Arizona School Superintendent Tom Horne on Horizon on Jan. 22, 2003
>> Michael: Joining me now is the Arizona Superintendent of Public
Instruction, Tom Horne. Tom, I
don't think I've seen you since the election. Congratulations.
>> Tom Horne: Thank you, Mike.
>> Michael: You are a strong supporter of school district consolidation.
>> Tom Horne: Yes, I am.
>> Michael: Why?
>> Tom Horne: Several reasons. The first reason is the efficiency. The Joint
Committe did a study very recently where they found efficient large districts
spend $300 and some per
pupil on administration, where some of the smaller districts spend as much as
$1,000 per student on
administration. We only give $4700 per student. So a thousand dollars is a big
chunk out of the budget.
People expect the money to be spent in the classroom on teacher compensation and
on smaller class
size, rather than wasteful administration.
> Michael: What about the local control issue. That's the one that is always
brought up and in fact was
mentioned in the package.
>> Tom Horne: Well, there is an ideal size for a school district, sufficientlily
large for economies of scale
but small enough so that people have a say in the school district and that's
probably around 30,000
students or so. But we have districts with just a few hundred students. So we
can still have local control
and still have the district be large enough so that they have the economies of
>> Michael: Is it politically possible? You and I have both been around for a
long time. This idea is not
a new one. It always gets bludgeoned and bludgeoned badly when it comes up. So
are we talking
political nonreality here?
>> Tom Horne: Well, there is more interest now than there has been in the past.
Arizona has been much
criticized for being 47th in the country and the amount we spend per pupil. We
talk about getting more
money per pupil, we can't do that this year because we are playing defense with
the budget deficit.
When the economy turns around and there is more tax receipts, education wants to
be a priority. If
education is going to be a priority, we have to persuade the legislators and the
public that we're getting
100 cents of distance run out of every dollar that we spent. That means
accountablilty on the academic
side. That means accountability on the financial side. We have to be efficient,
spend the money in the
classroom, and on the academic side, Mike, this is relevant, too, because if you
can unify districts so
they go K-12 rather than elementary districts and high school districts, they
can be much more
responsible for the academic scope and sequence of the subjects that they teach.
No high school in a
unified district was labeled as underperforming. All of the underperforming high
schools in our state are
high schools who took their students in from feeder elementary districts. So it
would appear that at least
unifying the district has strong academic benefits as well.
>> Michael: The Governor has recommended full funding for both the inflator and
growth adjustment, I
think roughly about $400 million increase in K-12 spending. Is that number
someplace in the ballpark?
>> Tom Horne: It's required. There's no choice there. Proposition 301 was passed
by the voters. It
says that each year we will spend the same amount per pupil that we spent the
prior year plus 2% for
inflation. That's voter approved. We passed another referendum that says you
can't mess with what the
voters approved. The legislature doesn't have the power to cut that part of the
>> Michael: Senator Bennett has suggested that in other education related areas
you could cut and
whack at that $400 million. Governor Hull had suggested that, for example, some
of the soft capital
funds might -- if memory serves, I want to say that was in the universe of $120
million or so could be
>> Tom Horne: She said old textbooks are better than new textbooks.
>> Michael: She did make that point. Let's save that debate for another time.
What about, though, just
the concept of, yeah, you can't touch those, but what about some of the other
areas that you can touch
and should you touch them?
>> Tom Horne: It's not voter protected. It's true soft capital. I've argued that
we shouldn't cut soft
capital because in real dollars we have cut it substantially. We haven't had an
increase since 1999, so
the real cost of things has gone up, but the nominal dollar amount has stayed
the same. We haven't been
able to adjust for inflation. For example, in the school district I came from,
we had a 5-year cycle for
textbooks and we've gone to an 8-year cycle for textbooks. There has already
been a substantial cut in
soft capital simply because there was no adjustment for inflation for several
>> Michael: The Governor also suggests, and I think there is general agreement
on this, I'm not sure on
where it goes, but that there needs to be a reexamination of the Students First
funding mechanism. Many
people think we ought to go back to the old system of bonding, supplanted by
some state aid. What do
you think about that?
>> Tom Horne: I'm one of those people who does think that. I will come up with a
proposal in the next
couple of weeks to do just that. I think it'll save something like $400 million
on the current deficit.
>> Michael: Was it folly to try to build all of these schools out of the general
fund in current monies in
the first place?
>> Tom Horne: It was, and I was one of 12 Republicans who refused to vote for
it. You may
remember we had a session that was extended back in '97, that was extended
several months because
they were one vote short on passing it, and I was one of those who wouldn't vote
for it. And finally, I
think Robin Shaw made a famous statement. This is a terrible bill, this is a
terrible bill, this is a terrible
bill, I vote yes.
>> Michael: I vote aye?
>> Tom Horne: Yes.
>> Michael: That's right. We went through our first round of school assessments
last year. Theoretically,
if they were to be labeled underperforming again this year, they would be put in
the failing category and
that calls for some Draconian measures. You have suggested that that peril be
put off for a year. Why?
>> Tom Horne: Well, the schools were identified in October. They have to come up
with plans of
improvement by January 31st. The first tests that are given for the following
year are the following
March, and so if they would be underperforming a second year based on tests
taken in March when
they only presented a plan for improvement in January, two months is not enough
time to put into effect
a plan of improvement for a school, so by delaying it a year, we give them a
full year to put into effect
the plan of improvement and turn themselves around by their own plan of
improvement before they are
in danger of being designated as a failing school.
>> Michael: What does "failing" mean? I mean, what remedies does that call forth
and what are the
perils that the school is in at that point in time?
>> Well, it starts out as sort of a positive thing. We have to send help. We
send improvement teams,
solutions teams to help the school improve. But if those don't work and there is
a finding that the school
was negligent in implementing its own plans of improvement, ultimately there can
be state intervention,
and we could put the school up to bid and have outside parties come in and take
over the school.
>> Michael: If you have that ramping up process, in other words, the first
stages were from the
government -- we're here to help you, what is the real peril, though? I agree
with you the basic
unfairness of, well, hold it, you only got the plan locked in February 1, we'll
start testing on March, but
on the other hand, what's the true unfairness or the true peril if it's only
leading to, hi, we really think you
should improve in this area and let us help you in this area.
>> Tom horne: But then the following year they are up for state intervention,
which nobody wants to
have. In addition to that, the failing label is a terrible stigma to put on a
school. It can effect real estate
values in that area. It affects people's morale. You don't want to put that
label unfairly on a school that's
not really failing. School board members, if enough failing schools are found in
their district, will have to
put on their re-election the fact that there are failing schools in their
district. There are a lot of
consequences to being a failing school. My experience is that schools that have
been designated as
underperforming are working very hard to turn those schools around.
>> Michael: Does that require legislative change?
>> Tom Horne: Yes. And we have submitted a bill to do that.
>> Michael: Any read from the house and/or the senate on their general views on
the subject of putting
it off a year?
>> Tom Horne: I've gotten favorable responses to that part of it.
>> Michael: Okay. Let me turn to another subject. Obviously English immersion
and waivers of that
process, you made that an issue during the primary campaign. What programs, what
underway in relation to that general area?
>> Tom Horne: Well, one of the first things I did was I appointed Margaret
Garcia Dugan, who was
one of the co-chairs of English for the children that passed the initiative
requiring that English immersion
be replaced by bilingual education, I appointed her as the associate
superintendent for academic
support, which is the area that deals with that, as well as many other areas. By
that appointment, I made
it clear that I meant what I said, and we are going to enforce that initiative.
But it's not enough to enforce
it. We have to make it absolutely clear that every school that has nonEnglish
speaking students must be
serious about teaching them English. If they'll be serious about teaching them
English and the students
can become fluent in a year, they can fly academically. There is no limits to
what they can accomplish
academically. The schools must be serious about teaching the students English.
Their parents want them
to learn English. It's just the bilingual machine of educators that have been
fighting this. If you talk to
parents in the communities of people who don't speak English, they very much
want their children to
>> Michael: Are we spending enough on the subject? I know we have a study
underway at the current
time, and if I recall correctly, hasn't the federal court put off the deadline
on that for another year?
>> Tom Horne: They have. The legislature did pass a bill funding a rather
expensive study to determine
what is the real cost -- what's the added cost of teaching students English.
>> Michael: What's your basic feel for that? Are we passing the Goldielocks test
>> Tom Horne: I think probably the cost per pupil is higher than what we're
spending now to truly teach
students English quickly, but we're overidentifying English language learners.
We're going to need to put
something in place to be sure that the students who need to learn them are
placed in programs. Right
now there is a financial incentive for schools to identify students as English
language learners when they
might be speaking English quite well.
>> Michael: I hate to do this to you. We've only got 30 seconds left. Any key
changes in aims in the
>> Tom Horne: Yes, I'm proposing that the aims test measure only reasonable
skills and knowledge to
get a standard high school diploma. For those students who have the higher
skills and knowledge, we
should recognize that with honors endorsements, differentiated diplomas, tuition
waivers for those at the
very top, so we motivate and stimulate are brightest and our average students,
but to get a standard high
school diploma, only reasonable skills and knowledge should be required. That
being said said we are
going to insist on the 2006 deadline, that you don't graduate if you don't pass
that test. All right, Tom
Horne, thanks very much.
>> Tom Horne: Thank you, Mike.
>> Michael: If you would like to see a transcript of tonight's program, go to
our Web site at
www.kaet.asu.edu., click on "Horizon." You can also see transcripts of past
"Horizon" programs and
find out about upcoming topics.
>>> Tomorrow California recently had its share of Colorado river water slashed.
We will talk about
what that means for Arizona.
>>> And, of course, on Friday, reporters gather here and this not so round table
to discuss the week's
>>> Thank you very much for joining us on this Wednesday evening. I'm Michael
Grant. Have a great
one. Good night.