Highlights from the superintendent debate.
Alyssa Williams, azcentral
The candidates competing to lead Arizona’s school system sparred over school resource officers, Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan for teacher raises and the achievement gap during a debate Wednesday night.
The beginning of the debate and many moments after were marked with arguments between Democrat Kathy Hoffman and Republican Frank Riggs.
Less than 10 minutes in, the two started talking over each other during a question posed about the role of a superintendent.
“I appreciate Ms. Hoffman’s commitment to education, but two years teaching preschool and two years as a speech pathologist does not a career make,” Riggs said.
That’s when Hoffman cut in, appearing to attempt to correct Riggs, who said over her, “We’re not going to insult tonight.”
“We need to be accurate about my teaching history,” Hoffman said.
The opening statements from the Arizona superintendent candidates.
Alyssa Williams, azcentral
According to her resume, she was a preschool teacher for about two years and a speech therapist in Arizona district schools for five.
The boxing gloves also came out during a round of answers on creationism after Riggs spoke about the importance of teaching civics.
“The founding purpose of our American public schools was to prepare our students for responsible, adult citizenship,” Riggs said. “We don’t talk about that anymore. But I call it the third C.”
Hoffman shot back, “We actually have five C’s here in Arizona, which all of our fourth-graders know.”
For those who didn’t attend elementary school in Arizona, she was referring to the original foundations of the state’s economy, well-known as the “Five C’s”: copper, cattle, cotton, citrus and climate.
The candidates have become increasingly familiar with each other’s positions and seemingly more comfortable trading insults on the campaign trail. Riggs told a reporter before the debate began that this was their sixth time debating.
Here are more of the contentious moments of Wednesday’s debate:
QUESTION: Are public schools receiving enough funding? If not, how would you increase funding?
ANSWER: Hoffman said she had supported the #InvestInEd ballot initiative, which was knocked off the ballot this summer. That initiative proposed to increase income taxes on those who make $250,000 or more a year.
“Arizona has cut more from public education than any other state in the country,” she said. “The biggest issue facing our state right now is the teacher shortage. We need to be focused on the solutions.”
Riggs said that like Gov. Doug Ducey, he had opposed the #InvestInEd initiative. He criticized Hoffman and Democrats for not supporting Ducey’s #20by2020 plan, a pledge during the #RedForEd teacher protests to raise teacher salaries 20 percent by the year 2020.
“How can you argue for more funding when you don’t support what is obviously a huge first step in the right direction? A major down payment in terms of where we need to go,” he said. “I agree with the governor. We need to increase K-12 education funding, but we have to do it by growing our economy and therefore increasing revenue to state government.”
Teacher raises did increase with this year’s budget, but they varied.
QUESTION: How do you propose to keep schools safer and prevent shootings?
ANSWER: This question garnered a lively debate between Hoffman and Riggs over school resource officers, or police officers who work in public schools.
Riggs mentioned a tweet by Hoffman from August where she wrote that Arizona should not increase the number of SROs because of disproportionate punishment rates for students of color.
“That was a direct slur against law-enforcement officers suggesting that somehow a school resource officer would discriminate against students,” Riggs said. “As a former law-enforcement officer, I know law-enforcement officers are color blind in the way they perform their duties.”
Hoffman reiterated that students of color are disciplined at higher rates.
“First of all, no one is color blind,” she said. “It can exist in this room, it can exist in a school … To say that we should be color blind and there’s no discrimination in our schools is shocking.”
Riggs suggested a “comprehensive school survey” conducted by local law enforcement examining school safety. Hoffman said adding counselors and social workers would help address mental-health issues that contribute to school safety problems.
She also said, “We need to … make sure our children do not have access to guns in the home.”
Riggs asked Hoffman if by saying that she had, “Come out in opposition of the constitutional and lawful right of an adult to own and possess a firearm in their home?”
“I said there should be safety measures,” she said. “I talked about making sure our kids do not have guns shooting themselves or shooting others.”
The closing statements of the Arizona superintendent candidates.
Alyssa Williams, azcentral
The achievement gap
QUESTION: Low-income and minority students face disparities in education. How will you close the achievement gap?
ANSWER: Riggs said that a large number of students are starting public school already behind.
“We have to get more resources to schools and school districts that work with large numbers of those disadvantaged and low-income segments of our population so they can intervene with those students early, provide them with the intensive services they need in individual and small-group instruction … so we can catch those students up,” he aid.
Hoffman said the state’s high-school graduation rate for English language learners is alarmingly low.
“There’s no way we can close this gap when we are segregating our bilingual students into a separate classroom for half a day or for a full day and they’re no longer immersed with their peers,” she said. “We’re doing a great disservice to a large portion of our students.”
That ended up being one of the few instances during the debate where they agreed.
The election is Nov. 6. Early voting is underway.
There are as many independent voters as registered Republicans in Arizona. How will they vote in November? It’s hard to say.
Carly Henry and Diana Payan and William Flannigan, Arizona Republic
Join us for a discussion about education
What: Azcentral and HuffPost are hosting a free community event to talk about education.
When: “The Academics and Economics of School Choice: A Parent-Led Discussion” will be held Oct. 18 at the Tempe Center for the Arts Lakeside Room. Doors open at 6 p.m.; the forum begins at 7 p.m.
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