by Brian Washington
Take Action ›
Pledge to stand up for students in Election 2018. Click here ›
Educators love gubernatorial candidates with a background connected to our public schools. It increases the likelihood that they understand public education and what it takes for students to be successful. One such candidate is seeking the state’s highest office in Arizona. Dr. David Garcia, who served as Arizona’s Associate Superintendent of Public Instruction for Standards and Accountability, is trying to unseat the state’s current governor, Doug Ducey, a big supporter of private school vouchers and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Education Votes recently talked with Garcia about the education issues shaping his campaign.
EV: Vouchers are syphoning away hundreds of millions of dollars from Arizona’s public schools. How have vouchers affected the education of students in our public schools?
DG: I announced my candidacy for governor in the wake of the largest voucher expansion in the country. This was an idea pushed by folks outside Arizona including The American Federation for Children and Betsy DeVos. No one in Arizona was asking for these vouchers. DeVos’ and Doug Ducey’s voucher program will harm our public schools by forcing taxpayers to fund two school systems, when we are not even able to support one currently. Our per pupil spending and teacher pay rank last or close to last among all states. These vouchers siphon precious public dollars away from public education and into unaccountable private and religious schools that are not required to meet basic state standards around student achievement and are allowed to pick and choose who they enroll. I opposes these harmful, unaccountable, and discriminatory vouchers in any shape, form or disguise and, when elected, I will fight to end all voucher schemes.
EV: What do you see as the biggest threat to Arizona’s public schools?
DG: The way we are treating our teachers and support staff in schools is unacceptable and unsustainable. Arizona ranks last in teacher pay and we have a teacher shortage crisis where over 2,000 teaching positions remain open and another nearly 3,500 positions were filled by folks untrained as teachers. Teachers deserve our respect and should be treated as professionals. That means raising teacher salaries, ending the addiction to standardized testing and shrinking classroom size.
Arizona teachers are the lowest paid in the country and teachers are forced to leave the profession because they cannot support a family on their stagnant, below average wages. Teachers are also leaving the classroom in historic numbers because for decades in Arizona we have stopped treating them as professionals.
We need to give teachers a real raise and bring teacher pay to national parity. Likewise, we must give teachers professional autonomy and the freedom to actually teach. They must be freed up from overly prescriptive rubrics and evaluation instruments that stifle creativity, innovation and individualization. Standardized tests have come to dominate instruction and these test-based evaluation instruments are being overly relied upon for high-stakes decision making. We must stop the over-reliance on standardized testing so rote teaching to the test will be a thing of the past. Instead, we must find more robust and comprehensive ways to evaluate teaching and learning.
Class sizes have likewise increased due to the funding crisis and this has contributed to teachers leaving the classroom. To keep our best educators, we must give schools the resources necessary to hire more teachers with the goal of substantially reducing average classroom size.
EV: Arizona educators say they want to be treated with respect and as professionals. What does that mean to you? What is your plan to make this happen?
DG: We currently treat teachers as if they are a kind of education missionary. This is wrong and makes teaching unsustainable as a profession. To fix this, we must do two things: 1) we must pay teachers as professionals and 2) we must let our teachers teach. Currently, our state is ranked last in the nation in elementary teacher pay and 48th in high school teacher pay. The state’s treatment of its educators has led to an exodus of teachers from the public school system, leaving over 2,000 classrooms currently without a teacher. Educators are forced to take second jobs or make tough choices at home to make ends meet. To put teacher’s pay into perspective, an educator who began teaching in Arizona public schools 10 years ago has not seen her income increase, while the cost of a loaf of bread has increased by 17%.
But teachers are also leaving the classroom because we do not grant them the autonomy to teach and teach creatively. Rote and tired overemphasis on standardized testing has made teaching and learning dull and monotonous. We must break our addiction to standardized testing and finally allow our teachers to teach.
EV: Do you support arming educators to cut down on gun violence in our public schools?
DG: No. Discussions about gun violence prevention and school safety must begin with a serious conversation about the investments necessary to make schools safer, including the addition of school counselors, adequate support services, and smaller class sizes. Gun violence prevention must also include gun safety measures, including universal background checks, adding domestic violence offenders to the list of prohibited possessors, injunctions for seriously mentally ill possessors that protect their rights and safety, and an assault weapons ban. Our school counselors carry a caseload that is untenable in Arizona, with 924 students for every one counselor. This reflects a dramatic increase over the last decade, and puts us nearly four times higher than the national benchmark of 250:1.
EV: What is your vision for public education and the role it plays in the state’s future?
DG: I am where I am today because my parents worked hard every day and because they had a good public school to send me to. Public education is the great equalizer. It allows kids like to me to achieve their dreams. My vision for public education is one that is inclusive of ALL our students, respects teachers as professionals and allows us to teach each student in a way that helps them reach their full potential. Investments in human capital through public education from pre-K all the way through college is the single best thing we can do to create stable families and grow our economy. Leading to the upward mobility we’ve lacked in this country and to a job market that promotes real careers not just poverty jobs.
My plan is to focus on ALL students, not just the fortunate few. In Arizona, we need to reinvent Career & Technical education, reform English Language Learning, respond to the needs of Special Education students, and reimagine Gifted and Talented education programs.
EV: If elected, how will your experience as an educator help you as governor?
DG: I know what it means to love teaching. What we do is one of the least temporary things you could commit your life to. Teaching lives on for generations and can have untold impacts beyond the classroom. I believe in public schools. They are this country’s greatest invention.
And as a teacher but also a public school parent I’m committed to doing what’s right for kids, families, teachers, support staff, and our schools. I know what it takes to create excellent public schools. I was the first in my family to attend college, ultimately earning my PhD from the University of Chicago. I went from a kid from the neighborhood to attending one of the premier educational institutions in the world because strong public schools were there to support me.
I came back home to invest in Arizona public education and have spent my career serving and fighting for our school system as a legislative policy analyst, the state’s Associate Superintendent and now as a professor at Arizona State University training the next generation of educators.
I’m not running to be the education governor. I’m running because kids, families, teachers, support staff and schools deserve a Governor that’s an educator. A Governor that understands the crisis we’re in and has a plan to fix it. That’s me.