Since taking office in 2019, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman has been a consistent advocate for children, parents-guardians, and educators.
She has continually championed policies to elevate the teaching profession, increase funding for schools, and promote equity in the quality of education and treatment all children should receive.
Among the forward policies the Superintendent has had a hand in fashioning these last three years are:
- Developing strategies and initiatives to help recruit and retain more instructors. This includes a recent partnership with Donors Choose where teachers were able to apply for $1,000 supply grants. It also includes the creation of the first Arizona Teacher Residency Program.
- Working to make sure all education stakeholders were safe and protected during the COVID 19 Pandemic.
- Supporting measures to ensure all students of the LGBTQ are treated fairly and with dignity.
- Expanding laptop and internet hot spot access in impoverished urban and rural communities.
- The issuance of school safety grants that have enabled schools to hire additional counselors and social workers. This has caused a reduction in the Student to Counselor ratio.
- The creation of a school safety task force and a statewide student council.
- Advocating for the repeal of the State Aggregate Spending Limit for Public Schools.
- Using the state budget surplus to fully fund public education.
Superintendent Hoffman graciously took the time to discuss her proudest achievements over the last three years and priorities for the remainder of 2022.
The questions and her responses are below.
- Madam Superintendent, what has been at least the three proudest achievements of your tenure as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction?
“So many wonderful things. One of the things that I’m most proud of is that we were able to expand the school safety grant program twice and just so proud that as of the most recent data, we have been able to cut the student to school counselor ratio by nearly 20 percent just in this last year. And of course, this has given our students an enormous boost and the mental health services that are available to them in their schools.
Another, one of my most proud achievements is where we were able to be a support and repealing the anti LGBTQ bill, which was referred to as the No Promo Homo Law, which we know was very discriminatory and divisive for our students.
One of my other most proud moments is how we’ve been able to invest the COVID recovery dollars. I’ll be talking a lot about those, but just one example of one of the ways that we invested our federal COVID relief funds was in a project called the Final Mile Project. This initiative is to expand internet connectivity from school communities to students’ homes. This is specifically targeting our students in a rural communities that did not have internet at home.”
- Please tell the readers, at least two steps the Department of Education is taking to help schools and districts close the learning gap caused by the pandemic?
“So, our biggest role in helping our schools in the recovery process is in the allocation of the federal funds. And so in addition to the funds that were directly allocated to all of our school districts and charters across the state, we have been able to bolster those funds with our state discretionary dollars and by funding certain initiatives.
A couple of examples.
We partnered with ASU Prep in a program that is called Math Momentum. The rationale behind this initiative was that we knew that students were really struggling in math, due to the pandemic. We saw greater and a more significant decline in math skills than we did in reading and writing skills. We also know that the teacher shortage also makes it really very challenging for our schools to recruit and retain teachers with math, mathematics, expertise. And so with this Math Momentum program, the schools who participate are receiving a very high quality math curriculum. And it’s also providing certified math teachers to schools that did not have a certified math teacher.
This program is serving over 5,000 students in 40 schools in Arizona for the next three years.
One of our other initiatives which you probably saw recently is one of our more recent investments was the $14 million partnership with Donors Choose.
This was specifically to show gratitude towards our teachers and also to empower them to make decisions about what resources are most needed for their students and to help set their students up for success. Through the Donors Choose Partnership, teachers could receive up to $1,000 grants for classroom projects, and it was so popular that we were able to spend down that $14 million in just two weeks.
The teachers have already received the supplies and this has been really exciting to hear how those classroom supplies are being already been utilized.”
- What are at least two legislative priorities you hope the state legislature will act on before the end of the session? Please explain.
“The first one is my focus in my State of Education speech was we know at the beginning of the legislative session that the Aggregate Expenditure Limit was the front and center concern for all of us and public education. It simply does not make any sense to have this limit on what districts can spend from what has already been budgeted to them from the legislature.
To me, it’s still a priority for this year and going into next year, that we must fully repeal the expenditure limit simply because it’s outdated and a disservice to our school leaders who are diligently trying to plan their budgets well in advance.
There’s no need to cause this type of panic going into future school years.
I would say that continues to be a priority for me, for the legislature.
The second thing is related, which we currently have over a five billion dollar surplus. In our state budget and many of our neighboring states, including Utah, New Mexico, they have already made the decision to give teachers raises across the board raises in their states because they understand the importance of that and with the ongoing teacher shortages, it’s incredibly important to make that a priority.
And so, I would say that my second priority for this legislative session is to make sure that we’re thinking about how do we have a sustainable way to make teacher pay competitive in Arizona when we continue to, to rank last in the nation for the average teacher.”
- In the legislative session, what are at least two bills that you and your team support passage of? Please explain.
“The first one I would like to highlight is Senator Bowie’s SB1189 which would fund more school counselors for our students. This would build on the success of having the School Safety Grant program expanded.
Even today, I was on a call with a school leader who said that they were able to hire, actually social workers in this case, but because of the School Safety Grant program, they were able to hire a couple of social workers for their schools. But when they saw the impact of having school counselors and social workers in their schools, they, they created even more positions and it was actually in a charter network. I think with these new positions, people are seeing how important they are. It would be so wonderful to have Senator Bowie’s bill pass, to make sure again, we have sustainable state funding for these critical positions, especially knowing what our students have gone through with the pandemic.
I hear directly from our student’s time and time again about how their mental health needs to be a priority of our state leaders. And so, I hope that this is something we can have bipartisan support on.
The second one is going back to the expenditure limit. Representative Pawlik did have a bill to repeal the expenditure limit. I’ll just say simply again that I would support to fully repeal it.”
- In this legislative session, what are at least two bills that you and your team feel do not help the public education stakeholders of Arizona? Please explain.
“The first is HB2161 which would require educators to post all of their learning materials and lesson plans online. This would be incredibly burdensome. This is government overreach to the max. This would make it very challenging for our teachers to keep up with this type of policy. I’ve even heard from school leaders that because some of our schools are in competition with each other, they also don’t think it’s right that they should be able to post their school curriculum publicly because that’s their propriety. Um, so there’s many reasons why this would be government overreach.
Ultimately, I think what the bill is trying to do is to give parents more access to what kids are learning in schools, but there are other already existing ways for parents to learn about what their kids are learning in school like visiting the classroom and talking to the teacher. There are other ways to build strong partnerships between families and schools. But this seems to be a type of legislation that ultimately would make the teaching profession even more cumbersome and more paperwork heavy when we really want them focused on the kids and teaching the kids.
The second, bill and I did speak out on this recently is the Anti Transgender Sports bill. We know this targets only a small portion of our students in this state, but it’s sends the wrong message.
It again sends a very hurtful message of making our trans students feel like they’re not welcome in our schools.
I thought it was significant that the AIA, the Arizona Interscholastic Association, didn’t think there was any issue that needed to be solved here.
This seemed like more of a culture war type issue. That was more about the politics, rather than focusing on laws that will actually help our students and kids.”
- With respect to the issue of finding a highly qualified instructor for every classroom, can you please advise what progress has been made on this front? Please explain.
“Well, one way that I have been addressing this and making educator recruitment a higher priority was right from the beginning of my administration, we started building out the educator recruitment and retention team in the department to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to support our schools in their efforts. That team works directly with schools across the state on different types of strategies.
The Arizona Teacher Residency is a two-year program that prepares recent college graduates from any degree program and mid-career switchers to be effective classroom teachers. Through this extended fieldwork, and the master’s degree coursework that revolves around this experience, residents truly learn what it means to develop and sustain themselves as teachers. As a result, residencies have a strong track record of advancing teacher retention, and student achievement, too. This meaningful solution is another tool that we are using to address our teacher shortage.
In addition, especially during the pandemic, we were trying to find different ways to support educators in many different ways. For example, we provided a lot of professional development opportunities at no cost to teachers. Of course, with the Donors Choose partnership, we gave teachers away, to first of all, again, express our gratitude, but then also to empower them, to make decisions for their class rooms, which I think ultimately our teachers really value. We’re also in the process of launching a TV campaign around thanking teachers. And this is also centered around teacher appreciation week that’s coming up.
But the bottom line is we want to do everything we can to value our teachers and to help them feel the importance of and appreciation for their work, to treat them like professionals, and to give them the support they need so that they can continue doing their important work.”
- Is there anything not covered in the first six questions that you’d like the readers to know about your priorities as Superintendent? Please explain.
“I think the last thing I’ll mention because it kind of fits with what we’ve already been talking about because the allocation of federal funds has been such a big part of the work we’re doing.
I think it’s important for Arizona is to know that we’ve been very strategic in building partnerships and making sure we’re leveraging these federal funds in a way that’s strategic and having a statewide impact, making sure that we’re getting dollars to our most vulnerable students and communities that have been most impacted by COVID.
On our website, we do have all of the different initiatives listed out so people can see those partnerships. We’ve aligned those initiatives around our key priority areas. And so those include the different things we’ve been talking about, like student equity and achievement, educator recruitment and retention, student mental health and safety.
So those types of areas and others have been our key ways of thinking about making sure we’re being responsible and allocating the federal funds.”
Please click here to access the Department of Education site on the various initiatives Superintendent Hoffman referred to.