Six tell how they would improve Arizona schools

Depending on the path you want Arizona education to take, clear options were offered by the six candidates for state superintendent of public instruction at a forum last night.

Providing vouchers and getting government out of education are the goals of Libertarian John C. Zajac.

He said he’d find a way for the state to give parents about $6,000 a year per student to send their children to whichever school they choose. If it’s strong, no-nonsense discipline you’re after, Republican Tom Horne is an advocate for that.

A Phoenix-area Paradise Valley Unified School District governing board member, Horne said before he got on the board that the district expelled two or three students a year. When he became a board member, it went up to about 60 a year.

“Students interfering with other students’ learning would not be tolerated, and I think that has affected student achievement,” said Horne, an attorney.

Horne and Zajac, a producer and director of radio and TV commercials, don’t want bilingual education. Both are sons of Polish immigrants and say English immersion is the way to go.

If you think AIMS stands for “Arizona’s Instrument for Messing up the Schools,” not Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards, you’re on the same wavelength as Democrat Jay Blanchard, a state senator and Arizona State University educational psychology professor.

“Voters told us they wanted the Stanford 9 test,” he said. “We should have one week of that testing, and then the state should stay the hell out of teaching.”

If you want a candidate who thinks he has a good working relationship with the state Legislature, Keith Bee and the incumbent, Jaime Molera, say they fall into that category.

Republican Bee, a charter bus company owner, said his 10 years in the state House and Senate will enable him to get things done.

Republican Molera points to his successes in getting the legislature to pass Arizona LEARNS and Arizona READS, and in keeping lawmakers from cutting the education budget.

Bee said he is a “bottom-line” person who thinks money for education must get inside the classroom.

Molera wants every student in the state to be able to read by the third grade and has said since the day he took office 15 months ago that every child should get a high-quality education, no matter where he lives or what his economic status is.

Rod Rich said he is the clear choice for those who want a professional educator.

A junior high principal from Mesa, Rich said the state’s top education chief needs to be someone who has been in the classroom, not a politician.

Blanchard, however, said he is the only currently certified classroom teacher in the candidate pool.

Rich is an advocate for “veteran, qualified teachers” in every classroom and laments that state policies have “taken the heart out of teachers.”

The challengers all said they want smaller classes, but had different ways to get there.

The event was sponsored by the Metropolitan Education Association, Voices for Education and the League of Women Voters of Greater Tucson. About 130 people attended the 90-minute forum at the Berger Center for the Arts at the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

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