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Arizona Superintendent Race Pits Newcomer, Educator Against Established Lawmaker
Arizona is one of 13 states that still elects a Superintendent of Public Instruction, according to the non-partisan resource Ballotpedia.
The job is largely administrative. The superintendent oversees Arizona’s Department of Education, which distributes billions of dollars in state and federal funding to schools each year, and helps roll out policy created by lawmakers and adopted by the State Board of Education, on which the Superintendent fills one of 11 seats.
Though the superintendent can’t create laws, they can influence public opinion and policy.
In most states, 37, the governor or state Board of Education appoints the superintendents.
“Many states require that the superintendent have a teaching certificate and there are some states which also require a doctoral degree,” said David Luchs, a writer for Ballotpedia.
In Arizona, the Constitution says the officeholder must be 25 or older, a U.S. citizen of a decade or more and a state resident of at least five years.
Incumbent Superintendent Diane Douglas lost her re-election bid to Frank Riggs in the five-way Republican primary.
Riggs is a former U.S. Congressman from California. He believes growing the economy can bring more money to K-12 education.
“Critical though is for the business community step up and to have more skin in the game,” Riggs said in an Oct. 2 debate hosted by KJZZ.
Riggs said his inspiration for getting involved in education came when he worked as a police officer with juvenile offenders.
“Especially to work with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable segments of the student population,” Riggs said.
Riggs was recently sighted at the Oct. 22 State Board of Education meeting and says recent substitute teaching has has given him more respect for the profession.
The Arizona Republic reported Riggs was also a charter school development executive whose company made millions providing loans to charter schools.
In his comments at the debate he was supportive of Gov. Doug Ducey’s tenure as governor and looked forward to working with him and across the aisle.
“Even though we run for this office as partisans — I will have a ready ear and an open door at all times,” Riggs said.
The Democratic candidate is Kathy Hoffman, a former Arizona teacher and speech therapist who stresses her experience in the classroom.
“What teachers know is that it’s one thing to write the policy and it’s another thing to live it,” Hoffman said at the Oct. 2 debate.
She won the Democratic primary over former Tempe City Councilman and state legislator David Schapira.
Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as the United States Secretary of Education spurred Hoffman to run for office, she said.
Hoffman supported the idea of increasing Arizona’s income tax to fund education through the Invest In Ed initiative.
“Now that it’s off the ballot, I look forward to meeting with our legislators, meeting with our governor, having a conversation [and] bringing in more business leaders,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman says rectifying thousands of Arizona teacher vacancies is a high priority.
“The issue is not a shortage of teachers with their certificates,” Hoffman said. “The issue is we have not made teaching an attractive place to work and we’re not doing everything we can to lessen their workload.”
A recent survey from the Arizona School Personnel Administrative Association found the state’s teacher shortage is in its fourth year.
Whoever is elected will have at least four years to try and put their plans into action.