Candidates Ken Bennett, Doug Ducey, Steve Farley, Kelly Fryer and David Garcia answer questions you might not ask them in the azcentral studio.
Thomas Hawthorne, The Republic | azcentral.com
A political-blog post published and widely shared Thursday paints an upcoming book by Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Garcia as a “blueprint to dismantle public education,” contending Garcia’s oft-stated commitment to the state’s public-school system is a front.
But a close examination of the 196-page “School Choice” reveals a text that reads more like an academic primer than a fervent defense of public-school alternatives — one that repeatedly takes pains to stress the author’s impartiality.
The book, scheduled for a Sept. 28 release, is part of the “Essential Knowledge” series published by MIT Press, according to a copy obtained by The Arizona Republic on Thursday.
In the book’s foreword, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Bruce Tidor says the series aims to distill specialized information and give readers “a point of access to complex ideas.”
In the book’s introduction, Garcia — a professor at Arizona State University who has made solving the state’s public-education crisis the foundation of his campaign— says his goal “is to equip readers with a working knowledge of school choice so they can contribute to policy discussions in their local setting.”
He repeated that position in a statement released in response to the “Blog for Arizona” post Thursday, saying he wanted readers to be able to “assess the merits” of arguments for and against school choice themselves.
The future of Arizona’s public-education system has emerged as a central issue in the race for governor, after tens of thousands of teachers and supporters walked out in April to demand better pay and working conditions.
Garcia, Democratic challengers Kelly Fryer and state Sen. Steve Farley, and incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey have frequently pledged to increase district-school funding at campaign events.
The Democratic candidates have also pushed for more charter-school oversight, with Fryer saying charter schools should be “transparent, accountable and rare.”
“These are politically motivated attacks by my primary opponents and their supporters who are becoming increasingly desperate,” Garcia said in his statement. “We will not respond in kind and we call upon all candidates in the race to abandon these deceptive tactics.”
A ‘Manchurian candidate’
The “Blog for Arizona” — which says it offers “politics from a liberal viewpoint” — devoted nearly 1,700 words to contributor Larry Bodine’s take-down of Garcia’s book Thursday. The post caught fire on Twitter.
Bodine’s author page describes him as a writer, attorney and Democratic Party precinct committeeman who “enjoys being politically active and helping candidates get elected.”
He has donated at least $290 to Farley’s campaign, according to the candidate’s latest campaign-finance report filed with the state.
In his piece, Bodine called Garcia’s book a “how-to playbook for the anti-public-school, pro-school-voucher agenda pushed by Gov. Doug Ducey and the Koch brothers.”
Bodine said it comes “complete with strategies, arguments, legal precedents to cite, successful examples and historic points of reference.”
He described Garcia as a “Manchurian candidate,” which he defined as “a person running for office who publicly supports one group to win an election, but who uses his executive or legislative powers to assist an opposing group.”
“Many Democrats” share that impression of Garcia, he wrote.
Indeed, Fryer implied Garcia’s public-education positions were disingenuous in a post published on her website Thursday, noting the book’s release date comes “conveniently just days AFTER the Democratic primary election.”
She said her “vision is a state where the best school for every kid, in every neighborhood, is the local district public school.”
“His supporters are calling on me to be nice, by which they mean, I’m not supposed to challenge their candidate on the issues,” she wrote.
“They don’t want me to point out his support for charter schools … Let me be clear: It isn’t unfair or mean to point out where candidates differ on the issues. That’s actually what an election is for.”
Farley did not comment on Garcia’s book.
#RedForEd and public education issues are big topics on the November ballot. Here’s what you need to know.
Carly Henry and William Flannigan, Arizona Republic
‘Comprehensive and unbiased’
In his statement Thursday, Garcia described the book as an “academic treatment laying out the arguments for and against school policies in as neutral a way as possible.” He said the book “does not present any policy recommendations or detail my personal opinions.”
The text of the book includes similar assurances: “I present the research in this chapter in the most comprehensive and unbiased manner that I can possibly accomplish,” Garcia writes at one point. “I will not come to a conclusion on how the research should guide the policy decisions.”
Nearly 100 percent of the text obtained and reviewed by The Arizona Republic supports those claims. Garcia spends several pages laying out a history of U.S. schooling options before outlining and analyzing the claims of each option’s proponents and critics in detail.
The one apparent exception does not seem to be “anti-public school.”
Citing one of his own 2012 publications, Garcia writes that “policymakers in states where ESAs are expanded at the same time that public school budgets are cut should prioritize their obligation to adequately fund public schools, including charter schools, before establishing alternative programs that divert funds out of the public school system.”
Arizona ESAs, or Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, allow students to use taxpayer dollars to cover educational expenses, including private-school tuition.
Here is what you need to know about everyone running for governor in Arizona this year.
Carly Henry, The Republic | azcentral.com
Garcia’s response to the criticism of his book has not appeased those who continue to cast doubt on his dedication to Arizona’s public schools.
They point to his former position as research and policy director under Lisa Graham Keegan, who served as Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction from 1995 to 2001. Keegan has advocated for charter schools, vouchers, tuition tax credits, open enrollment and other school-choice options.
Critics also have highlighted comments Garcia made at a 2017 town hall hosted by the Arizona Education Association, which later endorsed him.
At the forum, Garcia called himself a “school-choice advocate,” describing the arts-focused charter school one of his daughters attends as “fantastic” and mentioning his post on its board.
A recording of the forum, however, shows that Garcia — whose other daughter attends a district school — went on to say that “we need all schools that call themselves public to follow the same rules.”
He echoed that stance Thursday.
“The path forward is more transparency and accountability in charter schools and more flexibility for our traditional public schools,” his statement said. “When I’m governor … the poorly operated and low quality charters proliferating today will see increased scrutiny and either improve or close.”
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