November 30, 2018

Election 2018 Recap: What could it mean for Arizona schools?

While elections are often influenced by voter-raised issues, what elected officials care about and campaign on also have a significant impact on the daily headlines, social media, and ultimately new laws.  In other words, elections nearly always result in some change to the education agenda.

As such, here are some of the election outcomes and why they matter for education.

Governor’s race: The voters returned Governor Doug Ducey to office for a second and final term as the state’s CEO. Having shepherded two major funding initiatives – one at the ballot to fund K-12 inflation as well as the 2018 teacher pay plan known as 20×2020 and additional assistance – many wonder what the Governor will do as an encore to the billions in new and restored education dollars passed during his first term. Importantly, Arizona’s governors also appoint the members of the State Board of Education, the State Board for Charter Schools, and the Arizona Board of Regents – the Board that oversees the state universities. To date, Ducey’s appointees have proven to be diverse in their thinking, collaborative with one another, and extremely interested in improving educational outcomes in Arizona schools.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Easily the biggest change in elected representation is at the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). Arizona elected a new statewide Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) this November. The SPIs primary job is to manage the myriad of administrative functions at ADE to keep schools running and compliant with state and federal law. Democratic Superintendent-elect Kathy Hoffman replaces Republican Incumbent Diane Douglas in January. Ms. Hoffman has said she plans to focus on cleaning up the challenges ADE has had keeping track of revenue and paying schools. She intends to start with an agency-wide audit. Along the same vein, Hoffman would like to see individual district and charter schools clean up their act as well and may be proposing financial accountability reforms. Further, as a speech therapist, she hopes to ensure that special education funding is sufficient.

Another variable impacting the legacy of every Superintendent is their position as a member of the state boards that make many of the education policy and oversight decisions in Arizona. This includes the State Board of Education and the State Board for Charter Schools. The soon-to-be former Superintendent of Public Instruction, Diane Douglas, had a very public fight with the State Board of Education and their staff at the onset of her term in 2015. The power struggle for control over SBE staff and revenue eventually led to a protracted legal fight that, even after resolution, compromised the ability for the two agencies to work together. Refreshingly, Superintendent-Elect Hoffman campaigned on being inclusive and building bridges to get things done.  A positive and productive working relationship between the two agencies could accelerate resolution of critical issues before the Board such as redesigning the state’s A-F school rating system, improving early literacy, making school improvement more effective, and using data to solve long-standing education challenges.

Legislature: The flavor of education policy at the Legislature is nearly always a function of its Education Committee Chairs. This term will see Sylvia Allen retake the helm in the Senate, but the House will have a new Chair, Michelle Udall. Both Chairs are close to their local K-12 community – Allen in Northern Arizona and Udall in the East Valley.  Chairwoman Allen brings a record of educational innovation and reform to the table while Chairwoman Udall’s legislative personality is influenced by her day job as a math teacher with hands-on classroom experience.

Because the Republicans are still in the majority, the Committee chairs will be Republican as well. However, the ranking members for the Democrats include Reginald Bolding in the House and Andrea Dalessandro in the Senate. The House will be particularly interesting because the Democrats made historic gains this year in that chamber. By picking up four seats in this year’s election, the Democrats shrunk the Republican majority to only two seats at 31-29. This is the largest number of Democrats in the House since 1967. Most, if not all, of these new Democrats ran primarily on education issues, so we will see if bi-partisan agreements can be reached in the House.

Paul Boyer, the former House Chair, has moved to the Senate and will bring his experience to serve as Allen’s vice chair. Lastly, for the first time in several cycles, the Senate has split higher education policy out from K-12. North Phoenix Republican Heather Carter will Chair the Senate’s Higher Education and Workforce committee and Sally Ann Gonzales will serve as the Democrats’ ranking member. The House will keep K-20 in one committee. Having a dedicated committee for higher education in the Senate will likely mean more bills will be introduced impacting universities, community colleges, and workforce training than in years where higher ed policy has to share time with K-12.

In all, capitol watchers are hopeful that a bi-partisan spirit will prevail at the capitol and that the tight margins between the majority and minority parties will force more collaboration.