With the primary behind us, we can focus on the final stretch of this campaign season leading into the November general election. While all the races are important, one in particular merits Arizona voters’ attention.
And no, we’re not talking about the showdown for governor in which Jan Brewer is almost a shoo-in or even the attorney general contest so bitterly battled on the Republican side in the primary.
We’re talking about the race for state superintendent of public instruction.
We’re talking about education.
Economically, Arizona is a mess right now with a 9.6 percent unemployment rate. We need to figure out how to stimulate the economy and get people back to work again. That’s the short-term fix. Education is the long-term solution.
Even if you don’t have kids in school, you should care about how well Arizona’s children are being educated. Education spending gobbles up roughly half of the state’s budget funded by taxpayers. And, as cliche as it might sound, our state’s children are indeed the future. We all need them to be well-educated and competitive to ensure a strong workforce, which is vital to the state’s economy.
Various indicators show Arizona needs to do a better job:
• This year’s annual Quality Counts report by the national trade magazine Education Week gave Arizona a C-, a grade that takes into account a number of factors including K-12 achievement, standards and accountability, and the teaching profession. Only four states and the District of Columbia ranked lower than Arizona, which received Ds in student achievement, funding and teaching.
• Year after year, Arizona compares poorly to other states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests random samples of fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and math. This year, for instance, results in fourth-grade reading placed Arizona 47th.
• The 2010 annual Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Arizona near the bottom compared to other states in the percentages of high school dropouts (9 percent), young adults ages 18-24 enrolled in or completed college (38 percent), and high school graduates ages 25 to 29 who have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher (21 percent).
The candidates in this year’s superintendent race both have experience in or related to public education. But they come at it from very different perspectives.
Democratic nominee Penny Kotterman is a veteran educator who knows what it takes in the classroom for teachers to be successful and for kids to learn. She has 30 years of experience, including 20 years of teaching and 10 years of working with schools and state leaders to develop education policy. For six years, she served as president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, is a veteran state legislator who has served for 17 consecutive years on Senate and House education committees. He has played a key role over the years in expanding schooling options for parents. He was involved in increasing the number of public charter schools in Arizona and creating tuition tax credits that enable parents to send their children to private schools. He also sponsored legislation to rate each public school with a letter grade to give parents a better understanding of how their child’s school is performing.
Both candidates look out for the best interests of families and schools. But in a nutshell, Kotterman empowers teachers and is a champion for the classroom, while Huppenthal empowers parents and is a champion for the parent’s right to choose a classroom.
Both approaches are important to ensuring every Arizona child receives a quality education — and it’s up to Arizona voters to determine which candidate can accomplish both and secure our state’s future.