Education News

Whether elected or appointed, state superintendents have real power over schools

In April, 75,000 educators in Arizona, following the lead of their counterparts in West Virginia and Oklahoma, took to the streets for six days to demand lawmakers reinvest in the state’s cash-starved schools.

One of those marchers was Kathy Hoffman, a speech therapist at Sahuaro Elementary School in the Peoria Unified School District. In addition to her growing frustration at the endless parade of non-educators in elected office making decisions for students and educators, Hoffman’s political activism was fueled by the sight of Betsy DeVos stumbling over a question about students with disabilities at her 2017 confirmation hearing and the decision by outgoing Superintendent for Public Instruction Diane Douglas to salvage the state’s ethnic studies ban despite a federal judge’s ruling that it was unconstitutional.

A mere six months later, Hoffman is now the Democratic nominee to replace Douglas. Her opponent is Frank Riggs, a former member of Congress and charter school executive. For Arizona voters, the choice in November couldn’t be starker.

If Hoffman is victorious, Arizona schools can expect her to be a vocal and impassioned advocate for public schools, students and educators.

“My priorities would include advocating for fully-funded and inclusive schools,” Hoffman said in a candidate statement. “In order to create a more equitable education system in Arizona, I believe our schools need to improve the graduation rates of bilingual students, expand career and technical education programs, prioritize special education, and welcome the LGBTQ community. I’m passionate about creating public policy that ensures that all students in Arizona succeed no matter their background.”

Hoffman, a member of the Arizona Education Association, is one of 1,600 educator candidates running for political office in 2018, all part of a potential #RedforEd wave that could transform education policy across the nation.

In 37 states, school superintendent is an appointed position, so voters essentially choose the individual when they select their choice for governor. Superintendent is elected directly by the voters in the remaining 13 states.

In addition to Arizona, six states – California, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming – have the office on their ballots in 2018. (South Carolina residents will also vote on an amendment that will take the decision away from the voters and turn it over the governor.)

These contests are generating more interest this year thanks to the RedforEd movement’s success in spotlighting the plight of the nation’s schools and the obviously critical role this office plays in implementing education policies.

In Idaho, social studies teacher and member of the Idaho Education Association Cindy Wilson is taking on incumbent superintendent Sherry Ybarra. In addition to her more than 30 years in the classroom, Wilson beings to the table impressive credentials. She served on Governor Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education, and was also appointed to serve on the Board of Corrections, where she was a vocal advocate of education having a more prominent role in the correctional system.

This week, The Idaho Statesman, the state’s largest newspaper, endorsed Wilson:

“Wilson’s priority is to increase literacy by the third grade and invest state funds in preschool and early childhood learning. State support for these things is critical in reaching the goal of universal literacy by the third grade. We believe she could provide the necessary leadership to make that happen. We also believe that she would bring new dimensions to public education via her experience in working with the state correctional system and her understanding of the connection between good health and education.”

Perhaps the most closely-watched school superintendent contest is in California, between state assemblyman Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck, the former president of charter chain Green Dot Public Schools who also led Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s attempt to take over Los Angeles Unified School District.

The California Teachers Association (CTA) is strongly supporting Thurmond, the “only candidate with the proven experience to do the job, the record of advocacy for all students, and the wisdom to listen to educators about what works in our classrooms,” said CTA President Eric Heins.

The five statewide Teachers of the Year for 2018 have also lined up behind Thurmond.

“Tony Thurmond is an ambassador for public education with an emphasis on supporting all students and teachers,” said Erin Oxhorn-Gilpin, a second- and third-grade in Los Angeles. “He looks at the whole child with a profound understanding of their needs that extend beyond their education and school day.”

Thurmond, if elected, is clear about his top priority: “Fighting for education starts with opposing President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ agenda, which threatens to defund our public schools.”

Find out which races matter most to students and educators in your state. Download your customized list of endorsed candidates today!

By Timothy Walker

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