From the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) to local school board positions, several conservatives are currently leading or have already won key races on the education front in the 2022 General Election.
As of press time, Republican candidate for SPI Tom Horne had increased his lead in his challenge of incumbent Kathy Hoffman. Horne previously served as SPI from 2003 to 2011, prior to successfully running for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. If the results hold up, Horne says his focus as SPI will be on improving student performance and eradicating Critical Race Theory-based curriculum from Arizona’s public schools.
In the Peoria Unified School District race, Heather Rooks won a hard-fought and challenging race. Her efforts to expose the Social Emotional Learning-based policies and practices in the district eventually led her to request an injunction against an activist parent. As reported by the Arizona Daily Independent, Rooks, a mother of four school-aged children, obtained the injunction based on threats from Democrat activist, Josh Gray.
Two other conservative candidates, Amy Carney and Carine Werner, secured seats on the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) Governing Board. Their victories serve as a powerful repudiation of out-going Governing Board Member Jann-Michael Greenburg. Greenburg was sued by parents who accused him of trying to silence them after they exposed his secret Google Drive dossier on them. As AZ Free Newsreported in April, that dossier included a trove of political opposition research on parents, who opposed the district’s adoption of Social Emotional Learning and Critical Race Theory.
In the race for Flowing Wells School District Governing Board—an area known for being blue—conservative Brianna Hernandez Hamilton is currently holding on to one of two open spots. A mother of three very young children, Hernandez Hamilton ran with the slogan: “Parents + Teachers = Quality Education.”
Kurt Rohrs, a long-time education activist and frequent contributor to AZ Free News, won a spot on the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. Rohrs, like Horne, focused on improving student performance and eliminating the divisive Critical Race Theory from the district’s curriculum. Many see Rohrs’ presence on the board as an opportunity to restore calm to the district which had become the center of controversy thanks to out-going board member Lindsay Love.
In the race for Dysart Unified School District Governing Board, conservative Dawn Densmore was retained by voters. As current president of the board, Densmore successfully led the fight to end the district’s relationship with the Arizona School Board Association (ASBA). Jennifer Drake also won a seat on the board.
Sandra Christensen is set to win a seat on the Paradise Valley Unified School District Governing Board. Libby Settle and Madicyn Reid are in the lead for spots in Fountain Hills. Paul Carver should take a win in Deer Valley. Jackie Ulmer appears to have been successful in Cave Creek as well as Rachel Walden in Mesa and Chad Thompson in Gilbert. In the Higley Unified School District, conservative Anna Van Hoek also won a seat on the board.
In a tweet from earlier this week, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos summed up what many parents have been feeling over the past few years – left out. In response to the National Education Association’s claim that teachers “know better than anyone” what students need in the classroom, DeVos responded, “You misspelled parents.”
Arizona families need a complete change in our state’s Department of Education. The current superintendent, Kathy Hoffman, has not served Arizona’s children well, and she needs to be replaced. With the election upon us, NOW is the time for change.
For far too long, the Department of Education has placed its focus on teachers. But while the needs of teachers are important, the primary focus should always be on students. That’s why we need someone who will change the focus of the entire department to a service-oriented organization—and who will build a team that wants to serve the people of Arizona. The public servant that we need is Tom Horne!
Tom will not need any training. He successfully led this department before, and he will hit the ground running to get our children back on track immediately. Tom is an attorney and has served in the legislature and as our state attorney general. He supports the new ESA school choice law and wants to see that program serve our children well. Tom has met with many of Arizona’s families and has truly listened to our needs. I have full confidence that he will address them immediately when he is in office.
In contrast, under Kathy Hoffman, our children’s test scores have been plummeting. She pushed for extended school closures during the pandemic. She violated our families by releasing sensitive, private information on our children during the data breach of 2020. She pushed for professional development under gender and sex topics and equity, diversity, and inclusion. She also pushed to repeal the “No Promo Homo” law and started a “Q chat” on the ADE website where any child can be easily groomed or confused when exploring their sexuality online, away from their parents. The last four years have been dreadful for everyone except the unions who back her.
The role of the Superintendent is to execute the state education laws and the State Board of Education policies. The Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) law is administered by the Superintendent, and the State Board of Education writes the policies and rules around this program. It has been in effect for over 10 years. As our current Superintendent, Kathy Hoffman has publicly stated that she wants to see an end to the program and has proven in the last four years that ESA Students who are in the program are not her priority. The fact that she picks winners and losers and plays games with our children’s education proves that she is not a good leader. Every single child matters and deserves an education that they will thrive in.
It’s time to turn our focus back to the children of Arizona. The most important focus is the academic success of our children in the core areas of study. This is a very important race, and I implore all of the people in Arizona, especially parents and grandparents, to support Tom Horne so that our children will be front and center again. Our children deserve the very best, and our families deserve to have a fully functioning Department of Education.
Christine Accurso is a wife, mother, and ESA parent who led the charge for the Decline to Sign Movement. You can follow her on Twitter here.
Right now, there’s a growing conflict between whether our schools should be focused primarily on academic instruction or social instruction.
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), stated recently that teachers must assume the role of “Social Justice Warriors” in classrooms across the country. The National Education Association (NEA), another very large teachers’ union, urged the U.S. Justice Department to label concerned parents as “Domestic Terrorists” in an attempt to silence their objections. It’s clear that these teachers’ unions simply want to dismiss parents as being unworthy of advocating for their own children.
But parents need to be involved in the education of their children now more than ever.
Just look at what’s going on with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. She was recently sued for advertising links to chat rooms where minors discuss sex and gender with adults present and without parents necessarily knowing.
Then, there’s Chandler Education Association Union President Katie Nash, who is on video at a Chandler Unified School District Board (CUSD) meeting actively promoting the teaching of White Supremacy Theory, the 1619 Project, and “Anti-Racism” programs typically derived from Critical Race Theory (CRT).
What does any of this have to do with academic instruction? Nothing.
But it’s being pushed in our schools, and while it can be tempting to blame teachers for this, we need to be careful. Most teachers should be considered as dedicated and trustworthy professionals. Instead, this is a failure of union leadership and their minions who have lost interest in academic education in favor of a growing obsession with political power. What has been the result? Declining academic scores across the country.
Of course, all of this is in direct contradiction with Arizona statute, which clearly defines these social activities as fundamental rights reserved to parents to be directed by them in the home. But these teachers’ unions don’t seem to care. They’d rather do whatever it takes to usurp these parental rights—even if it means lower academic scores.
Is Academic Proficiency Now a Secondary Consideration?
As social instruction grows, academic proficiency suffers. Consider a recent CUSD presentation of a “Portrait of a Learner” program, which described several social aspirations for students, yet somehow omitted any reference to academic proficiency. Shouldn’t we expect academics to be the primary focus of something that involves “Learning”? Either that, or you would think it would at least push students toward developing practical job skills training.
This continued lack of focus on academic proficiency is resulting in a continued decline in student test scores across the state. There does not seem to be any comprehensive plan to recover from this.
One of the unintended consequences of this movement to focus on social instruction is “Parent Flight” to other educational alternatives such as charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling. The recent expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program in Arizona now allows for parents to choose from these alternatives over unsatisfactory district schools.
But as you might expect, teachers’ unions and their political arm, RedforEd, vigorously oppose this legislative expansion, claiming that it defunds schools. But what they won’t tell you is that it clearly does not defund a student’s educational opportunities. Equally important, it enhances a parent’s choice as to where they believe their children would receive the best education.
The program has been so popular that parents already overwhelmed the website in an effort to get out of undesirable district schools. Yet somehow it does not seem to occur to opponents of ESAs that, if they had district schools that were satisfactory to parents, then those parents probably would not even consider moving their kids to another competing educational alternative.
Quasi-Religious Woke Doctrine?
Perhaps what’s most frustrating about the growing social instruction in our schools is that, for years, our nation has been gradually removing religious (mostly Christian) influences from our public schools. In fact, it feels like the First Amendment right to “Freedom of Religion,” which was fundamental to the first European immigrants to this continent, has gradually been reinterpreted by the Left to mean “Freedom from Religion.”
But you can’t help but notice how certain aspects of woke doctrine seem to have become “articles of faith” that cannot be questioned by anyone without facing severe social backlash. It’s clear that Christian doctrine has been suppressed in schools and replaced by Secular Humanism, the belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God, and the more extreme Cultural Marxism, the Neo-Marxist movement seeking to apply critical theory to matters of family composition, gender, race, and cultural identity within Western society.
If teachers’ unions want to apply the “Freedom from Religion” doctrine in public schools, they should also apply a “Freedom from Extremist Political Doctrine” as well. It’s the only way to ensure our schools remain on neutral ground for political ideology, and it leaves social development at home with the child’s parents—where it should be.
Finally, along with our First Amendment rights comes a prohibition on “compelled speech,” which prevents a person from being forced, under threat or duress, to say things they don’t really believe in. But we hear regular reports of teachers being bullied and harassed by other “activist” colleagues to force them to go along with their extreme Leftist political doctrine. Many teachers simply comply because they are concerned about having to work in a hostile environment or having their livelihoods threatened.
This implies that there is some sort of informal “political test” for teachers in our schools. It is often enforced by aggressive colleagues who are usually associated with a teachers’ union. The apparent message is: “comply and be welcome, or dissent and be ostracized.” It is no wonder teachers are under such workplace stress because of these implied threats.
However, there is a recent report of one brave, principled teacher, who, in looking over the daily SEL lesson, simply said, “we are not going to do this today” and put the controversial assignment aside. So, if parents have the right to “opt-out” their children from the presentation of controversial subject matter, that same rule needs to be extended to teachers who do not believe in these social lessons or deem them inappropriate for the children in their class. It’s time to give these teachers an “opt-out” choice as well.
In conclusion, here are a few ways we can start to clean up our public schools:
Return the primary focus of schools to academic instruction rather than social instruction.
Reduce the influence of the politically biased teachers’ unions.
Protect parents’ rights to direct the social upbringing of their children.
Prohibit political and social ideologies from being established in schools.
Protect teachers from being compelled to present controversial materials that they do not believe in.
Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.
The latest Arizona Department of Education (ADE) report reveals that a majority of Arizona students continue to fail the statewide assessment.
This year, only 41 percent of students passed the English Language Arts (ELA) portion, while 33 percent passed the mathematics section.
The ADE revealed these declining results last Wednesday in a press release. However, ADE presented the results as overall gains, noting that students experienced increases of three percent in English Language Arts (ELA) and two percent in mathematics.
Yet, last year’s results may not be weighed against these most recent results — the 2021 assessment report disclosed that “a significant number of students” weren’t tested, and therefore those results shouldn’t carry as much weight. Test results from Hoffman’s first year in office, 2019, were only slightly better than those this year: 42 percent of students passed both ELA and math.
It could be argued that those results were part of an upswing in testing that occurred under Hoffman’s predecessor, Diane Douglas. In 2016, 38 percent of students passed ELA and math. In 2017, 39 percent of students passed ELA and 40 percent passed math. In 2018, 41 percent of students passed both ELA and math.
Additionally, only a few percentage points were gained overall despite the ADE dedicating millions of COVID-19 relief funds to improve test scores.
Superintendent Kathy Hoffman said that she’s petitioning the state to increase funding by lifting the aggregate expenditure limit (AEL) to further improve test scores.
“If we want to continue increasing scores, defunding our public schools will have the opposite impact,” said Hoffman. “The infusion of federal dollars shows that increased funding can increase learning outcomes, not just on test scores but in our student’s abilities to thrive and contribute to our state.”
In an interview with “The Conservative Circus,” Hoffman’s opponent, former superintendent and attorney general Tom Horne, declared that the statewide assessment results constituted an emergency. He noted that student proficiency had fallen far from his 2003 to 2011 tenure, when Arizona students were over 60 percent proficient in math and over 70 percent proficient in English.
“It’s hard to imagine it could be worse,” said Horne.
Horne claimed that Hoffman was focused on implementing systems that distracted from proper education, citing social-emotional learning (SEL) as one problematic distraction.
“With social-emotional learning, the teachers are discouraged from imposing discipline because it might hurt some kids’ feelings,” said Horne.
During the interview, Horne also opined that the ADE links to sexualized LGBTQ+ chat rooms for minors weren’t legal. As AZ Free News reported this week, Hoffman was sued last month for linking to these chat rooms on the ADE website.
While gathering signatures for a ballot initiative overturning Arizona’s universal school choice, Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) activists informed passersby erroneously that the state doesn’t review school choice expenditures until participants leave the program. These claims were exposed by one of those passersby, Stewardship Pro founder Grant Botma, who later posted an audio recording of the activists’ remarks online.
The signature gatherers also claimed that the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program gives participants a “debit card” with $20,000. Under the universal expansion, children likely receive about $6,500 each: less than a third of the amount SOSAZ was claiming.
“They give you a debit card with $20,000 for you to use. They do have you do, like, an expense report, but they don’t really review it until you leave the program,” stated the SOSAZ woman.
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) requires program members to submit expense reports on a quarterly basis in order to maintain eligibility. If ADE wasn’t reviewing these expenditure reports until the program member leaves, that would be due to Superintendent Kathy Hoffman’s oversight.
Hoffman is a vocal opponent of the ESA Program and supporter of the SOSAZ ballot initiative. Hoffman, who is up for reelection this November, echoed SOSAZ’s claim in a July tweet that the ESA Program she oversees has “zero accountability.”
Although Hoffman and SOSAZ call Arizona’s school choice funds “vouchers,” they are actually education scholarship accounts. Vouchers are education funds for use at private schools only. The ESA Program universal funds may be applied to a variety of education-related things on top of private schooling, such as: tutoring, supplemental curriculum, online learning programs or courses, standardized testing fees, and community college.
In other clips, SOSAZ signature gatherers expanded on their claim that the state exerted no oversight of the school choice funds. They also issued the outdated claim that the ESA Program issues Bank of America prepaid debit cards. The ESA Program transitioned to ClassWallet in 2019.
“No transparency,” said a woman. “They give you a card from Bank of America[.]”
One of the signature gatherers then asserted that the main reason to defund the universal school choice program was to ensure that private schools don’t benefit from funds formerly slated for public education.
“Basically it will keep a billion dollars in public education and away from the private schools,” stated one of the women.
The $1 billion estimate wasn’t an official estimate discussed by the state legislature. Rather, it came from SOSAZ.
In advancing the narrative that the ESA Program recipients lack oversight, the activists claimed that they could run a Prenda home microschool out of their house with multiple dangers present, like an unfenced pool and a child molester. Prenda is a tuition-free K-8 microschool program, comparable to outsourced homeschooling or the old one-room schoolhouses.
“Not hypothetical. True. Prenda home microschools: they do not do any investigations on the facilities, the people involved,” said a woman. “It’s in my living room. I’ve got a pool that isn’t fenced, and I’ve got a creepy uncle that’s a child molester.”
The women also claimed that private school families who applied for ESA Program funds didn’t actually need the funds. Approximately 75 percent of the first 6,500 universal ESA Program applicants had no prior enrollment in public schools.
“It’s just putting the money into their pockets when they don’t super need it,” said one of the women.
School choice proponents criticized the SOSAZ claims as lies, and asked for an official investigation into the legality of their speech. One Scottsdale father, Kevin Gemeroy, tweeted his concerns.
“When you lie about money to induce payments, that’s fraud. When you lie about money in exchange for signatures, what crime is that, exactly?” wrote Gemeroy.