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Video: Candidates for governor share their education priorities


Candidates For Arizona Governor From Left To Right: Marco Lopez, Karrin Taylor Robson, Matt Salmon And Katie Hobbs Answer Questions About Their Education Priorities. Photos Courtesy The Candidates

Updated 6/28/22: On June 28, Matt Salmon withdrew as a candidate for governor.

Original story 6/3/22: Learn more about education priorities of candidates for Arizona governor before primary elections on Aug. 2, determine who will face each other in general elections on Nov. 8, 2022.

Candidates Marco Lopez, Karrin Taylor Robson, and Matt Salmon chose five out of 10 questions on public education policies that matched most closely with their priorities during a 2022 Gubernatorial Candidate Forum on Friday, May 27, moderated by Arizona Business and Education Coalition President and CEO Dick Foreman.

“All the candidates on this forum today chose the same question to deal with first, which I think shows where their campaigns’ priorities are,” Foreman said.

Requests to respond to the same questions were sent to candidates Katie Hobbs and Kari Lake. Hobbs sent her responses to the questions, and they are included below. Lake did not respond to AZEdNews’ request. Aaron Lieberman withdrew his candidacy for governor May 27, and he did not take part in the forum.  

ABEC video: 2022 Gubernatorial Candidate Forum

Candidate Forum May 2022 Full Length Video. from Karen Kehlenbach, ABEC Events on Vimeo.

Question: Arizona’s school finance system was once considered a nationwide model when first adopted.  Much has changed since then.  Numerous changes to statutes including many school reforms and tax laws have altered the original distribution.  As a principle going forward, do you believe Arizona’s school finance system is in need of change?  If so, what are the major components of possible changes you would advocate as Governor?

Video: Candidates for governor share their education priorities Marco-Lopez-419
Marco Lopez

Marco Lopez: “Look, I think that education does deserve a top spot in our leadership, because I believe that it is a great equalizer. Education is what has allowed an immigrant kid from the City of Nogales, Arizona to become mayor, to be Director of Commerce in this state, and then to work in a federal administration as Chief of Staff for Customs and Border Protection under President Obama. I could not have achieved any of those career paths and now creating jobs without a strong foundation based on equal access to good quality education.”

“This is why it’s especially emotional for me to think that we are 49th in investments in educational investment in the country. And the disparity between districts that have the tools for their kids to succeed and those that don’t, sometimes are separated by just a mile, Dick. That is not the Arizona that we should be proud of living in.”

“We need to be an Arizona that helps kids to thrive regardless of where they grow up – whether it is in Nogales or Mesa or San Luis, Somerton or up in Flagstaff, in Winslow or one of our 22 tribes. Our kids deserve the tools.”

“This is why a few months ago, I released our $2.5 billion increase in investments for education that do contemplate early childhood development and investments in apprenticeships, vocational training, because it is the entire gamut that we have to think about. A child’s ability to succeed in a thriving economy that we want to create in Arizona.”

“That is why our Education First proposal contemplates and thinks about this in an environment that we have to be able to compete. It’s about our economy, and if we don’t make the investments, if we don’t take the necessary steps to give our kids the tools to succeed, we’re going to keep falling further and further behind.”

“So yes, Dick I am a product of the public education system in Nogales. We were 46th in educational investment back when I was a student, we’re not 49th. The trajectory is not the right one. We’ve got to get back to investing in our kids future, and it is a pathway of our education. It’s how we’re going to commit to investing those resources for our future generation to be able to succeed.”

Video: Candidates for governor share their education priorities Karrin-Taylor-Robson-419
Karrin Taylor Robson

Karrin Taylor Robson: “In a nutshell the question talks about our school finance system, and it is decades old. It was created and produced at a time when we didn’t have the options or the complications that we have today.”

“We have a K-12 system that is built around the adults instead of kids. My North star will always be what is best for the students. And what I believe is that the best solution for students is to allow families to select the right school learning environment for their children.”

“Parents today are rightly concerned from an academic standpoint that in Arizona we have some of the best K-12 schools in the country, and we’ve been a national leader in school choice, but overall, our state academic performance is deeply uneven from district to district, and too many students remain trapped in school districts that are just underperforming. From my perspective, it is deeply unfair that a student’s address remains the strongest determinant of the quality of school that they attend.”

“We owe our kids more. We owe our kids better outcomes. Despite a concerted effort to increase funding, for some reason the funding isn’t making it into the classrooms. In fact, Gov. Ducey who’s put a lot of money into education. The Auditor General came out with earlier this year that notwithstanding the effort to have a 20% teacher salary increase by 2020, it didn’t happen in all instances. We have to make sure that the teachers, the good teachers are paid like we want to keep them. If we do that, we could quickly eliminate our teacher shortage. We just have to have a system that works for the kids and not the adults.”

“There’s all the reforms that we need to deal with as well given changes in our society. For example, from a transportation perspective, only about 20% of our kids use the school bus. Again, we can and with technology, we should do better. I applaud the Legislature for their investment last year in pilot programs to find alternate transportation systems.”

“But there’s a lot of inefficiencies in the system, and we need to do a better job of eliminating those inefficiencies and making sure that the kids are really the North star of everything we do as opposed to systems. Now, we have an awful lot of bureaucracy in the system, and I think everybody universally agrees with that, and it’s time to re-imagine our education system, and as governor that will be my priority.”

Video: Candidates for governor share their education priorities Matt-Salmon-419
Matt Salmon

Matt Salmon: “I do believe as Karrin just said that the formula is decades old, and it hasn’t been significantly revisited, and I do believe it’s time to get out all the experts in the field. I mentioned one of my favorites, Chuck Essigs, and sit down and look at how we can more evenly distribute the funds.”

“But I will also say this, if funding alone was the answer to education, then the best educated students in the whole country would be in Washington, D.C., and that’s not the case. In fact, the education there is pretty subpar. We look at states around us like Utah that have a similar investment to what we’re doing in funding for better results.”

“I believe that we’ve got to totally change some of our mindsets. Marco is from a place where I believe some of the best education policies in the state happen. The school district in Nogales is a bellwether for us to look at. Actually, it’s one of the more poor school districts in the state, but they have leaders who have very high expectations.”

“What I’ve seen, at ASU we started several charter schools. One of those schools is right in the heart of South Phoenix, and virtually all of the kids come from at or below poverty, yet it has a 100% graduation rate and close to 100% of those kids go on to something after high school whether it’s a four-year degree or two-year community college or trade school. I think we’ve got to set a lot higher bar and bring leaders into the schools who understand that if we have high expectations and a high bar that those students can and will learn. I think that’s been proven time and time again.”

“Some of my priorities for funding would be in third grade literacy. I’m very concerned with what’s happening in Arizona with our literacy. It’s very troublesome to me, and I think that the state should be able to pay for teachers who are willing to go and get those endorsements for teaching reading and literacy. There’s a program called Letters, which I’m very, very fond of that teaches kids how to comprehend and how to read better and understand. I think we need to focus on that.

I also believe that we’ve got to have universal ESAs. Karrin talked a little bit about parental choice. I want to make it even more clear. A dear friend of mine (Lisa Graham) Keegan, back when I was in the state legislature just got me totally hooked on the idea of backpack funding, and I totally believe that if we have a free-marketplace of competition in education I believe most kids in fact the statistics I’ve seen is about 4% of the kids choose to leave the public schools, 96% stay even in places where they’ve got universal ESAs or opportunities like that. I just really, really believe that that kind of opportunity for parents to be able to vote with their feet when their kids are trapped in a school that’s not working for them is something that’s going to improve everything.”

“Competition and the free marketplace has always worked in America in every industry, and I think that it will work in education as well.”

“I think we also need more investment in this state in vocational education. My wife works for EVIT and I’m such a huge fan of the vocational education, the CTE programs in this state, and the JTEDs and the CTEDs, and I think that we need more of that in this state. Not every kid is going to be bound for college. We have a dropout rate in our state that’s way too high. We’ve been teaching in the schools predominantly that every kid is bound for college and that’s not the case.”

“Achieve60AZ says that every child after graduation from high school should either be involved in baccalaureate degree, community college or trade school. These CTE programs I think are marvelous.”

“One of the other things that I’m very interested in helping out with school is financial literacy, but yes, we do need to fix our formulas then we do need to make sure the money is getting into the classroom. My daughter Lara who’s on the Mesa school board said that 85% of the Mesa school district budget and by the way they are the largest school district in the state and 85% of their budget is people. We need to make sure the money gets down into the classroom.”

“One other thing that vexes me and always has is, and when we used to talk about it, Dick, back in the day and the dialogue has stopped, I know because we ran into a lot of headwinds and political opposition, but the number of school districts in this state is over 240 school districts. I’ve been to many of those school districts. Some of them have as few children as under 100 students. I believe we need to take a look at that again and try to figure out economies of scale and can we do a better job at least building co-ops between some of these school districts. I know some of that’s happened, but more has too also. We have to get the biggest bang for the buck that we’re spending.”

“Lastly, I want to change the way that we fund our teachers. I truly do believe that the state should provide great incentives to school districts to re-institute merit pay in schools. Every other aspect of our life in the United States is predicated on the idea that we live in a meritocracy. That people are rewarded based on the job that they do, and I’ve heard all the excuses for why we can’t do it education. I think they’re lame. I think that if we have teachers competing against themselves. I’ve heard the idea why should I have to compete against a rich school district when I live in a poor school district. I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think we have to do that. Have the teachers compete against themselves at the start of the year, at the end of the year, and have there be a matrix of results, of teacher peer review and a parent review. I think we’re smart enough to do this.”

“I’d love to see really great teachers making over $100,000 today in the classroom. I think they can, and I think they should and they will, but we’ve got to institute real merit pay. I think this idea that everyone gets the same pay regardless of the job they do is crazy, and we’ve got to change it.”

Video: Candidates for governor share their education priorities katie-hobbs-419
Katie Hobbs

Katie Hobbs: “Our schools are in dire need of sustained funding to expand early childhood education, put more money in our childrens’ classrooms, and fix our school buildings. First, I’ll work toward achieving universal Pre-K and universal, voluntary full-day kindergarten, both of which need permanent funding from the legislature and additional funding to build the pipeline of talented educators to teach Arizona’s youngest students. We know that early childhood education provides long-term benefits to students and parents, and disproportionately helps underserved communities.”

“Second, I will substantially increase educator pay to close the gaps between the national average and the bottoming salaries that Arizona’s educators earn. Currently, the average Arizona teacher earns $14,000 less than the average teacher salary across our country. This pay disparity hurts hard working teachers who have bared an undue burden during the pandemic, and it hurts Arizona’s children with larger class sizes that have less experienced teachers due to the high number of educators leaving the profession.”

“Finally, Arizona needs a substantial infusion of funding to repair and update our school facilities. For too long, our legislature has not used a dedicated funding formula to ensure that school buildings are suitable for children and staff to work in. Often, we’ve heard of leaking roofs, faulty air conditioning, and broken lighting, none of which is acceptable or an environment we should feel comfortable with. Over the long term, these investments may help reduce overall maintenance costs, while creating a more hospitable environment for learning.”

Question: The safety of children has continued to be a concern in Arizona and across the entire country.  What are your thoughts on improving student, staff and community safety in and around our traditional public and charter schools?

Karin Taylor Robson: “I had no idea the timeliness of this when we selected this, but this week’s tragedy in Texas is an awful reminder of the potential threats faced by our schools in every community small and large.”

“I think as state leaders we have to make sure that students and teachers are as safe as possible in the classrooms. This means making schools difficult targets. You know one way in, one way out. I thought we had learned that already, and obviously we hadn’t learned that. We have to redouble our efforts to make sure that these schools are safe environments for our kids.”

“I believe every school in Arizona should have a school resource officer on site. It’s really unfortunate that some school boards across our state have removed this important safeguard. We need to put it back.”

“As governor, I will create a pool of funding for our schools to draw from in order to bring the school resource officers back to the schools.”

“And I will also increase the school facilities fund to the extent possible to help our schools improve security infrastructure and resources. While we obviously haven’t done it everywhere, we need to.”

“The leaders of our communities and the governor need to lead by example. We have an epidemic, maybe we even call it a pandemic of mental health crises in our country, in our communities. We’re living in a time where everybody is more divided than ever in our families, our schools, our streets. The endgame here is not a pretty one. So I will call on everybody to look at themselves in the mirror and say how can we help. How can we help that brother, that sister, that neighbor, that classmate, that is suffering and that is struggling.”

“The COVID lockdowns have just exacerbated the situation we find ourselves in. I hate to say this, but we’re living in a culture of death everywhere we look and despair. We have suicide as the Number One cause of accidental death in America. We have to help each other, and I believe that begins with our leadership in our homes, our leadership in our communities and our leadership in our state. As governor, I will do everything that I can to help foster a culture where life is precious and where every student should feel safe when they go into their classroom.”

“We have to take precautions to make sure that schools are physically safe, but we also need to make sure that emotionally and from an emotional perspective all of our kids are getting the support and help that they need to succeed.”

Matt Salmon: “Having eight grandchildren in Mesa Public Schools, I don’t think any parent should ever have to wonder when they drop their child off at school if their child is going to come home to them at the end of the day safely.”

“What happened in Texas has even more poignance for me, because I have a dear friend in Uvalde, Texas who owns a ranch, and I’ve been visiting him for the last 10 years just about every year. I’ve seen the people in that community. I’ve interacted with them, and it broke my heart to see the violence that unfolded there.”

“I do believe we have to do a lot more to make sure that our most precious resource – our children – are protected, especially when they go to school.”

“I agree that we’ve got to make sure that our schools are designed so that there is one way in and multiple ways out so that they can escape if they need to.”

“Every school needs a school resource officer, and as Governor of Arizona, I will make sure that the funding is available to each and every school to make sure that they have a school resource officer.”

“I also believe that we’ve got to do other things to make sure that we’re keeping better tabs on these children, and it’s going to tie into another question later on mental health of our children.”

“The suicide rate is way too high in our state for teenagers and children, and we’ve got to do a far better job of interdicting or stopping the sources of consternation with social media, bullying, some of the things that are going on in the schools. We’ve got to do a far better job of stopping those things from happening and making sure that we have adequate counseling at the schools to deal with these kinds of issues and to catch them before they become real problems.”

“Remember the situation in Tucson when Gabby Giffords was shot. There was lots of instances where these red flags were raised with that individual, and yet he fell through the cracks and committed a horrible crime. We’ve got to be better than this.”

“I also advocate there’s a program out of Ohio called FASTER and it’s an acronym for a nonprofit organization where they’re actually going in and training teachers – willing teachers – those that want to volunteer for being able to deal with mental health emergencies and also being able to be trained in how to defend with weapons on the campuses. I know it’s a controversial subject with a lot of teachers, but we did this with the airline pilots after 9/11 and it’s been wildly successful. We heard all the same arguments about not putting guns in the hands of pilots in the cockpits, but it’s been wildly successful, and I believe we can do the same thing with teachers who are willing to do so, so they can safeguard the schools themselves. I’ll be releasing more on that later.”

“Finally, I just want to say that I think as Governor everything has gotten so angry and hateful in society these days where you say something and half the public hates you and tries to vilify you on social media. That’s why I’m so pleased that this dialogue between the three of us. We’ve got to have more civil discourse, and we can disagree without being so damn disagreeable.”

Marco Lopez: This is especially painful growing up on the border, seeing the images play out. I spent time Uvalde when I was Chief of Staff at Customs and Border Protection, but I really do think about those families.”

“This community – small, close knit, just like every other border community in Arizona even Douglas, San Luis, Rio Rico, Nogales, Somerton, small communities –  how these parents are facing that challenge today is unfathomable.”

“We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that we are making it more difficult for bad people to have access to weapons of war.”

“This is why I’m excited to have earned the Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Label of Distinction, because I am committed to closing those loopholes that today get taken advantage of. Making sure that we are advancing universal background checks, red flag laws, banning weapons of war, but that’s not enough.”

“My plan as it relates to education investment talks about how we can do more to try to get ahead of these problems. That’s why my plan calls for a $400 million investment in counselors, in school nurses, in critical support staff, because I recognize that although I knew who my counselor was in elementary, middle school and high school, so many kids today don’t have access to that capability or to that expertise in their schools.”

“I’m also committed to investing over $250 million to make sure that we have programs of tutoring, mentorship, counseling, and specifically mental health services. If we are able to have an interaction where our teachers have reduced class size so that they can build that bond with their students and their families, we have a better chance of understanding the psychology that’s goes through a child’s mind if they’re planning to do something in the last 12 days occur in Buffalo, occur in Texas and occur in California. It’s not acceptable.”

“We can do more, and I think part of it includes investing in the system that has greater interaction with our youth – our schools.”

“The other piece I want to mention on this is how our kids learn. We know that the advancements in technology have now put kids in front of a screen and their social interaction skills are lacking.”

“I see it as we try to recruit a workforce for some of our companies that are thinking about repositioning to SkyBridge Mesa. A lot of that social interaction is not longer existing. We have a lot of companies hiring GateWay Community College students to teach the basics – how to be social, how to work with one another, how to listen to each other, how to interact in our communities. That’s why I think we also have to invest in social emotional learning curriculum so that our kids know how to interact with one another, how to be productive members of our society.”

“It’s those wraparound services. Yes, the entry and exit of our buildings and the safety and our security of them are key. Look, I led the largest law enforcement agency in the country. You saw Bortac units finally apprehend and take down the shooter in Texas from the Border Patrol. I know that side, but I think that our investments in what we and I can do as governor is make sure that we are investing in kids in the classroom so that try to get ahead of this problem for years to come.”

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Question: School performance has become a mirror image of Arizona’s socio-economic spectrum.  This has led to the discussion of “student equity” as one means to get all students to the graduation finish line; providing more resources to poorer districts in hopes of achieving gains in both graduation and achievement metrics.  Should state school funding be used to address achievement gaps and as tool to combat poor student performance in economically depressed public charter and traditional district schools?

Katie Hobbs: “Yes, I believe that more can be done to address the socioeconomic disparities we see playing out across the state and that have been exacerbated by the rising costs of everyday items. We need to prioritize permanently higher funding for our schools across the board.”

“And as Governor, I’ll expand Pre-K and full-day kindergarten starting in underserved communities first so that critical achievement gaps can be addressed while providing parents with important resources to secure a better future for them and their families.” “And I’ll work to provide additional funding to train more science educators, which will help prepare students for good-paying jobs in our rapidly growing STEM sector which will benefit people of color and women who are staggeringly underrepresented in these high-paying industries.”

Marco Lopez: “I think that this is one of the areas, Dick, that we have to make sure that the gap is reduced or eliminated between school districts, because it does exist.”

“We do need to make sure that every child – this is about the kids, this is about the students – we need to be sure that every child has a tools to succeed regardless of which one of the 15 counties or 22 tribes they might be a student in.”

“That is why I believe that a lot of these reliance on tax write offs that have been increasing in particularly four of our counties – Maricopa, Pima, Yavapai and Coconino – is unfair. It is unfair to the child, to the students, because in those school districts that have the ability to whose parents have the capacity and business people have the write off incentive to invest in those districts in those schools, then yes, those kids have opportunities to play sports, to join a band, to take field trips, but it’s unfair for every other child in Arizona.”

“That’s why our funding needs to be equally distributed and that contemplates that every child in each one of those 234 school districts that Matt identified has the ability to succeed regardless of their ZIP code, I think Karrin properly identified that that shouldn’t be the determinant of success. I agree. That means then that we have to invest in school districts equally.”

“This is why my $2.5 billion increase in our education plan contemplates not only closing that 2,000 teacher shortage that we have throughout our state, but paying them what they deserve, reducing class size, giving them the tools to succeed, and making sure that every school has a counselor, has a nurse, has access to mental health care, because we know that the stresses on our kids are greater and they exist in each part of our state.”

“That’s why I’m committed to making sure that every child regardless of where they grow up or where they live has the tools to succeed. It starts with having a qualified teacher who’s paid well in each classroom.”

Question: School governance has become a significant debate in Arizona and all around the country.  As a matter of principle, do you believe that local control as is exemplified by locally selected boards of directors or publicly elected governing boards is the proper foundation to be deferred to for optimum school governance?

Karrin Taylor Robson: “Yes, as I mentioned earlier, after college I was blessed to serve President Reagan at the White House and have always believed his principle that the government closest to the people is the best. It doesn’t get any closer than your local school board and the principals in each school, but this process only works if citizens and parents get involved, run for election and vote.”

“As I have travelled all around Arizona on this campaign, everywhere I go I’m seeing more and more people stepping up, standing up and being willing to run for local school boards. I think that’s critically, critically important.”

“I did serve at the outset on the Great Hearts school board, where I was appointed to that board. I think it’s critically important that we also make sure that every board adheres to public notice requirements and open meeting laws. At the end of the day, this is about parents taking action, getting involved, and if they don’t have the time or willingness to run for office at least show up and participate. The more parents participate in their kids’ education, it’s pretty clear that and borne out by study after study that we’ll have better results.”

“I also believe that our schools – at the district level, at the school level – need to be far more transparent and make it easier for parents to understand what’s going on in their schools.”

“So bottom line, the closer the decision making is to the individual, it’s always better.”

Question: The role of parents has always been important to student success.  Should this extend to individual parents’ ability to alter the education process for other students other than their own, such as causing books in the library or required reading lists to continue to delete curriculum offerings based on even individual objections?

Matt Salmon: “I believe that parents should have the loudest voice when it comes to their children’s education – both what they learn and where they learn. That’s why I mentioned before that I support universal ESAs.”

“I also support absolute curriculum transparency. I believe that classroom materials should be posted online for parents to see, and they should be actively engaged.”

“Back when I was the director of public relations at US West, we adopted Central High School in Phoenix as a school that we wanted to really help. As I talked to their leaders, their biggest goal and objective was to get more parental involvement in the school, in the classroom. They wanted to make sure that when they had parent teacher night they had 90% participation and that they could freely communicate with back and forth with the parents in dealing with that child’s education.”

“It’s been proven over and over again with studies, not that necessarily what income level people come from or what race they are or what religion they belong to, it’s more about what level of support that they get from the family when it actually comes to achieving and succeeding in education. Those studies are replete with the same answers over and over again. I believe that parents are smart, well-intentioned, reasonable and we can all come to consensus on which educational materials are appropriate and which are not.”

“I also believe that parents, if parents are involved in making sure their kids are doing the homework and involved in that kid’s homework the child’s going to be more successful. Anything we can do to enhance parental involvement.”

“When my oldest daughter, who’s now on the Mesa school board, was in first grade, she would not want to go to school everyday because she’d have a stomachache. Well, we later found out it wasn’t a physical problem, it was an emotional issue she was dealing with. She was very frightened of her teacher, because the teacher would call them up in the front of the room and humiliate them in front of other kids.”

“My wife decided the best way to deal with that was to become a room mother and she started attending school. Well, it turned around for my daughter, who now has a master’s degree in curriculum and has been a school teacher and is phenomenally successful and on the school board. That is because of a parent’s involvement in the classroom, and I think we need more of it, not less of it.”

Karrin Taylor Robson: “As I have said already, I believe strongly that parents need total transparency over what their kids are learning or not learning for that matter. For schools this will help build trust and confidence in the system. It’s important that parents have the ability to provide through various means feedback, and if there’s another sentiment or consensus among parents then that should in fact affect the instruction and learning materials.”

“The reality that we’re all living with now is that parents cannot unwind or unknow the experience that we all went through during the pandemic, and that we’re seeing that parents are now more invested than ever before in their child’s learning. There’s ways to use this energy and interest to help strengthen our education system. I truly believe that.”

“Parental involvement shouldn’t be seen as a threat. Families are hungry to participate more. In fact, as a mother myself every time I would go to school for the parent teacher conferences, the teachers would lament the fact that parents weren’t as involved as they would like them to be. Now, parents are getting involved as they should.”

“I also really admire schools that have had advisory councils and committees that include not just parents and family members, but also students. These advisory councils give feedback outside of the PTA or governing board meetings, and so it goes into the category that more communication is better.”

“At the end of the day, and I talk about this a lot, I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity to do so again. We live in the grandest experiment of self-government ever known to the world. Our public education system was originally founded for the principal purpose of teaching our kids how to be responsible citizens in a self-governing society. Part and parcel of that is family members, students, teachers, everybody, working together. We’ve talked about civil discourse today during this forum. The critical ability to talk to one another and work through complex problems and forge solutions.”

“I always say I’m going to start with the premise that we’re going to work on those things we agree on. Every venue, every opportunity for students and parents to work with educators and teachers to solve problems and resolve disputes, I think we have to do that.”

“We’ve gotten to a point where everyone goes into their corner and wants to cancel everyone else who disagrees with them. We can’t do that anymore. We have got to be able to learn from each other and listen to each other if we want to move forward as a society and give our kids a greater future.”

Question: Do you support greater investment in the mental and behavioral health needs of Arizona students?  Why or why not?

Katie Hobbs: “Oftentimes educators do more than just teach students. They’re serving as students’ guidance counselors and social workers. While compassionate teachers will always play a vital role in the lives of Arizona students, teachers have unfairly had to divert their time into these other roles because of a lack of funding to provide professional counseling and social services in our schools. As governor, I’ll provide additional funding to reduce the student-to-counselor ratio and provide additional social services in schools.”

“I’ll also expand the mission of the Teachers Academy to include making more of these critical professionals to hire into schools, which will ease the burden of these roles that teachers have been forced to play and allow them to focus on educating. This will also allow students to receive dedicated support for the mental, behavioral, and socioeconomic needs from professionals who have the experience and training necessary.”

Matt Salmon: “Absolutely, Dick. The purpose of our schools is to prepare our children for the future.”

“That most important responsibility is reading, writing, math, science and civics, I also believe. We’ve also got to make sure that they’re ready and able to compete in the world after they graduate from high school, and that includes knowing how to work with other people, knowing how to be happy in life – I think that’s one of the most important things for all of us on this planet to learn is how to enjoy our station.”

“The suicide rate right now in Arizona among our young people is so alarming to me and so frightening that we’ve got to get a handle on it and I think that it needs all hands on deck.”

“My youngest son Matthew is actually an adolescent psychiatrist in Washington, D.C. and spare the jokes, I told him that he would become very wealthy being a psychiatrist in Washington, D.C. because there’s lots of nuts there. But the fact is, he’s taught me a lot.”

“Making sure our adolescents are given an opportunity to learn about how to deal with inner problems and how to deal with interpersonal relationships better.”

“I think with the advent of social media, and the fact that a lot of nameless, faceless people using pseudonyms will attack other people on social media and kids are so hooked on that. I think that’s truly had an impact on our children.”

“There’s a lot more anxiety out there among our children than there has been before. Also there are substance abuse issues that are very, very serious. I was just in Yuma two weeks ago touring their high school district and they shared with me that every high school has Narcan, because they had drug overdoses at the schools. Thankfully, none of the children have died, because they have Narcan onsite and were able to revive the children.”

“I believe very, very strongly that part of preparing our children for life is preparing them also to deal with things, their inner demons, and the problems we have with society with emotional issues.”

“That most important responsibility is reading, writing, math, science and civics, I also believe. We’ve also got to make sure that they’re ready and able to compete in the world after they graduate from high school, and that includes knowing how to work with other people, knowing how to be happy in life – I think that’s one of the most important things for all of us on this planet to learn is how to enjoy our station.”

“The suicide rate right now in Arizona among our young people is so alarming to me and so frightening that we’ve got to get a handle on it and I think that it needs all hands on deck.”

“My youngest son Matthew is actually an adolescent psychiatrist in Washington, D.C. and spare the jokes, I told him that he would become very wealthy being a psychiatrist in Washington, D.C. because there’s lots of nuts there. But the fact is, he’s taught me a lot.”

“Making sure our adolescents are given an opportunity to learn about how to deal with inner problems and how to deal with interpersonal relationships better.”

“I think with the advent of social media, and the fact that a lot of nameless, faceless people using pseudonyms will attack other people on social media and kids are so hooked on that. I think that’s truly had an impact on our children.”

“There’s a lot more anxiety out there among our children than there has been before. Also there are substance abuse issues that are very, very serious. I was just in Yuma two weeks ago touring their high school district and they shared with me that every high school has Narcan, because they had drug overdoses at the schools. Thankfully, none of the children have died, because they have Narcan onsite and were able to revive the children.”

“I believe very, very strongly that part of preparing our children for life is preparing them also to deal with things, their inner demons, and the problems we have with society with emotional issues.”

“One last thing, my oldest granddaughter who by the way is in the Mesa school district is dyslexic, and my daughter Lara, her mother, when they moved back from Germany where my son-in-law was a captain in the Army and they enrolled in the Mesa school district, they were really frustrated with all the finger pointing, nobody wanted to have my granddaughter diagnosed as dyslexic because of the responsibility that the school district has after the diagnosis happens. It was really frustrating for us as a family. If my daughter wasn’t so tenacious and extremely well-educated herself, I’m not sure she would have been able to navigate through that.”

“We’ve got to do a lot better job in the schools identifying kids with ADD, kids that are autistic, kids that are dyslexic, and giving them every opportunity for success. I don’t think we’re doing near the job we need to. I think at the state level we need to provide a lot more resources for our schools to be able to do this.”

Marco Lopez: “I really do, and I think that especially now it’s being highlighted, but the fact is that our students have been falling through the system for far too long.”

“Did you know that in Arizona, the national average tells us that Arizona is above the national average for high school student suicide. 17% of high school students in Arizona said that they have seriously considered committing suicide.”

“What type of Arizona are we living in?”

“We have to make sure that we are investing in the opportunities and the skills set so they have access to qualified professionals in each one of our schools. Especially, at least in each one of our school districts so they can reach out for help.”

“That’s why my investment Arizona Education First talks about an additional $650 million so that we can hire more counselors, so that we can provide the critical supports that are needed so that kids have the opportunity to reach out.”

“I’m tired of thinking that in this education system in Arizona these critical positions are granted out. It’s a grant. Imagine that. Today a school district has to provide and apply through a grant program to try to fund some of these counseling, to try to fund some of these mental health professionals in our school districts.”

If we really thought that we wanted to tackle this problem, and by the way that grant program has a wait list. That’s the need that we have in Arizona.”

“Let’s invest in the process. Let’s invest in the skills that our kids need.”

“Then we have a lot of our Republican friends or maybe not friends who talk about homelessness or drug addiction. Well, guess what? If we’re helping invest in the programs in the school districts in the school system to provide the skills for kids to succeed, then we could cut this epidemic down.”

“I think Karrin mentioned it as an epidemic or a pandemic, that’s right. I think mental health is a problem in Arizona. Not just in our youth or in our kids, but throughout our society.”

“We’ve got to stop talking about it, and wehave to start acting with our value and our principles and in this case it’s manifested in how we invest in our education system to give kids the tools and the care to succeed.”

Question: Accountability and transparency have always been a significant concern to taxpayers and parents.  Do you believe the current system of accounts for traditional and public charter schools is adequate?  Should all taxpayer dollars expended in Arizona’s public education system be accounted for the same as one way to ensure transparency

Karrin Taylor Robson: “I absolutely believe in accountability and transparency of taxpayer dollars. “

“I also respect that schools whether they’re district or charter contract with private businesses to help them with everything from janitorial services to school management. In no other area of state government would we require those businesses to open their books. That being said, with the amount of money that has gone into schools recently, particularly as a result of COVID, we continue to hear stories of where did the money go or where is it going, and taxpayers are quite concerned if at the end of the day our kids are going to be left paying the bill for a lot of this.”

“We need to be great stewards of our taxpayer money.”

“On the transparency side, we need to be honest with our kids and our parents now more than ever. I’m very much looking forward to a new portal that’s going to be provided by the State of Arizona that goes live I believe later this summer, maybe early fall that will provide easy access for parents to understand academic performance at their schools, enrollment numbers, enrollment trends at schools, which obviously tells a big story if schools are losing students over time or if they have a waiting list that’s certainly an indicator of good performance or bad performance.”

“The portal should also provide information regarding the flow of money in so individual parents or taxpayers can watch and see where the money is actually going. The portal also will, I believe, allow a lot more conversations to occur, which is what we need – more engagement, more active engagement of parents.”

“I’ve said on the campaign trail that you can go online and learn more about a dishwasher from Consumer Reports when you’re going to buy a dishwasher than you can about your kids’ education.”

“This new portal, I hope, I haven’t seen it function yet, it is my hope that this new portal will go a long way to providing accountability and transparency for any parent and any taxpayer for that matter.”

“I also believe from an accountability perspective that we need to empower our principals more. Study after study shows that the most important or impactful person in the entire school system is the principal. We should allow our principals the ability to have control over their budgets, give them the ability to reward good teachers and as I said at the outset, if we pay our teachers like we want to keep them, we wont have a teacher shortage. If we empower the principals to make those decisions I think we’re going to have a far, far better result.”

“Yes, accountability and transparency for every taxpayer dollar and for every parent is critical.”

Katie Hobbs: “Arizona families today enjoy one of the most robust public education choice environments in the country. Through school-district open enrollment and charter-school offerings, Arizona families are not limited to only their neighborhood school or even the school district in which they live. I believe parents should be able to choose a quality district or charter school for their students, and part of making these decisions is a transparent and accountable understanding of how schools are using taxpayer dollars whether it be a public, private, or charter school.”

“While our public schools are required to be transparent, including cooperating with the Auditor General in producing the annual classroom spending report, charter schools have not faced that same level of transparency. That’s why I’ll herald a new generation of oversight and accountability for charter schools, which play a vital role in educating our children, but several of whom have abused tax dollars and are not held to the same standards as public schools. This includes requiring charters to participate in the annual classroom spending report produced for district schools by the Arizona Auditor General.”

Question: The pandemic has had an ubiquitous, nationwide impact on student performance.  In light of the lowered growth in test scores and virtually all student achievement metrics as nearly universally agreed to by both Arizona business and education leaders (the Education Progress Meter), is it time to move away from “high stakes” testing and focus more on grade level achievement as a means of recognizing higher performing schools and getting students back on track?  Do you have other ideas you’d like to share that will achieve higher student performance possibilities?

Marco Lopez: “I think that this answer ties directly to the funding one, and how I want to emphasize that equitable investments throughout our education system are key to leveling that playing field.”

“Because equal doesn’t necessarily mean and doesn’t do enough as investing equitably throughout our system. And that includes how we test our kids.”

“Today, I think we are so fixated on testing for the sake of moving kids along the process that we lose sight of what’s at stake. This is why I wanted to emphasize this question, because it is really how we fund our system, how we get qualified teachers in our classrooms so that district schools can succeed.”

“Again, we cannot have a 2,000 teacher shortage in Arizona and expect the kids that are supposed to be getting taught by those teachers can succeed. That means that then we have larger class sizes again limiting the ability of our kids to excel in the classroom that they are assigned to the teacher who is supposed to impart that education on to them.”

“I believe in this system. It is not the intent of this question, but I wanted to purposely point it out. The accountability depends, relies and lies at the feet of our governor, at the feet of our legislature that time and time again instead of investing in the system that will help our kids succeed, are failing to do it,”

“That’s where we need to make sure that we are holding accountability at it’s place. In the politicians that come on every two or four years, ask Arizonans to vote for them so they can it appears for the last decades education is at the top of the priorities. I remember when I was Mayor, Gov. Hull was the education governor, and here we are folks, here we are decades later and education is falling behind and we’re not investing in our teachers, we’re not investing in the tools that will help our kids succeed. That’s where accountability needs to be placed – at the feet of these politicians who come and lie to us and boy do they have good commercials and good talking points, but then there’s no action.”

“Let’s get back to the basics, Dick, and let’s make sure that we’re investing in quality district schools so that every child can succeed.”

Question: Parents make up about 35% of the Arizona population, but schools are paid for by taxpayers, a much larger subset of Arizona residents.  Do you feel taxpayers have enough voice in school affairs, too much, or too little?

Matt Salmon: “I think there’s a big disconnect between taxpaying parents who have children in schools and taxpayers who have no children in the schools.”

“Now, I’m in that situation right now. I have no children in the schools. I did and they graduated from the Arizona public schools, and now I have grandchildren in the public schools.”

“But there’s a lot of people out there and as I’ve been on the campaign trail and I talked to some of the folks who don’t have children in schools, and they don’t want to fund education. I tell them they’re wrong, because funding education has a direct impact on the future of this country and their future viability.”

“We don’t have well educated people taking great jobs in our economy, then our state doesn’t go forward in a positive way. Everybody’s depending on that. Everybody benefits by a very well educated populace.”

“Having said that, I do believe there’s a lot more room to involve people who don’t have so called skin in the game. There’s a lot of folks I’ve talked to on the campaign trail who would be willing to volunteer in the classrooms, who would be willing to volunteer as tutors, people who have great skills and abilities and I think we’ve got to figure out ways to involve them more.”

“I think school districts should create panels and groups of citizens that advise them and help them besides the school boards. I know some of the really successful school boards create these citizen committees that come in and advise them on certain things.”

“We all have a reason to support K-12 in this state. All of us do. It’s going to benefit everybody whether you have children in the schools or not.”

“We’ve got to get more involvement in the schools from all citizens and more input so yes, but deciding what is actually happening and being taught in the schools, I think those decisions should be reserved for the parents who have kids in schools right now.”

Question: What question should we have asked but did not?  (Candidates may include any question they prefer to answer).  

Katie Hobbs: “An important question to address is how our school system has diminished over the years, from poorer performance, to bottoming teacher pay, to having so few guidance counselors, we rank toward the bottom of our nation. The simple answer is this: Leadership that has failed us and deprived our children of the resources necessary to succeed. The fact is we’re facing a school system in crisis, and it will take strong, bold leadership to address the numerous challenges facing us. But with the support of educators and parents across Arizona, we can build an accessible education system that ensures equal access to a quality education for students from all walks of life.”