Vote 2014: Superintendent of Public Instruction Republicans’ Debate

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Republican candidates running for Superintendent of Public Instruction will debate issues relevant to the superintendent’s office.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to this special "Vote 2014" edition of "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Tonight's show is a debate sponsored by Clean Elections. We will hear from candidates competing in the Republican primary for state Superintendent of Public Instruction. As with all of "Arizona Horizon's" debates, this is not a formal exercise. It's an open exchange of ideas. An opportunity for give and take between candidates for one of the state's most important offices. As such, interjections and even interruptions are allowed, provided that all sides get a fair shake. We'll do our best to ensure that that happens. The state Superintendent of Public Instruction oversees all of Arizona's public schools, including charter schools. The Republican primary features two candidates. They are in alphabetical order, former Peoria School Board member and president, Diane Douglas; and the current Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. Each candidate will have one minute for opening and closing statements. Earlier we drew numbers to see who goes first, and that honor goes to John Huppenthal.

John Huppenthal: Thanks. Hello, my name is John Huppenthal. I'm Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction. I'm here today because a public schoolteacher changed my life. Not only did he inspire me to graduate from college, he set the expectation that I would succeed. My team at the department of education's mission is to support all of the great public school teachers across Arizona, teachers changing students' lives every single day. We support these great teachers by reducing bureaucracy and returning that money to our schools and to ourclassrooms. And by improving their schools through accountability. With your help, we will continue to empower all of our students to learn to read by first grade, to learn America's exceptional history, and to succeed in college, career and life by learning to read, write and speak English proficiently. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Alright, thank you very much. For our next opening statement, we turn to Diane Douglas.

Diane Douglas: Hi, I'm Diane Douglas. I'm a candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction. My husband and I chose Arizona many years ago to raise and educate our daughter here. As all mothers, when she enrolled in school, I began helping at her school, PTAs, things like that, bake sales. But it brought a desire to me to understand education, to make sure that she got the best education possible, and to ensure that I could understand. And I began studying the American education system. What did our founding fathers intend? How did we become the education system that was the envy of the world, and how have we lost sight of that? And how have we lost track of that for your children. When she got ready to graduate high school, instead of going back to my former field as a financial analyst, I ran for the Peoria School Board and proudly served that community for eight years and two years as the board President. I'm the only Republican candidate opposed to the federal Common Core mandate.

Ted Simons: Alright, thank you both very much. Let's get it started. Superintendent Huppenthal, you were on this program and you have apologized and repudiated anonymous online blog statements. That being said, considering the nature of those statements, why should Republican primary voters return you to this office?

John Huppenthal: Ted, I know those comments are important to you. But when I go out into the community and talk to people, what they are interested in is how we're moving education forward. And we have amassed the phenomenal track record over the last three and a half years. We've done a tremendous reduction in bureaucracy by going through all of the systems in Arizona and carving out all of the paperwork in it. Let me give you an example. Fred Garnett from the Yarnell School District, I had a conversation with him last week. We've been following the challenges he has with the Yarnell fire. And he told me about a report that took him 4 and a half months in prior years. With our help at the Department of Education, and with our computerization and our assistance being customer service friendly, that went from four and a half months to four and a half hours. He is euphoric about what we have been able to do to reduce bureaucracy and return money to the classroom, and free up his time to get back into the classroom.

Ted Simons: Apologies and repudiations for those statements good enough for you as a Republican voter?

Diane Douglas: Absolutely not. I don't know how one repudiates their own statement and makes comments that it was not in their mind and in their heart. Clearly, if he made the statements, he must stand behind them. I would ensure people as Superintendent of Public Instruction I will not allow my staff and my employees to treat Arizona employees, especially school employees, schoolteachers, as disrespectfully as has been done. We will have a Department of Education that will run with pride and will respect the parents of this community.

John Huppenthal: Well, hold on. The -- our founding fathers, we went back and we looked at pseudonyms that they were using. There were over 32 pseudonyms our founding fathers used, and they were very vociferous. There is a track record for pseudonyms in the process. Occasionally, my language got a little bit tough, and I've apologized for that and I've sought counsel about it, but guess what? There are a lot of avenues for getting facts into the public discourse. I've repudiated those statements that were too harsh, harshly stated, but public discourse and freedom of speech is a part of our traditions going all the way back to the founding fathers. And a whole lot of avenues were involved in getting that forward. But having said that, the real reason we're here is to run a Department of Education with 500 employees. And we've done a spectacular job of doing that. That's the real mission.

Diane Douglas: Before that goes on, absolutely we have a right under our Constitution for free speech. But we certainly don't have a right to allow our employees to impugn the reputation of other fellow state employees or local School District employees, and certainly none of that should have been going on under taxpayer time with taxpayer resources as clearly appears to be the case.

John Huppenthal: Well, let's talk. My opponent is confusing two separate issues. We had an outside teacher come in and was a part of a program, that's what my opponent is referring to. We were responsible to revealing a very important test that's being developed with hundreds of millions of dollars. There were some contentions in there that got difficult. In an internal email, one of my employees went a little bit overboard. That's a separate issue from the online blogging posts. But the bottom line is here over the last three and a half years I've run a Department of Education where my excellent ratings by superintendents and school boards and teachers have gone up 22 points of excellence. That's what really matters to the voters and to Republican primary voters.

Ted Simons: That's what really matters as opposed to any online blogging anonymous postings.

Diane Douglas: Well, we're talking about two different things, we're talking about online blogging done at the Department of Education by the top education official. And we're also talking about not just one employee who went too far. We're talking about records showing that employees are blackballing teachers who don't go along with the status quo. I thought also in America we respected debate.

Ted Simons: Alright, you were just referring to Common Core here? Is that what you're referring to?

Diane Douglas: That's what this particular teacher was opposed to.

Ted Simons: Might as well get into Common Core right now. You think it's a good idea, you don't. Let's start with you. You've said Common Core is to education what the Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act is to health care.

Ted Simons: You just stole my line!

Ted Simons: I'm sorry about that, but I want you to explain it.

Diane Douglas: It is top down government control of our education system. The Constitution allows the federal government to do what it is delegated to in our Constitution. Education is nowhere in our constitution. And that can't be allowed. These standards were snuck in virtually in the dead of night with no public debate. Nowhere in the Common Core debate do you hear the word "parents" being involved. Parents are the number one caretaker of their children and most responsible for their education. And yet, we've locked moms right out of the loop.

Ted Simons: Standards stuck in. Locked out moms.

John Huppenthal: My opponent talks about being conservative and being opposed to the federal government. Yet, as school board president, her school district applied for $32 million in Obama stimulus money with all of the strings attached and brought in $32 million worth of that money. My opponent says she wants to stop Common Core across the state. she can't even stop it in her own school district.

Diane Douglas: In May of 2010, I believe I'm the only School Board member in Arizona who made a motion that our district not participate in the Race to the Top grant funding. That motion was seconded. Unfortunately, we only had two conservative Republicans on the board.

Ted Simons: Let's go back to the idea --

John Huppenthal: Well, no let's --
Ted Simons: But let's respond to what she said originally, that this was snuck in with no parental involvement at all. How do you respond to that?

John Huppenthal: Well Ted, it is in place, it wasn't put in place on my watch, but it is in place. And the bottom line is my opponent keeps saying she's a conservative. Well, let me give you some examples --

Diane Douglas: Wait just a minute, wait a minute, just one minute.

John Huppenthal: Republican primary voters -

Diane Douglas: Wait just a minute --

Ted Simons: Hold off, I'm trying to keep this on the idea that the thing was snuck in without parental -- please.

Diane Douglas: I want to respond to, not on his watch.

Ted Simons: Okay.

Diane Douglas: Here is a letter Mr. Huppenthal wrote when he was in the state Senate, when he was running for this position, and he wrote it to Governor Brewer, and he says Race to the Top's application provides an excellent opportunity and he will absolutely support it. So whether it was snuck in before his watch or not, it was his signature that was on the application that brought the money to this state.

John Huppenthal: The Race to the Top and the standards were two separate issues. Now, my opponent completely goes on to talk about being a conservative. Yet, I'm the only candidate in this race that has a reputation and a track record of fighting the federal government and defeating them. That took place on the Tucson Unified toxic ethnic studies program. I took them on in state court and defeated them. I took them on in federal court and defeated them and I'm continuing to defeat that program. The illegal immigrants crossing the border and attending Arizona schools at taxpayer expense, we've put an end to that. And we've returned over a million dollars of taxpayer money to Arizona taxpayers.

Ted Simons: The idea that President Obama wants to control education through Common Core, and that you support the President's invasion of Arizona children's education. Those are claims. How do you respond?

John Huppenthal: I categorically reject that. Now, the definition of Common Core, there's two definitions out there. One definition is that it's a repudiation of our founding fathers and America's great history. It's a one-sided debate on the climate change issue and that these are low standards that don't prepare students for engineering and science degrees. I categorically reject Common Core on those terms.

Ted Simons: Please.

John Huppenthal: And there's nothing about the standards that we've adopted that have any of that in it. In fact, the standards that we've adopted, teaching phonics to reading, knowing your multiplication tables by third grade, being able to write a sentence, a paragraph and a research paper. These are standards that conservatives have fought for, for 20 years.

Ted Simons: What's wrong with those standards?

Diane Douglas: The Common Core standards have not been tested. They were not implemented anywhere on a small scale to prove that they do anything that the apologists claim. Phonics reading instruction has been the law of the land in Arizona for over 10 years. It was passed by Representative Karen Johnson. That's what our schools should have been doing. If they weren't doing it, I would say the leadership allowed it to not happen. I'd like to also respond to this --

John Huppenthal: Let's go back. Let's go back to -

Diane Douglas: I like to respond to the fighting federal government --

Ted Simons: Let him respond to that, and we will get right to it.

John Huppenthal: Let's go back to 1996, where I ran a summer program, all summer long bringing in the very best research on how to teach reading. Karen Johnson was a part of my task force. Both she and Linda Gray passed legislation making phonics the law of the land. But guess what? That consensus did not exist out in the education community. There was something called whole language. With these standards that we have in place, there's now an absolutely conservative victory that we are teaching reading through phonics. It's one thing to have a law. There's another thing to have a national consensus. This is a huge conservative victory, that's the standard I support.

Ted Simons: Okay. Back to the idea of a federal government moving in here and telling people what to do.

Diane Douglas: Well, let's talk first about fighting the federal government, as Mr. Huppenthal said. I believe with our English language learners there have been multiple instances of the federal government very recently coming in and telling us what we must do. We had to go from a former vetting, if you will, where three questions were asked and our previous superintendent removed it. So basically the question for English language learning was, does this child, is there primary language English. And then even now we ask three questions at the federal government's demand. And one of them is if a foreign language is spoken in the home, even if a child speaks perfect English.

John Huppenthal: We have to go to this issue. [talking at once]

Diane Douglas: The federal government when they mandated from the office of civil rights that we have English language teachers who don't have to be proficient in English.

Ted Simons: Is your argument that the federal government has no say, period, regardless of what the federal government is saying?

Diane Douglas: The federal government has no role in local education whatsoever. They are using our money to coerce us to do things.

Ted Simons: Please.

John Huppenthal: Well, let's go to our spectacularly successful English For All Children program. It is one of the huge success stories in education across America. And we have been able -- we have an onslaught of all the universities across southwestern United States attacking that program. I was to keep in place. I was able to defeat the federal government on this, that we have an absolute requirement, and I'm the only candidate that supports that absolute requirement that students learn to read, speak and write English before they move into our regular classrooms. That requirement, along with the training that I've put in place, has resulted in spectacular success. English language learners have gone from 157,000. We are now down to less than 80,000 learners. One of the highest movement rates of achievement in the nation, moving these students into regular classes. There's on-going skirmishes with the federal government. I have defeated them in those skirmishes and we have that requirement in place in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Common Core. You called Common Core opponents at one time barbarians at the gate. What did you mean by that?

John Huppenthal: Well Ted, I was referring to Indiana. Everybody was saying Indiana got rid of Common Core. No such thing. What Indiana did was create a mess of their education standards. What I have done is gone across Arizona to every Tea Party, every conservative group and said, look, we have to deal with Common Core and get a conservative outcome and do that intelligently, not barbarically. I've asked them to raise the ante, to think about this through, to think this through, and to make sure when we make our revisions that we do so in a way that doesn't damage Arizona's education system the way Indiana did.

Ted Simons: Okay. Respond, please.

Diane Douglas: The last I checked Indianans don't live here in Arizona. And Mr. Huppenthal said he would fight off the barbarians at our gate. That means Arizonans. That means Arizonan parents and Arizonan teachers. What Common Core does, we can't raise the standards because they are copyrighted. They are controlled by an organization outside of Arizona. So we can't add to them. We just -- we have to get our classroom teachers back in control of their classrooms. Where education is really its best and where education really works is when it's the classroom teacher one on one with those children, not when they are looking at reams of paper from the Department of Education.

John Huppenthal: To just go to the issues of the standards, we need to deal with this situation very intelligently. We have a large number very, very concerned about our standards. We don't want to do what Indiana did. We don't want to do what Louisiana's doing. And we don't want to do what Florida is doing.

Diane Douglas: Back out of Common Core -

John Huppenthal: I'm going to partner with the next governor and very systematically do a review of these standards to make sure we keep all of our conservative gains and address any issues that conservatives have with these standards. I've spent hundreds of hours going through all of the objections to these standards to try and say, how do we steer this process through in a way that doesn't damage Arizona's education system and our conservative values are intact.

Ted Simons: Last word on this, on Common Core.

Diane Douglas: We can't do that, we don't own the right. Our standards were written in Arizona. They were written by Arizona teachers with tons of input from Arizona parents. And we could change them and strengthen them. We had a track record of doing that over 20 years. Common Core is owned by someone else. We have to get 40-some other states to agree to any change. That's not what Arizona moms and dads want for their children. That's not what teachers want in their classrooms.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the office, responsibilities of the office. You were involved in some robo-calls promoting free tuition to private schools. Why were you involved with that?

John Huppenthal: Well, I've been a passionate advocate for school choice for over 20 years. I was the deciding vote to bring charter schools to Arizona. I was named one of the three most responsible for bringing tuition tax credits to Arizona. And I believe the empowerment scholarship account is going to be one of our more important school choice initiatives. We have over 70% of those students are special needs students. Across the nation, there are hundreds of millions in lawsuits between special ed parents and their schools, full out combat. These lawsuits destroy the principles, destroy the teacher, result in animosity. In Arizona, we have only two of these level one lawsuits. Pennsylvania, for example, has 65. We empower parents through a scholarship, not through a lawyer.

Ted Simons: Is it appropriate for a state's Public Schools chief to be robo-calling in promotion of private schools?

John Huppenthal: Well, there are some decisions you would take back. I would take back that one. But I am a full scale advocate of letting every parent know of that opportunity, but not in that way. We will use more appropriate venues and we would move forward publicizing that choice.

Ted Simons: Is that something you would get involved in?

Diane Douglas: It seems like Mr. Huppenthal always wants to un-ring the bell after he's done it. Certainly, I am an advocate for school choice. I believe God gives children to parents and they absolutely have to guide their upbringing and make all of their educational choices. However, there is a difference between advocating from the public superintendent's office for a private school to get your name into 16,000 households.

Ted Simons: You had both mentioned school choice and you both liked the idea, Arizona is a leader in school choice. We've been a leader in school choice for quite a while. Why aren't our results any better?

John Huppenthal: Well, Ted, there are a number of successes we can look at. I had a discussion with Milton Friedman, sort of the godfather of school choice in the nation in the 90s. And I said, we would first see the improvements in social indicators before we saw it in academic indicators. Very deep analysis as to what fundamentally was going on, and we are seeing that in Arizona. We have had a stunning reduction in juvenile crime, juvenile arrests, juvenile violent crime, thefts of automobiles by juveniles, and it's been highly correlated, and there's more scholarship on this issue. Now we believe in the next decade we'll start to see the dividends in academics. But we've seen dividends in academics too. We have a number of schools in the top 50 in the nation in terms of the quality of their academics.

Ted Simons: Why aren't we seeing better academics? It's one thing to say crime is down, but as far as academics. School choice has been around for a while. Why aren't we seeing better results?

Diane Douglas: I believe we are seeing better results in certain areas. But when we look at some of the crazy things that we're allowing to come out of our colleges of education, where we refuse to teach our children basics like phonemic reading instruction, we teach them what I call cockamamie schemes to do mathematics and just confuse them at an early age and put in inappropriate learning methods when we know what works. English has not changed in eons. We add some words from time to time, but math has not changed in eons. We're dealing with human beings. What Common Core is trying to do is stuff them into a little box where parents don't want them. We need to have all kinds of responses for all kinds of students.

Ted Simons: Teacher retention, teacher attraction, how do you keep them, how do you attract them?

John Huppenthal: Well, we're going to have an opportunity now with the settlement of the lawsuit. There's been quite a bit of money coming in; it's a certainty now. The exact amount remains to be decided, and we're going to be very active in determining that. But number one, you raise starting teacher salaries. I'm a strong a strong believer in local control, but we're going to tell local school districts that we need to improve starting teachers' salaries as well as average teacher salaries. We need to increase supplies in the classroom and finally, we need more career and technical education. We need to restore that career and technical education funding that was cut during the downturn. So we are going to be passionate advocates across that spectrum, particularly for supplies in the classroom for our teachers.

Ted Simons: Attracting and retaining teachers. How best to do it?

Diane Douglas: Well, we don't know it will be guarantee we will get extra money from this court case that came out. The legislature may choose to appeal that decision. We are sitting on a fortune in state land trust funding. In 100 years, I believe we sold about 10% of the land in the state land trust. If we put that money to work for our children and we sold some of that land or leased the land and put that money into our schools, as was intended, we would be able to compensate our teachers appropriately. And that's also a local decision. I don't want to take any more decisions. I don't want the Department of Ed to be as bad as Obama's Federal department of Ed mandating everything. That's why we have locally elected school boards.

Ted Simons: As bad as President Obama.

John Huppenthal: Well, our land trust moneys are all dedicated. There's a steady stream of money moving into education. One hundred percent of that money moves into education. At the Department of Education, if you go around the state and talk to superintendents, Fred Garnett up at Yarnell School District, if you talk to any number of superintendents, what they will tell you is we have been doing an excellent job of improving, reducing bureaucracy and improving our customer service. Our customer service ratings, and we get 2,000 surveys back from superintendents through teachers, have gone up over 22 points of excellent since I started. That's a huge improvement.

Ted Simons: You started the debate by mentioning the anonymous blog comments. It overshadowed a lot of things in this race. Can you look at achievements and accomplishments from the office and get past that particular controversy?

Diane Douglas: I believe that citizens have to have respect for their elected officials. We see this problem at all levels where we think we have a ruling class rather than a Representative republic anymore. And I don't see how you get past having so little respect for the people you represent, in my opinion.

Ted Simons: I've asked you this question before. How do you get low-income Latino families, school children, teachers, etc? Some of the comments that were written, we've gone over all that. However, how do you get their trust regained as overseeing what they do?

John Huppenthal: Well Ted, just within the last two weeks, I have a huge math program that I've been heavily involved in down in the south side of Tucson, the poorest, most impoverished neighborhoods. They are completely aware of this background and yet they know what I'm bringing to the table, that I'm bringing to the table all that effort to rescue students in poverty. And they embraced my math program there. they could have treated me with a cold shoulder. They embraced me, they told everybody there it was my math program that they were ringing in and talking about all the spectacular results we've been getting. That's what really counts.

Ted Simons: I think a lot of Republican voters were interested in hearing what Superintendent Huppenthal had to say about those blogs. I think a lot of Republican voters are interested in you in the sense that are you a single issue candidate. Is it Common Core, alpha and omega?

Diane Douglas: Common Core is not a single issue. Common Core is the issue of education. It's not actually Common Core; it's the Race to the Top agreement we have with the federal government. It tells us what we must teach and how we must test our children, which will control curriculum. It tells us how we must evaluate and compensate our teachers. It tells us how we must grade our schools, and it has a data collection system on children that rivals communist Chinese.

Ted Simons: We gave to stop it right there. Each candidate will now give a one-minute closing statement. Going in reverse order of the opening remarks, we start with Diane Douglas.

Diane Douglas: I'm Diane Douglas, and I'm asking for your vote in the Republican primary. I am the only pro-life, pro-family Republican candidate who's opposed to Common Core and wants to put control of your child's education back in your hands. You know what's best for your children, and you know that your children's education will be absolutely the best when it's your child's teacher and your child working in that classroom, interacting. Not being told by the federal government, not being told by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. or even in the center of Phoenix what's best for your child. I'm Diane Douglas, and I'm asking for your vote. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Thank you very much. John Huppenthal now with his closing remarks.

John Huppenthal: Thank you, Ted. We've talked about improving our schools today, now let's talk about protecting them. As superintendent I've safeguarded our schools from Obama's liberal agenda. I'm the only candidate with the track record and ability to deal with the Common Core issues. I stopped illegal immigrants from crossing Arizona's border and attending our schools at taxpayers' expense, returning over $1 million to Arizona taxpayers. I've defeated TOSD's toxic ethnic studies program, which indoctrinated students to resent America, and I defeated that program in state court, in federal court and I continue to defeat that program. And I safeguarded Arizona's hugely successful English For All Students program, structured English immersion from federal overreach. In Arizona, we retained the requirement that all students learn English before they join our regular classrooms. With your vote, I will continue to defeat Obama's liberal education agenda and protect Arizona's students. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Alright, and thank you, candidates. Thank you for watching this special "Vote 2014" Clean Elections debate featuring the Republican candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction. "Arizona Horizon's" next debate will be Thursday, that's July 17th, when we'll hear from Democrats running for congressional district 7. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us, and you have a great evening.

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