Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/today/21007VOTESCHOOLS.html


3 offer own paths to boost schools:1 wants to scrap AIMS, another would keep it

By Hipolito R. Corella

Ocotber 7, 2002

Each candidate for state superintendent of public instruction claims to know the path to lifting Arizona public schools from the  bottom when it comes to graduation rates,  classroom funding and academic performance.

But each favors a different route to get there.

Democrat Jay Blanchard wants to dump the AIMS test to "focus more on teaching than testing" and give more power to local school boards.

Republican Tom Horne wants to keep the graduation test - with modifications - and push to cap school district spending on administrators.

And Libertarian John C. Zajac wants to privatize all of the state's schools to let the free market boost Arizona's school system.

Arizona voters will decide in the Nov. 5 general election who knows best how to  make schools better.

Horne won the GOP primary against Jaime Molera, the appointed incumbent, in a race that at times was notably nasty.

Horne attacked Molera with claims he was doing little to enforce the 2000 state voter initiative that dismantled Arizona's traditional bilingual education methods.

There are signs the general election could get just as brutal.

In a taping last week for the early Sunday morning news show "Eyewitness News 4 One On One with Sandy Rathbun,"
Blanchard noted that federal authorities took away Horne's license to sell mutual funds, stocks and bonds three decades ago.

In 1973, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission revoked the registration of Horne's T.C. Horne & Co. for submitting a false report, bookkeeping problems and for not having enough capital to complete purchase and sell orders for clients.

The company went bankrupt, and the SEC barred Horne "from association with any broker, dealer, investment adviser or
registered investment company."

Blanchard will tell more people about it later this week in 150,000 mailers that he's sending to Republican and independent voters across the state.

"I'm not slinging mud here," Blanchard says, "I'm just reading from an SEC report."

The criticism is a matter of public record, speaks to his opponent's character and voters will decide if it's relevant to the
election, Blanchard said.

"It's mudslinging of the lowest sort," Horne says of the campaign tactic. "I think it says something that he couldn't find anything for 30 years."

Horne notes that he opened the small company to sell stocks and mutual funds to pay his way through Harvard Law School and has had an exemplary legal career since then. Horne blames his SEC problems on unreliable computers the company used.

Blanchard, 55, is looking to leave the state Senate for a job that has no legislative authority after winning the seat against one of the most powerful politicians in the state.

In 2000, Blanchard benefited from the costly alternative fuels debacle that voters pegged squarely on the lap of then-House Speaker Jeff Groscost.

Blanchard, a professor in the teaching college at Arizona State University, says his two years in the Senate will serve him well in the new post, lobbying state lawmakers on behalf of the state's public schools.

Blanchard wants to get rid of the AIMS test, which measures how well Arizona students know math, reading and writing and will eventually be used as a high school graduation test.

He said the Stanford 9 test can be modified to meet federal laws requiring standards-based testing like the AIMS in
addition to norm-referenced testing like the Stanford 9. A single test will save money, and teachers could focus on instruction rather than preparing students for tests.

Blanchard opposes vouchers but is open to public hearings on the issue.

And he thinks the state needs to have better oversight over charter schools. "There are more than 400 charters in the state, and most of them are doing a good job," Blanchard said. "But it's still taxpayer money.

"I think good charters want to get rid of the bad apples just as bad as anyone else."

In the Senate, Blanchard supported fingerprinting of charter school teachers, introduced a bill to force charter school
sponsors to revoke the license of any charter school that files for bankruptcy and wanted the state Department of Education to sponsor a charter school primarily focused on helping students get a GED.

Blanchard wants to pay teachers more and said vocational programs need to be strengthened because a student learning for a career after high school is less likely to drop out.

Nearly 10 percent of Arizona high school students dropped out during the last school year, according to a report from state education officials last week.

Blanchard said he did not support Proposition 203 - which in 2000 dealt with reforming bilingual education - but that under that law, parents can, and should, be able to choose whether their child learns in a traditional bilingual classroom or by being immersed in an English-only class.

Horne, however, argues that school districts across the state are abusing the proposition's waiver provision. He said that too many students who don't speak English are being enrolled in bilingual classrooms, contrary to the law's intent.

Horne, 57, said he supports students speaking more than one language but says the law says only students already fluent in English ought to be in bilingual classrooms.

"If it was just a matter of choice, then there would not have been so many people fighting against it," Horne says.

Horne, a Phoenix attorney and state lawmaker from 1996 to 2000, spent more than $400,000 out of his own pocket in the primary. But he says he can't put a price on the satisfaction of helping raise student achievement.

Horne has been on the Paradise Valley school board for 24 years - 10 as  president - and said he is proud that test scores there rise above other districts in the state.

He wants to see the same success across Arizona.

Horne supports the AIMS test but wants it to be "more reasonable" and thinks students should have to pass it to graduate by 2006.

He said students who score high should get college tuition waivers or an honors diploma, while those who barely get by would receive a high school certificate of attendance.

"You don't want to make a kid a dropout because he can't pass trigonometry," he said. "But if they can do trigonometry, you want to recognize that."

Horne said the state is right to take over poor-performing schools and said he'd lobby for forcing school districts to spend no more than 5 percent of their budget on district administrators. He said more money needs to go into the classroom.

A report by the state auditor general in March showed that Arizona schools spend slightly less than 58 cents of every dollar on instruction, teacher salaries, books and supplies. That's less than the national average.

Some school districts, however, criticized the audit, saying that it did not include the counselors, registered nurses and librarians that should be part of instructional costs.

Horne supports charters and disagrees with Blanchard's assessment that the hybrid public schools need more oversight.

He said there is no benefit to adding more regulations to schools that are supposed to be an alternative to traditional public schools. "The whole point of charters is that they be able to experiment," Horne said.

He opposes vouchers, saying the state's ample charter school options make vouchers unnecessary and that the state constitution would make them illegal.

Zajac, the Libertarian candidate, disagrees. He said vouchers are tantamount to a cure-all for the state's education woes.

Zajac, 45, said schools should be leased to private individuals or companies to operate. He said the free market will decide which schools stay open, how well they pay teachers and that direct competition will raise student achievement.

Zajac said the amount of the voucher would have to be negotiated, but that he envisions it would be between $6,000 and $8,000 yearly per student. It would be paid directly to parents, who could supplement the amount to cover pricier tuition.

Zajac, a radio and television producer and secretary of the state Libertarian Party, said the AIMS test should be eliminated and that parents should be able to choose from a variety of tests to measure student academic achievement.

Zajac also advocates for the elimination of state teacher certification, saying it depletes the pool of potential, competent teachers.

* Contact reporter Hipolito R. Corella at 573-4243 or at corella@azstarnet.com.


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