After a series of education-related protests and victories last year in Arizona—infamous for outlawing ethnic studies classes and right-wing efforts to push school vouchers—the state’s new head of the public school system on Monday took the oath office on a children’s book and promised to continue the fight to improve conditions for both students and teachers.
The first Democrat in more than two decades to serve as Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, Kathy Hoffman, a 33-year-old speech therapist, told a local television news reporter that “Too Many Moose!” has “a lot of sentimental value” to her as her students’ favorite book, and it also helped them develop their vocabulary and phonics skills.
After she was sworn in at a ceremony at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix, Hoffman delivered a speech that echoed messages from her campaign stump speech, AZ Central reports.
“I think that the other educators felt the same way I did, that we wanted our voices to be heard and to make sure that our students had a voice in government, and we were tired of waiting around and waiting for someone to speak for us.” —Kathy Hoffman, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction
“Our public schools go beyond just teaching our students to read or to take a test,” Hoffman said. “They help our children to learn even other important skills, including music, science, art, technology, so that our students are not just productive, but well-rounded members of our community.”
“Imagine if we elevated the voices of our teachers and let educators lead,” she said. “Imagine if we celebrated the diversity within our state and within our schools and treated multilingualism as an asset. Imagine if we worked collaboratively and used research to guide us toward the best (policies for students).”
Vowing to launch an audit of the state Department of Education and to fight for “competitive” pay for all education staff and paid parental leave, Hoffman declared: “Well, guess what? I’m done saying, ‘Imagine if.’ I am here to say, ‘Let’s get to work.'”
Her promises follow 2018’s #RedforEd walkouts in Arizona that successfully pressured Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to sign a budget bill raising teacher pay and dedicating $138 million more to funding schools. In 2017, the ban on ethnic studies classes was defeated and last year, so was a right-wing initiative, backed by a group with ties to the billionaire Koch Brothers, to privatize Arizona schools.
Teachers not only in Arizona, but also across West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Colorado held walkouts and rallies last year to demand greater investment in public education. In the wake of those demonstrations, there was a large spike in educators running for elected office. The Associated Press reports, citing union figures, that “nationwide, an unprecedented 1,800 current and former educators, administrators and support staffers ran for office in 2018, and more than half of them won.”
“I feel proud to be part of the movement of educators who decided to run for office,” Hoffman told the AP. “I think that the other educators felt the same way I did, that we wanted our voices to be heard and to make sure that our students had a voice in government, and we were tired of waiting around and waiting for someone to speak for us.”
In Arizona, not all of 2018’s teacher-backed efforts succeeded—ahead of the midterms, the state Supreme Court, which critics have accused Ducey of packing with right-wing judges, struck down the Invest in Education ballot initiative that would have increased taxes on the Arizona’s wealthiest residents to raise $690 million in public education spending—but Hoffman said Monday that “we want to do everything we can to prevent another walkout.”
While celebrating the outcomes of last year’s protests, she concluded, “It was thrilling to see everyone come together for that cause last spring, but now we need to do everything we can to come together to pass policies and solve this together.”
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