Candidates for top Arizona K-12 schools post spar in debate

Sep 15, 2022, 5:00 PM | Updated: 7:40 pm

PHOENIX (AP) — The candidates seeking Arizona’s top K-12 education post sparred in a debate over critical race theory, services for LGBTQ youth and whether students are safe and learning as they should.

The at-times contentious debate featuring Republican Tom Horne and current Superintendent of Public Education Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat seeking a second four-year term, also featured exchanges over school shutdowns prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Horne said schools were shut down for far too long at Hoffman’s urging, leading to learning loss for children, job issues for their parents and sagging test scores.

Horne pointed to the dispute between Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Hoffman six months into the pandemic, when he wanted metrics used to trigger schools closures changed. Hoffman wanted to stick with previous guidelines, which were tougher. The pair had generally been on the same page when the pandemic first hit Arizona in March 2020.

“That was not good for students, its was certainly not good for their parents, some of whom had to give up their jobs,” Horne said.

Hoffman defended her response, saying that in hindsight she may have made slightly different decision, but not substantially so. She said she never imagined when she was elected in 2018 that she would be making condolence calls to co-workers of teachers who had died of COVID.

“And so of course, my focus, along with Governor Ducey, was how can we ensure that we’re doing everything possible to keep our kids alive and safe,” Hoffman said. “And making sure that our schools are a healthy learning environment for everyone who was working in that environment.”

Horne said a lot of private and charter schools remained open, with no major issues. And he said “kids are resistant to COVID as opposed to older people,”

Moderator Ted Simons of Arizona PBS, which aired Wednesday night’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission-sponsored debate, noted that infected children could take the virus home and infect their parents and grandparents.

Hoffman noted that more than 30,000 Arizonans have died from the virus and said she was “really proud of our work” helping schools adapt to remote learning and making sure students had access to internet services and computers.

Hoffman was a teacher and speech therapist before running for office, the first to run the Department of Education in 20 years. The department oversees school funding distributions, ensures state and federal education laws and policies are followed and oversees statewide testing.

Horne served eight years as schools chief before being elected attorney general in 2010, a post he lost in the 2014 GOP primary after being caught using his office staff to run his reelection campaign.

That issue did not come up in the debate, but his push during his superintendent years for a ban on a Mexican-American studies program taught in Tucson schools led to testy exchanges. A federal judge found that law was enacted for racist intentions by Republicans who were politically motivated and permanently blocked it after a seven-year court battle.

Horne himself brought up the issue, after he was asked about his views on “critical race theory” a hot-button topic for Republicans even though it is not taught in K-12 schools.

“Critical race theory is the opposite of what I believe, and what I believe is the American ideal,” Horne said. “And that is that we’re all individuals. We’re all brothers and sister under the skin, we’re all entitled to be judged as individuals, and race is irrelevant.

“In critical race theory. They teach kids that race is primary,” Horne said. “And they create a tension between groups.”

Hoffman slammed Horne for the response, saying it was part of political “culture wars” pushed by Republicans.

“I think this is a classic from Mr. Horne just as it was an issue back … when he advocated for the ban in Tucson,” she said. “This is an attack on our public school system.

“That’s exactly what I’m hearing again here today from Mr. Horne, is something that’s racially and politically motivated that’s meant to create distrust between families in our public schools,” she said.

The two also sparred over a link on the superintendent’s website that directs LGBTQ students to a chat recommended by the CDC and national mental health groups.

Horne called “Q-chat” an unmoderated site that bypasses parents that features unlicensed counselors. He said students’ personal data might be leaked to predators.

“This is, I think, outrageous to have the parents not playing a role there,” Horne said. “They don’t know that the kids are engaging in this Q-chat with these adults.

Hoffman said Horne was just seeking political points and said that the site is for youth that “far too often are facing hate in the world.”

“This is a resource, again, recommended by the CDC that is meant to support our students,” she said. “These attacks are political and baseless.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Follow @KTAR923...

Tempe Festival of the Arts returning this weekend to Mill Avenue

A decades-long tradition is returning to Tempe this weekend to bring together the community, art and food.

2 hours ago

Casa Grande police...

2 teenagers arrested for murder at Casa Grande house party

The Casa Grande police department arrested two teenage boys in connection with the death of 17-year-old Hailey Stephens.

3 hours ago

Follow @KTAR923...

Police, family seek answers after 22-year-old Tempe woman found dead in burning car

The family of a 22-year-old Tempe woman who was found dead in a burning car is still seeking answers seven months after her murder.

6 hours ago

A 1-year-old girl is in critical condition after being pulled from a backyard pool on Tuesday after...

1-year-old girl in critical condition after being pulled from pool in Phoenix

A 1-year-old girl is in critical condition after being pulled from a backyard pool on Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.

7 hours ago

Valley Metro saw a nearly 40% increase in light rail ridership the three days the D-backs hosted Wo...

Valley Metro saw boom in light rail ridership with D-backs in World Series

Valley Metro saw a nearly 40% increase in light rail ridership the three days the D-backs hosted World Series games.

7 hours ago

Keith Taylor mugshot...

Man accused of fleeing scene of fatal hit-and-run in south Chandler

A man was arrested Monday after allegedly fleeing the scene of a fatal hit-and-run in south Chandler.

8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(KTAR News Graphic)...

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.


Desert Institute for Spine Care

Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) wants to help Valley residents address back, neck issues through awake spine surgery

As the weather begins to change, those with back issues can no longer rely on the dry heat to aid their backs. That's where DISC comes in.



Importance of AC maintenance after Arizona’s excruciating heat wave

An air conditioning unit in Phoenix is vital to living a comfortable life inside, away from triple-digit heat.

Candidates for top Arizona K-12 schools post spar in debate