PHOENIX — Teacher pay and school funding top the list for newly-elected state Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, but those aren't the only issues grabbing the former speech therapist's attention.
Q: What is the status and purpose of auditing the Department of Education?
Hoffman: We have created a committee and will soon be releasing the names of who is on that committee. That committee includes county superintendents, CFOs, CPAs, people with financial expertise, and school finance expertise specifically. We want to see what's working well in the department and amplify those components, and then we want to find the areas that need improvement, we want to work together. The audit's not meant to be punitive, it's meant to be a baseline so that we can problem solve together and make sure that our funding system for our schools is running effectively and efficiently so they get the money when they need it.
Q: What are your thoughts on the governor's proposed budget and the money it allocates for education?
Hoffman: Overall, I was pleased because there was a lot in that budget that was dedicated to our schools. I was thrilled to see the extra money going toward counselors, our career and technical education programs, the teachers' academy. Of course there are areas where I'd love to see more and I think we all would, and we know school funding is a big issue and teacher pay is a big issue, but it was a great step in the right direction.
There's still a lot of movement down at the legislature to find a more sustainable funding source for our schools and I've been meeting with representatives and senators to talk about their bills that they're introducing. So I still think that there's hope to find more funding for our schools, I think this is just a good starting point and we'll continue to move forward to see where there may be other funds available.
Q: HB 2017 aims to prevent another Red for Ed walkout by fining teachers, or anyone who forces a school to shut down when it is supposed to be open. What are your thoughts on this bill and other pieces of proposed education-related legislation?
Hoffman: At the end of the day, it's all about what our students need, and teachers feel frustrated when their workload is so much that they can't serve their students. They feel too overwhelmed, maybe they feel unqualified, they don't feel best-equipped, they don't have maybe the programs or the tools they need to support their students and that's why teachers walked out.
We need to get to the root of the problem and come together to solve these types of education issues and teacher shortage issues to prevent a walkout. One of the other bills I've been excited about seeing was introduced by Senator Boyer and it would reduce the restrictions of four-hour ELL blocks, which would make it so that our English learning students would have less restrictions in terms of how many hours they're receiving their English instruction. That actually shows a lot of promise and could have really significant outcomes for our English learning students because they do have, unfortunately, a very high dropout rate and because of this four-hour model that's been a policy in Arizona for so long, Arizona actually has the lowest high school graduation rate of English-learning students in the country.
Q: If you could walk away from your time as superintendent with one big accomplishment, what would that accomplishment be?
Hoffman: If I could accomplish one thing, it would be that there's a passion again for people to want to become teachers, to have more of a sense that it's a rewarding job. It's a great profession, and to have people and to see that in our young people coming up through elementary, middle, high school, college, that people are saying, 'I want to be a teacher when I grow up,' and then the more measurable goal would be that we would see decreased numbers in terms of the teachers quitting their jobs and that we would have more teachers in the profession and not feel this weight of the teachers shortage. I sometimes need to remind teachers and education advocates that this is going to take time and i know we all want that immediate, big change because our students and schools need so much, but as long as we're moving in the right direction and being very transparent and being held accountable to what steps we're taking to make progress, then I think everyone will have a more positive outlook on the direction we're headed.