Are John Huppenthal’s days as superintendent of public instruction numbered? Is he politically DOA?
Huppenthal ostensibly oversees our state’s public schools, oversees in the sense that he makes the trains run on time. But he made a big boo-boo a couple of years ago, one he’s trying to make penance for as the primary election looms nearer.
The boo-boo? He supports Common Core.
As we know, Common Core tends to be second only to Obamacare among those things hated most by the far right in our country, including here in Arizona. (Though recently the Bureau of Land Management has become the latest whipping boy, thanks to moocher/racist rancher/federal government denier Cliven Bundy).
Go to any tea party meeting, read any tea party-related publications or website articles, and you’ll find plenty of rants against Common Core, including the federal takeover of our education argument and the wacky Agenda 21/United Nations is taking over our education argument.
And we all know that the tea party-types are the ones who’ll turn out for the August primary.
For Huppenthal, that might be his last stand, because he has a single opponent, former Peoria school board member Diane Douglas, a tea party darling.
And her most important issue? No surprise. On her website homepage is this: “Why am I running for Superintendent of Public Instruction? Quite simply, to stop the Common Core standards.”
The very standards Huppenthal’s embraced are target No. 1 for his rival.
So how has he reacted?
First, he and Gov. Jan Brewer — also a strong supporter of Common Core — changed the name of them here in Arizona to Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards.
Didn’t work. Changing the name didn’t change opponents’ ire.
On to Plan B. More choice!
Arizona’s known as maybe the top state — or worst state, depending on your view — for school choice. We have charter schools galore, and we have voucher plans for private school attendance, and recently we have expanded the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, public money used by families for private schools, tutors, home school materials, even for college savings.
In other words, plenty of options, some of which take money from already cash-strapped public schools.
So Huppenthal’s embraced those options, some might say hugged them passionately. In fact, he even filmed a spot touting the ESA’s, saying, “That’s right, you may be able to send your child to private school for free.” And he sent the same message via robo call to 50,000 Arizona homes, a message that sent folks to a website sponsored by the Let’s-Privatize-Education Goldwater Institute.
Of course, many thought that maybe, just maybe, the guy overseeing public schools telling folks that they can use taxpayers’ money to fund their kids’ private schools tuition is more than a little outrageous.
No problem, though, for Huppenthal, because his support screams out how much he advocates taking money from public schools and providing it to private schools, schools that don’t have to account for how they spend our taxpayers’ money.
And then he took it one step further. He decided — well, maybe the courts will ultimately decide — that the money provided to families by the ESA’s should be the equivalent to funding charter schools rather than district schools, giving parents leaving public schools more money than what kids remaining in public schools are financed at.
Again, a slight uproar. And again, no problem for Huppenthal.
In the meantime, though, we found out that Huppenthal’s office has been unable to keep track of how much money has been given out through ESA’s, bumbling in their accounting. The media even found one account with $60,000 sitting in it, with the average “scholarship” being $13,000 — about $9,000 more than the basic per pupil aid for public schools.
Huppenthal’s ultimate goal? “Creating more school choice, it’s bit by bit, piece by piece until we have a completely fluid system in which parents have an unlimited set of choices in front of them.”
Spoken like a true believer.
No matter, though: Huppenthal’s love affair with demon Common Core will most likely mean the end of his far too long tenure at the Education Department. And will set up a fall contest between Douglas, who’s an even more ardent of privatization, if that’s possible, and Democrat David Garcia.
Leaving Huppenthal on the outside looking in, thanks to the voters’ choice.
• East Valley resident Mike McClellan is a former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.