district boundaries, and funding intended for students with special education needs is no longer adequate – if it ever was.

And it is not so much the students receiving special education services who ultimately suffer – their general education peers do.

Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, sponsored SB1522 to establish new base funding rates and weights beginning in the current fiscal year 2019, including an appropriation of $3 million in that year for the Extraordinary Special Education Needs Fund.

But the bill was not heard in either the Senate Education Committee or the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said the idea itself did not lack support. He was told the Legislature simply had too many other priorities this session.

The House has advanced a bill to establish a study committee on special education weights and funding for gifted students. That proposal, which was unanimously approved on February 27, would require the committee to produce a report with its findings and recommendations by January 1, 2020, which Essigs said would leave plenty of time for someone to introduce another bill to adjust the inadequate formula.

Still, there’s no guarantee that will happen.

And Essigs said promises to take action later are not enough.

“By saying it’s too complicated to solve this session, that takes a lot of the wind out of the sails of trying to move it forward,” he said.


The formula currently used to dole out dollars for special education services was implemented in the 1980-1981 school year, allotting one level of additional dollars to all students with no consideration as to the number of students who actually require special services.

Districts with at least 1,000 students receive funding for each pupil under either Group A or Group B weights. Group A funding, which works out to about $600 per student, is designed to support programs for the gifted students and kids with specific learning disabilities, speech impairments and emotional disabilities, among others.

Two school districts each with 1,000 Group A students receive the same amount of funding even if one has a higher need for special education services than the other. That leaves the latter district with additional funding that can be put toward other costs while the school with the greater need is left with a deficit.

Chuck Essigs
Chuck Essigs

That’s the core of the formula’s problem, Essigs said. Students are no longer evenly distributed and neither are the dollars intended for special programs.

In contrast, Group B funding follows a specific student directly and is more significant to account for the cost of more robust services for visual or hearing impairments, autism or students with multiple disabilities. But the amount of Group B funding provided has not been updated to reflect costs.

The old rationale for the weights was simple: Students attended their neighborhood district schools – evenly distributing students at every level – and the state wanted to deter districts from over-identifying students in need of services just to pick up extra cash. But much has changed since then.

The state has opened up hundreds of charter schools, issued thousands of school vouchers to be used at private and parochial institutions and embraced a school choice environment that does not limit students to their district boundaries.

Jim Swanson, an Arizona businessman tapped by Gov. Doug Ducey to head his Classrooms First Initiative Council, said both the state and federal government fall short of funding the true cost of special education. And the gap is widening.

The gap between the level at which those programs are funded and their true cost was estimated at about $400 million in 2017, he said. Where it stands today is unknown, because in addition to failing to update the formula itself, the state has not conducted a cost study since 2007.

Carter’s bill would have also required the state auditor general to conduct an audit and cost study of districts’ special education programs.

“If we funded [special education] appropriately and for the true cost, you would put more money in the rest of the classrooms and solve some of the other problems we have [in public schools],” Swanson said.

The problem will only be exacerbated the longer the state waits to do something about it.

But students receiving special education services are not the ones who ultimately suffer. Their general education peers do.


John Carruth, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman’s chief of staff, has seen the need for an update firsthand.

Before joining Hoffman’s staff, he was a special education teacher and director in the Vail School District.

The need for funding to provide meaningful services to his students cut into regular education needs, he said. Class sizes were affected. The ability to hire specialists was affected. And salaries across the board were affected, perhaps most of all.

His district chose not to fund full-day kindergarten to ensure students’ special needs were appropriately covered, he said. In essence, the district created its own rough formula.

And most schools are doing much the same, he said – dipping into their general funds for classrooms to provide for students with special needs. Providing those special services is non-negotiable.

“That feels like it pits kids against each other, but it’s not,” Carruth said.  “But it impacts kids throughout the system.

“We valued the need to provide high-quality services for the students who had special needs because that really sends a message about who you value overall.”

Jeff Fortney teaches a group of students with special education needs at Mirage Elementary School. PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFF FORTNEY
Jeff Fortney teaches a group of students with special education needs at Mirage Elementary School. PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFF FORTNEY

The state is sending its own message, one that has veteran special education teachers like Jeff Fortney frustrated year after year.

Fortney couldn’t fathom why Carter’s bill got no hearing.

“What is the problem here?” Fortney said.  “The Legislature has no problem moving forward with bills that aim to take money out of public schools, but they kill the bills that actually are trying to [find a solution].”

Fortney has been teaching students with special needs for 15 years, currently at Mirage Elementary School.

He has been with several other districts and even a charter school for a time, but what he experienced was always the same, he said: Adequate resources were not available.

That meant going without dedicated curriculum or sensory devices for students with autism.

The difference is made up somewhere, through generous staff and families.

One parent has been especially eager to help this year, buying all sorts of things for several of Fortney’s students, he said. Every few days, she brings in a new book or puzzle to engage the kids.

People like her mean well, but he said the responsibility of providing those materials is not hers.

“I get it because you want them to have it. But it also propagates the problem,” Fortney said. “If we could just say to the district that we need these resources, she wouldn’t have to do that.”


Part of the trepidation to update the formula comes from the fact the potential solutions may be politically imperfect.

Essigs said the state could opt to only give additional funding to students with special needs. But that option creates “losers” – districts and charter schools with few students needing those services. The “winners” in that scenario would be schools with more students with special education needs.

And that potential system of winners and loser tends to stall the conversation around an updated formula, Essigs said.

To prevent that scenario, the state could also opt to keep Group A funding and increase the Group B bucket that allocates additional dollars to students with specific needs to directly fund those specific services. That option wouldn’t create any losers, but Essigs said it would cost the state a lot more money. That is also likely to stall out in the Legislature because it gets at the core debate about how much funding for public schools is truly enough.

Ultimately, Swanson said, there is a will to do something – not just for special education but the public education system as a whole.

The question is when and how will the state finally take action.

“I don’t think that people want to kick the can down the road,” he said. “But there are so many forces on the political side that I can’t say what will happen.”

Reporter Ben Giles contributed to this report.

Riggs squeaks out victory in SPI Republican primary

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas chats with a constituent's son at the Arizona Capitol Times' Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Douglas is seeking re-election this year, but she faces four Republican challengers in the August primary. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas chats with a constituent’s son at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Douglas is seeking re-election this year, but she faces four Republican challengers in the August primary. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

With five Republican contenders dividing the vote, the GOP primary race for Superintendent of Public Instruction ended in a tight victory for Frank Riggs.

Final results as of September 5 show that Frank Riggs took a lead of less than one percentage point over the runner up, Bob Branch. Just 359 votes separated the two candidates.

Incumbent Diane Douglas trailed closely behind Branch. Only 3,498 votes separated her and Riggs. The race for the Democratic nomination wasn’t as competitive; Kathy Hoffman beat David Schapira by nearly 22,000 votes.

With both Riggs and Branch receiving just shy of 22 percent of the vote, it appears Arizonans looking for a change were unable to rally behind just one alternative to the incumbent, who herself won about 21 percent of the vote. Additionally, Tracy Livingston garnered another 20 percent, and Jonathan Gelbart rounded out the pack with just shy of 15 percent.

Douglas never quite escaped criticism after clashing with Gov. Doug Ducey early in her first term over the firing of two State Board of Education employees, and she has continued to irk many in the state, even in her own party, over the years. Most recently, she offended public school teachers after criticizing the Red for Ed movement’s decision to strike and suggesting teachers’ certifications may be at risk because of it.

Still, political observers had speculated she would benefit from sheer name recognition in a crowded Republican field.

Riggs will now face off against Hoffman in the Nov. 6 general election.


Superintendent of Public Instruction By The Numbers


570,927 votes cast

Diane Douglas 21.22 percent

Bob Branch 21.77 percent

Frank Riggs 21.84 percent

Jonathan Gelbart 14.94 percent

Tracy Livingston 20.23 percent


484,748 votes cast

Kathy Hoffman 52 percent

David Schapira 48 percent

Riggs wins SPI Republican nomination with slim margin of victory

Frank Riggs
Frank Riggs

More than a week after the primary election, the Republican party finally has a nominee for superintendent of public instruction: Frank Riggs.

The former California congressman secured the nomination with just 359 votes more than the runner up, Bob Branch, after a final vote count was announced Tuesday evening.

Though slim, that margin is not slim enough to automatically trigger a recount. That would have required a margin of less than 200 votes between Riggs and Branch. In all, nearly 571,000 votes were cast.

Incumbent Diane Douglas finished third, 3,498 votes behind Riggs.

Riggs goes on to face Democrat Kathy Hoffman in the November 6 General Election.

While the Republican vote was divided in the race, Hoffman won handily with nearly 22,000 votes more than her challenger, David Schapira.

But Riggs said he’s not worried about his chances against her in the general.

Despite the fractured primary vote, he said he can unite the GOP behind him now and believes he’ll even attract independents and some of the moderate Democrats to his camp.

He said that will be his focus over the next few months – pivoting his message to appeal to crossover voters.

Still, he acknowledged voters will face a stark contrast between him and Hoffman. But to Riggs, the contest is between a “neophyte with no leadership experience” against a former legislator who can ably advocate for the K-12 community’s interests precisely because of that experience. Riggs also pointed to his time as a school board member and to having served as president of an online charter school.

A key point in Hoffman’s campaign is to distinguish herself from career politicians. She had billed the race against Schapira as educator versus politician – and she won that contest – and she’s likely to frame her general election contest against Riggs with the same lens.


School leaders decry Ducey dropping mask mandate

In this Thursday, July 9, 2020, file photo, Gov. Doug Ducey speaks about the latest coronavirus update in Arizona. Ducey ordered cities and counties to scrap their mask mandates, but he will not take any action to curb their decisions to ignore the order. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
In this Thursday, July 9, 2020, file photo, Gov. Doug Ducey speaks about the latest coronavirus update in Arizona.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Students and teachers at Arizona schools are no longer going to be required by the state to wear masks.

But they can if they want. And local districts remain free to continue to enforce mask mandates.

In a new executive order late Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey rescinded his July 23 requirement that all school districts and charter schools must develop and implement a policy to require face coverings, such as masks or shields. He also overruled the Nov. 19 order by the Department of Health Services which actually mandated face coverings in schools.

What’s changed since then, the governor said in a prepared statement, is the number of people who have been vaccinated against Covid.

At last count, 38% of Arizonans had received at least one dose of a vaccine. The figure for those fully immunized is closed to 27%.

All of those who have been inoculated, however, are at least 16 — older than most of the children in school — because the Centers for Disease Controal and Prevention has yet to approve any vaccine for those younger than that. The governor, however, brushed that aside.

“Teachers, families and students have acted responsibly to mitigate the spread of the virus and protect one another,” Ducey said. “And our school leaders are ready to decide if masks should be required on their campuses.”

Chris Kotterman, lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association, acknowledged that was true. But he said the governor’s decision, coming just five weeks from the end of the school year, was both unnecessary and create “mask mandate chaos.”

“Now the pressure will be on various boards,” Kotterman said. And he said there will be other complications.

“It’s likely you’ll have students showing up saying they don’t have to wear masks anymore,” Kotterman explained. He said the governor should have just let the situation remain stable through the rest of the year.

“Five weeks isn’t that long,” he said.

State schools chief Kathy Hoffman was even more critical.

“Today’s abrupt removal of the mask mandate in schools is just one example in a long line of decisions that have resulted in Arizona’s embarrassing response to a virus that has claimed over 17,000 lives and impacted thousands more,” she said in her own statement.

Hoffman also pointed out that children younger than 16 remain ineligible for the vaccine.

“And the CDC still recommends universal masking in public schools to ensure safe learning environments,” she said.

That question of who is — and isn’t vaccinated — also concerned Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association.

“About 80%, if not 85%, of the people in a building are students,” he said.

“And so you’ve got a small population at the school that maybe has had the vaccine if they’ve chosen to do so,” Thomas said. “And you have a massive population that doesn’t have it.”

He noted that in Michigan health authorities just reported 43 new outbreaks of Covid in schools.

That state also reportedly has the highest per capita rate of the more infectious and lethal B.1.1.7 variant of the virus. That variant now has been detected 756 times across 31 of the state’s counties.

Thomas said that should have been a lesson for the governor.

“Taking down our guard too soon and not finishing out the year in as safe a way is possible is likely going to make us take a step backwards,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate and it’s frustrating,” Thomas continues. “And it shows once again that educators, once again, can trust this governor to not support them.”

Hoffman also has concerns about the timing.

“Today’s announcement destabilizes school communities as they end what has arguably been the most challenging year for education,” the schools chief said. Hoffman said now that the decision has been foisted on local boards they should make “transparent, evidence-based decisions that build trust in the safety of our schools.”

Gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karamargin said health and safety of teachers and students remains a priority. But he said Ducey saw no need for further state-imposed restrictions.

“We know that transmission is low among youth,” he said. “And Arizona was among the first states to prioritize vaccinating teachers.”

Anyway, Karamargin said, the new order simply ensures that “schools are able to make their own decisions around mask requirements, depending on the needs of their community.”



Schools chief issues ‘roadmap’ to reopen classrooms

State schools chief Kathy Hoffman in March year with Gov. Doug Ducey announcing schools would be closed for the balance of the year. Hoffman is now providing a ``roadmap'' of issues for schools to consider when deciding how -- and if -- to reopen. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)
State schools chief Kathy Hoffman in March year with Gov. Doug Ducey announcing schools would be closed for the balance of the year. Hoffman is now providing a “roadmap” of issues for schools to consider when deciding how — and if — to reopen. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

The state’s top education official wants schools to plan for reopening even as she concedes she doesn’t know how much money they will have — and that it’s virtually impossible to guarantee a risk-free environment.

In a 41-page “roadmap” released Monday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman provided a series of options for local school board members to consider as they figure out what’s the best course of action going forward for 1.1 million youngsters in more than 2,000 school buildings.

Among the proposals worked out with education, community and health officials:

▪ Physical distancing of children, including partitions between desks and limited seating on school buses;

▪ Closing communal areas like dining halls and serving individually plated or home-packed meals, using disposable utensils and dishes;

▪ Encouraging staff and students to stay home when sick and eliminating “perfect attendance” awards;

▪ Screening students for symptoms, which may include temperature checks;

▪ Staging staggered times for parents to drop off and pick up their children;

▪ Creating small class sizes “when possible”;

And when physical distancing does not work, the plan says schools should consider other strategies to limit the spread of disease including cloth face masks, hand washing and sanitizing surfaces.

FILE - In this May 16, 2020, file photo Jaime Susano, a graduating senior from Buckeye Union High School, shouts in celebration during the Parade of Graduates, a drive-thru graduation ceremony, on the race track at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. High schools across the country have added pomp to their circumstances to make graduations special amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
FILE – In this May 16, 2020, file photo Jaime Susano, a graduating senior from Buckeye Union High School, shouts in celebration during the Parade of Graduates, a drive-thru graduation ceremony, on the race track at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. High schools across the country have added pomp to their circumstances to make graduations special amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Still, the bottom line comes down to whether, even implementing all these strategies, it’s possible to keep students and staff safe. And that problem can be multiplied in younger age groups where it may be unrealistic to try to keep kids apart, which is why, even in the best of circumstances, children come home from school with head lice.

“I think it’s important for all of us to acknowledge that this is about decreasing risk,” Hoffman said.

“But in our school settings … it’s almost impossible to completely eliminate the risk,” she said. “A school is a place where people congregate, where kids come together and adults come together, so there’s always going to be some level of risk.”

Hoffman said the report includes various recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, like the issue of distancing and wearing masks.

“But we also recognize and are realistic that that may not be feasible for every school community,” she continued. “If these mitigation strategies are not feasible, then one of the considerations would be to not open and to provide more distance learning or have more online options.”

And the roadmap does say that is an option.

One other is a “hybrid” program where students spend only part of the week in a school building. Only thing is, she said, is the formula for state aid currently does not recognize this as an option.

Hoffman emphasized that none of the proposals or suggestions are mandates.

classroom“This is not a one-size-fits all,” Hoffman said. “This is meant to be flexible and adaptable to help our school leaders think through all different types of scenarios and work within their own communities to create plans that are best for their unique needs.”

Some of that, Hoffman said, is likely to be based on the rate of infection, with some communities having above-average spread of COVID-19 than others.

All of this — whether more teachers, more classroom space, more computers for online learning, or even disinfecting solutions — involves money, even as the state is looking at a deficit for the coming fiscal year that could hit $1.6 billion.

The good news, Hoffman said, is that Arizona has about $1 billion in its “rainy-day fund.” And the schools chief said that, unlike other states, there is no realistic talk about actually reducing state aid to schools.

As to those additional costs, Hoffman said the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs is reimbursing schools for things like dividers and personal protective equipment. She also noted schools are getting allocations through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

But there’s something else.

State aid — the largest share of school dollars — is tied to attendance. If parents opt to send their children to online schools, the money follows them.

That’s not the only problem. Hoffman said there’s also the economic fallout from the pandemic, citing her conversations with Fernando Parra, superintendent of the Nogales Unified School District.

“They’ve already seen a high number of their families moving back to Mexico or moving elsewhere to seek employment opportunities,” she said.

Hoffman wants lawmakers to enact measures to protect schools against a sudden and huge loss of state aid which is tied directly to attendance. She specifically is seeking to limit year-over-year reductions to no more than 2 percent to enable schools to budget now even though they have no idea of how many students actually will show up.

“I’ve been urging on legislators and Gov. Ducey and his team to continue to collaborate with us on making any legislative changes that are needed in the near future,” she said.

It’s not just money.

classroom2Hoffman acknowledged that when students return there will be a lot of questions about what, if anything, they learned during the months that they were supposed to be continuing their education at home.

She said that occurs at the beginning of every school year as teachers evaluate what those in their classroom know. Now, Hoffman said, there will need to be a much quicker evaluation “so that it’s usable immediately by the teachers, by the staff to identify which kids are needing the most support and perhaps need smaller groups … and kids that need the most help.”

Hoffman also said that schools may want to experiment with the idea that grade levels are arbitrary.

“There may be kids that, during this time, have jumped ahead a grade level and maybe students who are working and need a lot more review from this past academic year that have really missed a lot,” she said.

Hoffman acknowledged the results of a recent survey showing that 18 percent of parents with school-age kids are not willing to send them off each morning. The schools chief said she believes some of that can be addressed with more information.

“I would encourage them to be as involved as possible and for our schools to be over-communicating with the families on what types of policies and procedures they are putting into place to make schools as safe as possible,” she said.

Anyway, Hoffman said she sees that 18 percent as a snapshot of current attitudes, counting on things changing in the coming months — up or down — depending on the spread of the virus. And she said she presumes that most students who don’t return to classrooms will get educated through various online options.

Skipping kindergarten is detrimental to learning

Teacher and group of kids in kindergarten

With great concern, I read the article in your paper by reporter Howard Fischer on October 26, 2020, entitled, “Hoffman says parents should reconsider keeping kids out of kindergarten.”

As the superintendent of the Pendergast School District located in the West Valley cities of Avondale, Glendale and Phoenix, we, like Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, believe kindergarten is essential for our scholars to succeed.

It is the foundation and lays the groundwork for a successful path to a quality educational experience for years to come.

Our school board and administration have provided full-day kindergarten in all of our 12 schools, paid for through our budget override. Since the state only funds half-day kindergarten, districts like ours need to find additional funding. We are fortunate our community has supported this effort that has paid huge dividends.

With the pandemic now approaching eight months, many parents are choosing to postpone kindergarten at a rate of 14% lower enrollment across the state, according to KTAR radio.

Lily Matos DeBlieux
Lily Matos DeBlieux

People may think, “Well, it’s just kindergarten and what could they possibly learn?” Here are some of the standards from the Arizona Department of Education that all Arizona schools are required to teach in kindergarten. These are merely the English language arts, not taking into account math, science, social studies, technology, fine arts, and social/emotional learning. Arizona’s English language arts standards work together in a clear progression from kindergarten through 12th grade. These are the general headings and do not take into account the 29 additional sub-headings for learning under each standard.

Reading Standards for Literature

Reading Standards for Informational Text

Reading Standards: Foundational Skills

Writing Standards

Speaking and Listening Standards

Language Standards

We believe kindergarten is essential for all students in Arizona, especially now. A fact parents may not be familiar with is that if families choose to keep their child out of kindergarten this year, when they enroll next year, they will be placed in first grade and may fall far behind their peers in learning.

In Pendergast District, we are using distance learning programs at this time and each student is provided with a Chromebook and Internet connectivity, if needed. We have a tremendous support system in place for not only academic learning but also social and emotional support for our students and their families. The pandemic has been stressful for everyone, however, we are doing all we can to ensure our students are feeling connected, are learning and growing and will be prepared for their future.

Since Arizona implemented Move on When Reading in 2013, students must show proficiency in reading in third grade in order to be promoted. By beginning in kindergarten and focusing on the necessary skills, learning will scaffold and students will achieve this goal.

We are hoping to reduce the number of 14% decline in enrollment in kindergarten by encouraging families to enroll today in school. Giving early learners the opportunities to learn, make friends, gain new skills and be ready to take on challenges, is paramount to a successful graduate, as they matriculate in later years. In this day and age, children need every advantage to ensure a bright future. Let’s not let the number of a 14% decline in enrollment define us, as this is a problem with an easy solution.

Lily Matos DeBlieux is superintendent of the Pendergast School District.

SPI race headed for recount

Ballots from the general election are boxed up at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Superintendent of Public Instruction race is set to come down to a recount as Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman and conservative Tom Horne continually swapped slight leads and small margins with each ballot drop.

Horne took the lead again after Maricopa County released its last sizable tabulation results on November 14. He is now ahead by more than 8,500 votes, or about a 0.3% margin.

Races trigger recounts when the margin between two candidates is less than or equal to 0.5% under a new Arizona law passed last session. The prior margin was 0.1%.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne smiles during an interview in Phoenix on Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Horne and Hoffman present two drastically different approaches to policy, leaving educators bracing for what the next four years may mean for education in the state.

Chuck Coughlin, longtime political analyst and CEO and President of HighGround Inc., said the results in the race stem from the difference in how the two candidates ran and funded their campaigns.

Horne ran a traditional campaign in terms of finance, bringing in just over a million dollars from outside donors and his own income.

Hoffman ran as a Clean Elections candidate, meaning her campaign was publicly funded by the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission. She received and spent $304,495.

Coughlin said Horne’s higher budget ultimately equated to a stronger presence with voters.

He noted that Horne, having served as Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2003 to 2011 and as Attorney General from 2011 to 2015, already had name recognition.

Arizona Department of Education Superintendent Kathy Hoffman speaks during a news conference in Phoenix, July 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

In his campaign, Horne latched onto the “parental empowerment” movement, which gained notoriety in Arizona and across the country amid opposition to critical race theory and the push for school choice.

“That’s part of the national narrative now about education,” Coughlin said. “With the resources he had to campaign, he attached himself to those narratives and I think that’s eventually what delivered in the market.”

Horne’s slogan throughout his campaign was, “empower parents.” He characterizes himself as, “a crusader against mediocrity, laziness, and political indoctrination as a substitute for academic teaching,” on his campaign website.

The parental empowerment movement generally pushes for advocating for transparency to squash “woke” curriculum and expanding access to vouchers. Horne falls in line, opposing critical race theory and hurling stones at what is known as “cancel culture.”

Horne’s track record as Superintendent of Public Instruction remains in line with the policy he presented in his campaign this year.

In 2010, Horne headed a ban on ethnic studies, outlawing courses promoting resentment toward a race or class of people or advocating for ethnic solidarity. The law was struck down by a federal judge, citing “racial animus.”

He wrote on his site his desire to attempt to outlaw ethnic studies again with assurance from a “more conservative U.S. Supreme Court.”

Horne has made statements against “social and emotional learning,” and wants to instead shore up discipline in the classroom by upping the presence of school resource officers and backing teachers in disciplinary action.

When Horne served on the Paradise Valley Unified School District for 24 years, he said he “did not reverse a teacher on an issue of discipline one time,” according to his campaign website.

Marisol Garcia, president of the Arizona Education Association, called Horne’s platform “divisive,” and said it focuses on pitting parents and teachers against each other.

“Teachers are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, voters, taxpayers,” Garcia said. “We are not a monolith.”

Garcia said the rhetoric in debates about education, especially concerning parental empowerment, frequently turns public sentiment against teachers.

“Some politicians two years ago decided to make us out to be these horrible people,” Garcia said. “It does nothing to build strong communities. It does nothing to ensure we have great schools. It does nothing for our students.”

The Arizona Education Association endorsed Hoffman.

Hoffman also saw support from public education advocacy group, Save Our Schools. Beth Lewis, executive director, said the organization included Hoffman at the top of its voting literature and led with her candidacy when knocking on doors and calling voters.

Despite their efforts, Lewis said Hoffman’s campaign could have benefitted from increased funding and greater attention given that it was a down-ballot race.

“The larger races just took a lot of the money and therefore the oxygen just in terms of radio and TV and mailers,” Lewis said.

Lewis called Hoffman’s administration “peaceful and functional.”

Hoffman took office in 2019. Before her term, Hoffman worked as a pre-school teacher and speech language pathologist in public schools.

During her time as Superintendent of Public Instruction, she established the office for Educator Recruitment and Retention, created a Teacher Residency program, lowered the student-to-school-counselor ratio by 20% and awarded $14 million in $1,000 grants to Arizona educators.

Her policy priorities are addressing the teacher shortage, raising teacher pay, expanding mental health services for students, bridging digital divides in rural and tribal communities and bolstering Career and Technical Education programs.

Hoffman has been a proponent of lifting the Aggregate Expenditure Limit and pushing for increased funding for schools.

She also opposed universal voucher expansion, which delivered public education advocates a tough loss earlier this year when Save Our Schools failed to get enough signatures to refer the universal vouchers to voters in the 2024 election.

Lewis expressed concerns over transparency and accountability in the universal ESA program. She also said she fears teacher retention will suffer under Horne.

“If the person in charge of our schools is operating under this anti public-school mentality,” Lewis said. “That’s not going to help keep teachers. I think it will drive more off and we can’t afford that.”

Coughlin said, if Horne’s current lead is cemented in the recount, his victory no doubt disappoints public education advocates.

“Clearly, Horne’s not their guy,” Coughlin said.

He said the loss may prompt introspection on behalf of education associations in how to best organize behind public education candidates going forward.

Lewis said a recall is not out of the question if Horne, “decides to be radical and chaotic.”

“Groups like ours will be more than happy to help find a replacement,” Lewis said.

The recount will take place in early December.



Stories from Arizona classrooms tell us what’s at stake


Visiting schools in each of Arizona’s 15 counties has helped me stay connected to the needs and concerns of our state’s public education community and better lead the Arizona Department of Education. During the 83 school visits of my first year in office, I’ve had the opportunity to ask school leaders the important questions: What are you most proud of?  What makes your school unique? How are you covering your special education services and costs? How can the department best serve you?

But visiting Arizona’s school communities also gives me the chance to hear stories directly from students, teachers, and administrators. When people ask me about the state of education in Arizona, I use these stories to illustrate what is happening in classrooms across our state.

Kathy Hoffman
Kathy Hoffman

I share, for example, about my trip to the Navajo Nation where I met a beloved welding teacher whose students had won regional prizes for their work. The teacher told me that he could easily make a six-figure salary working in the private sector, but he returns to the classroom each year to give his students the skills they need to build their own successful careers.

I share that in Nogales I visited a bilingual charter school where students who are acquiring English thrive in an environment that values their culture and immerses them in Spanish. When I asked these students about their dreams and goals, their answers blew me away. “We aren’t the leaders of tomorrow,” one eighth grader told me. “We are the leaders of today.”

I share that here in Phoenix I received a letter from a high school student concerned about suicide awareness and the mental health needs of her classmates. When I invited her to speak before the State Board of Education, she spoke about losing a teammate to suicide and the work she is doing to raise awareness about the importance of mental health in her own community.

But I also share about the stark inequities I’ve seen between counties, districts, and schools – from crumbling school facilities to a lack of reliable transportation in many areas. If the achievements of our teachers and students tell us about all the good things happening in our schools, they also tell us what’s at stake.

With one-fifth of all teaching positions unfilled across Arizona, we cannot afford to lose more education professionals to other states and to other industries. It’s why we’ve built an Educator Recruitment & Retention Team at the Department of Education. This new team is dedicated to bolstering our teacher pipeline and keeping our current educators in the classroom. It’s also why we have partnered with the Department of Economic Security in our efforts to fill critical support positions – a partnership that led to over thirty new hires in Mesa Public Schools in just two months and one that we’re excited to see expanded to other districts.

These efforts are just a start, and the raises provided through the 20X2020 plan were a major step in the right direction – but we must do more to provide regionally competitive pay for all our educators and education professionals. Student achievement is directly tied to having qualified teachers in every classroom, and the professionals needed to support the work of educating our students in every school.

Secondly, as the only state in the country with an “English-only” education law on the books, we continue to hold back our multilingual learners. Last February, I was thrilled to see strong bipartisan support for the reduction of the 4-hour English Language Learner block to two hours. But we must go further – the antiquated “English-only” law deviates from research and evidence-based best practices and disadvantages our EL students. Repealing “English-only” has strong bipartisan support and would benefit students across our entire state. I fully support the efforts by Representative John Fillmore, Democratic leaders, and community organizers to refer this issue to the ballot.

And lastly, with rising rates of mental health challenges among students, we must continue to invest in the resources our school needs to keep our students healthy and safe. We took an incredible step forward this past year by expanding the School Safety Program to include school counselors and social workers for the first time. But a gap in funding persists. More than 900 schools applied for $97 million worth of school safety positions. And while over 380 schools received funding this year, we must provide every school with the safety resources they need. Schools shouldn’t have to compete to provide safe learning environments that support the social and emotional needs of students.

Looking back on what we’ve accomplished in 2019 gives me hope for the work ahead. But it’s our school communities that give me the real optimism, which is why I will continue to elevate their stories and use them to inform the work we do. In 2020, we must see to it that our committed educators and passionate students have the resources and support they need to be successful.

Kathy Hoffman is Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Superintendent of public instruction race too close to call

Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs
Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs

Early ballot results signal a long night – and possibly week – ahead for the superintendent of public instruction candidates.

As of Wednesday morning, Republican Frank Riggs had maintained a slight lead over Democrat Kathy Hoffman, most recently a former speech therapist in the Peoria school system. Riggs was ahead by less than one percentage point, giving Democrats hopes of capturing the party’s first victory for a statewide office since 2008.

And if the August primary was any indication, it could be days before the winner is declared.

Riggs’ victory over the crowded Republican primary was not made official until a week after the polls closed.

The former California congressman won the nomination by just 359 votes more than the runner up, Bob Branch, according to a final vote count announced on September 4.

Hoffman meanwhile faced off against just one Democratic challenger, David Schapira, and won nearly 22,000 votes ahead.

In many ways, they agreed on some common points.

Both sought greater oversight of charter schools, which are private operations that technically are public schools. Riggs in particular said Arizona should no longer allow these to be for-profit operations.

They also opposed Proposition 305, the measure to ratify the legislative decision to expand who is eligible for vouchers of public funds for private and parochial schools. But Riggs said he could support an expanded program if priority was given to low-income families; Hoffman said there would be less demand for vouchers if the state properly funded its public school system but said she would not eliminate the existing vouchers available to certain students.

Riggs, however, said he opposed a plan – no longer on the ballot – to raise income taxes on the state’s most wealthy to fund education. Hoffman said the state’s schools needed the $690 million that would have raised.

Hoffman also supported the Red for Ed movement and the strike earlier this year by teachers, saying that was necessary to get public attention for the fact that state aid for education has not kept pace with inflation. Riggs said while the movement had admirable goals it quickly became co-opted as a way of supporting Democrats.


Superintendent of public instruction by the numbers

Early votes


Frank Riggs 50.2 percent


Kathy Hoffman 49.8 percent

The Breakdown: Free at last?


U.S. Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., smiles after her victory over Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Sinema won Arizona's open U.S. Senate seat in a race that was among the most closely watched in the nation, beating McSally in the battle to replace GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
U.S. Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., smiles after her victory over Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Sinema won Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat in a race that was among the most closely watched in the nation, beating McSally in the battle to replace GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Election Month continues here in Arizona with ballots yet to be counted nearly two weeks since polls closed.

At least we have some answers. The U.S. Senate race was decided in Democrat Kyrsten Sinema’s favor last week, but not everyone was so lucky.

As the week came to a close, the secretary of state candidates were still anxiously hitting that refresh button as the race remained too close to call.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds” and “Energy” by Bensound.

The Breakdown: The end is near


A worker prepares volunteers to verify ballots at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. There are several races too close to call in Arizona, especially the Senate race between Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema and Republican candidate Martha McSally. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
A worker prepares volunteers to verify ballots at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Last Tuesday was supposed to conclude this election season, but in true Arizona fashion, the counting continues.

Where do some of the tightest races stand, and when will we really know who was victorious.

It’s already shaping up to be another long week, as we wait to see if the Blue Wave really hit Arizona and what that would even mean in a state where the Republican Party still clearly reigns supreme.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Udall takes step in run for schools chief

Michelle Udall (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Rep. Michelle Udall has become the latest House member to seek higher office. 

The Mesa Republican, who is a high school math teacher and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, filed a statement of interest to run for superintendent of public instruction on Wednesday. She joins a field of Republicans hoping to take on Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman that, while crowded, doesn’t include many well-known names. 

Udall said she has been going back and forth on whether to run for a while. She thinks schools need to refocus on what she views as their core mission of educating students. 

“I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m pretty passionate about education policy and about ensuring that our kids get a quality education,” she said. “The past couple of years, it seems like school has been about anything but school.” 

Udall, who was elected to the House in 2017 and was a school board member in Mesa before that, was at the center of some of this year’s hottest education debates. She was the House sponsor of a controversial bill that some supporters framed as a ban on “critical race theory” in schools; while it died in the Senate, the gist of it was added to the K-12 budget reconciliation bill and passed that way. It and several other policy-related budget provisions are currently the subject of a court challenge. Earlier this year, she publicly sparred with Hoffman over how Hoffman was spending federal discretionary Covid relief dollars. 

“I’m a mom, I’m a teacher, and I have a lot of experience with education policy, and I’m really passionate about ensuring that our kids get a good education, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s the most important,” Udall said. 

Udall said she has been “not particularly impressed” with Hoffman.  

“(She’s) just not getting the job done that needs to be done,” Udall said. “(There’s a) lot of extra bureaucracy in the office right now.” 

On some issues, Udall has been a decisive vote, occasionally siding with the Democrats and bucking most of the rest of the GOP caucus to support or block something. Her opposition to a sizable Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion that passed the Senate helped to ensure it wouldn’t become law. She is also the reason why voters will decide next year whether to scuttle the state’s ban on in-state tuition for people living here illegally – when the resolution passed the Senate but stalled in the House, Udall made a procedural motion to force a vote on it, and it passed with the support of the Democrats and just a few Republicans.  

The only other candidate with a comparable level of statewide name recognition is Tom Horne, who was superintendent of public instruction from 2003 to 2011 and attorney general for four years after that before losing the GOP primary to now-AG Mark Brnovich in 2014. The other candidates to have filed statements of interest are Kim Fisher and Jennie Paperman, who are Deer Valley Unified governing board members; Kara Woods, a Prescott Unified governing board member; and Shiry Sapir, a real estate entrepreneur who lives in Scottsdale. 

Udall said she plans to finish her term in the House. She said she is working on some bills to improve Arizona’s schools that she wants to introduce when the Legislature reconvenes in January. 

“I still have a lot of work to get done this coming session,” she said. 

Walkout teachers now in a drive to win US statehouse posts

In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Kathy Hoffman, a public school speech therapist, is a Democratic candidate running for superintendent of public education, in Phoenix. Hoffman is running against three-term California congressman Frank Riggs, the founding president of an online charter school. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Kathy Hoffman, a public school speech therapist, is a Democratic candidate running for superintendent of public instruction. Hoffman is running against three-term California congressman Frank Riggs, the founding president of an online charter school. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Last September, school speech therapist Kathy Hoffman was settling into the new academic year, working with youngsters in her small classroom behind a playground at Sahuaro Ranch Elementary School in a blue-collar neighborhood outside Phoenix.

This year, the political novice is gone from her classroom and on the campaign trail across Arizona full-time as the Democrats’ choice in the race to become superintendent of public education, overseeing the state’s schools. The job is typically held by career politicians or political insiders.

“My tipping point was realizing we need more teachers running for office, people who understand what it’s like in the classroom, who have seen the effect of having the lack of resources from our lawmakers,” Hoffman said.

Hundreds of current and former educators, most of them Democrats like Hoffman, are on general election ballots from school board to governor — far exceeding educator candidacies prior to this year’s #RedForEd protests.

In her first campaign during the Democratic primary, the 32-year-old Hoffman beat a former state senate minority leader, illustrating how much a surge in teacher activism centering on higher teacher pay and increased educational funding have shaken up November midterm elections around the U.S.

(Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
The view from a parking garage near Chase Field was nothing but red as teachers, students and Red for Ed supporters gathered there on April 26 before marching to the Arizona Capitol. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

She and the other teacher candidates represent a wild-card political movement following the teacher-driven #RedForEd effort that drew support from parents and school children in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia and also focused on outdated textbooks, crowded classrooms and teacher shortages. Across the country, some educators have already won primary races against the incumbent state legislators they blamed for public school spending cutbacks.

“It’s about standing up for what’s right and bringing that teacher’s voice to that position,” Hoffman said. “I felt it should come straight from the classroom.”

After years of dense education debates over teacher evaluations and the Common Core learning standards, the new teacher candidates’ simplified message for higher pay and more funding for schools represent “talking points (that) are resonating,” said Frederick Hess, director of education policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute public policy think tank.

“What we might be seeing is the emergence of a number of individuals who will be an elected mainstream set of advocates for these teacher issues,” he said.

In the state senate races in Maine and Minnesota, teacher candidates could help flip state legislatures to Democratic control, according to Mara Sloan, spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. She said her group knows of 650 educators running for state legislative positions across the country this year and that more than 450 are Democrats.

In Kentucky, at least 34 current and former teachers are on the ballot in the general election for seats in the state legislature, 29 of them Democrats. In Connecticut, former National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes won the Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat. The Oklahoma Education Association said 55 educators are running in the general election for the state legislature.

As for the Republicans, Oklahoma City assistant school principal Sherrie Conley upset three-term incumbent state lawmaker Bobby Cleveland in a primary runoff election. Cleveland is one of six Republican state House members in Oklahoma who lost their jobs after voting against a tax hike used to fund a teacher pay raise.

Experts say it’s too soon to say what sort of impact the teacher candidates may have on policy if elected. Republican State Leadership Committee communications director David James accused teacher unions of fielding Democratic candidates who would use “their education platforms to defend a Bolshevik monopoly that turns to the Prussian model of classroom teaching, rather than new innovative techniques.”

He also said “Republicans have a sizable force of educators that will win this cycle.”

Hoffman said she decided to run out of a feeling that too many education decision-makers don’t understand how public schools work. She was dismayed with the confirmation hearing of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who stumbled over questions about students with disabilities.

Hoffman became more politicized after Arizona state lawmakers refused to grant the same 20 percent raises Arizona teachers got to school support staff and a decision by the state’s outgoing education chief, Diane Douglas, to support an ethnic studies ban that a federal judge ruled was discriminatory. Douglas ended up finishing third in a five-way Republican primary.

“That’s when I realized it’s not how many offices you’ve run for and how many political campaigns you’ve had,” Hoffman said.

Frank Riggs
Frank Riggs

She calls her opponent, Frank Riggs, one of the “establishment politicians” who have put the state’s schools in crisis. Riggs is a three-term Republican California U.S. congressman who was the CEO of a nonprofit company that helps charter schools with financing and is the founding president of an online K-12 Arizona charter school.

He has criticized Hoffman for being “inexperienced and extreme” and has said she holds “radical views.” In an interview, the 68-year-old Riggs called Hoffman “a very nice young person” who is dedicated to education but said she has limited teaching experience and no leadership credentials.

“The job involves high-level executive leadership. It requires a deep knowledge of education policies and practices at the local, state and federal level,” Riggs said. “And to be a credible advocate as our state’s chief K-12 officer, it requires a degree of legislative and political expertise, which I certainly feel I have as a former member of Congress.”

Hoffman said getting her campaign going was like starting a new company. Her campaign workers in the primary were all under 40 and one was an Arizona #RedForEd protest leader. She had to learn about branding, logos, messaging and hone her public speaking and networking skills.

“Every little piece of that had to come together, and I know I’ve grown so much professionally and personally from this experience,” she said.

But candidates like Hoffman in states like Arizona that lean Republican must not only get votes from Democrats, but also Republicans or independents. And they are dependent on voters who are still thinking about public education as a key issue in November — months after the #RedForEd protests demonstrations captured national attention.

“Even if the moment is ripe and even if the message resonates, and even if there is concern about the state of public education in these states, these candidates for the most part, are still going to have to overcome the partisan disadvantage that they face at the ballot box,” said Patrick McGuinn, a political science and education professor at Drew University in New Jersey.