Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/0104horne04.html
Horne to take case to public
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 4, 2004
Pat Kossan

Education changes at heart of speech

When it comes to what your child learns in the classroom, the quality of your child's teacher, even how the state labels your child's school, Tom Horne is Arizona's most influential politician.

But Horne doesn't want to talk about how he got there.

He doesn't want people to be reminded that a year ago he spent $600,000 of his own money to win the $85,000-a-year job as the state superintendent of public instruction. Or that many people saw his campaign as racist.

"It's unfortunate to keep bringing it up," Horne said. Instead, the Phoenix lawyer and former school board member wants to talk about campaign promises he has made and kept, the theme of Tuesday's State of Education speech Horne will present first at Phoenix's Madison Rose Lane School, then three other schools throughout the state on Wednesday and Thursday.

As for spending more than a half-million dollars for his job, Horne shrugs it off.

He compared it to campaign money spent by Arizona's two new congressmen. He cited Steve Forbes, who spent $38 million on his failed primary presidential campaign. Money can't buy a political office, Horne is fond of saying, unless you have a message that sells.

Meticulously dressed and polite, Horne waged an impolite primary war against the incumbent superintendent, Jaime Molera Horne used television ads to hammer Molera, a Mexican-American, for not enforcing the state's English-only law. The law prohibits most teachers from speaking Spanish in the classroom or using Spanish-language texts, teaching tools and tests.

The message played well with the Republican faithful, who gave Horne the primary votes he needed to get into office. Horne won the job but left many people uncomfortable. Yet he still rankles at the idea that his campaign was racist.

He said members of the Latino community led the fight to ban bilingual education in Arizona and that state voters approved it at the polls. He simply kept a campaign promise when, in February, he toughened the voter-approved law, forcing thousands more students into English-only classes.

One-time English learner Armida Bittner, Gila County Schools superintendent, is one of eight people who sit on the State Board of Education with Horne, and she finds herself caught in the middle.

On one side is the law, the need of Spanish-speaking parents and their children to learn English, and Horne's determination to enforce the law to the last letter.

On the other side are foundering Spanish-speaking students. These kids are unlikely to score well on standardized tests, which they must take in English, Bittner said. It's unlikely they'll keep up with their studies or remain in school when their teacher's words mean nothing to them.

Bittner wants Horne to use his persuasive skills, so apparent when he addresses other issues, and find a middle ground that will mend the rift.

"There should be more talk, more negotiation, more dialogue on this," Bittner said, to ensure that Spanish-speaking kids keep up with math, science and history and stop dropping out of high school in high numbers.

Postelection surprise

After Horne's dramatic campaign and hard stance on English-only, many expected a hard-right ideologue.

What they found in Horne was a mostly likable and pragmatic politician. Horne has won over some of the most skeptical in the education community.

During his campaign, Horne promised a Department of Education that would listen to and serve the public school system. He hired some of the state's most respected superintendents, assistant superintendents and principals to run his administration. He set up advisory committees filled with principals and professors, parents and teachers.

Those are all good signs to Arizona PTA President Lucy Ranus.

"People in the trenches don't know everything, but they know what they need to do their job and they know some of the problems," Ranus said.


Horne surprised Robert Donofrio, longtime superintendent of southwest Phoenix's tiny Murphy Elementary School District.

"He's into turning the agency around," Donofrio said.

Sandra Dowling, Maricopa County superintendent of schools, is amazed that people at the state Department of Education return phone calls. "You can pick up the phone and call any one of them," Dowling said. If they don't know the answer to your question, Dowling said, they work on it until they do. "We haven't had that for years."

Horne is a former Harvard Democrat turned Phoenix Republican. He describes himself as a man of habit who doggedly keeps to his schedule, working through a bout of pneumonia early last year. He celebrates his political victories with the guilty pleasure of a large order of french fries.

Horne said he's happy directing Arizona schools, but political insiders expect Horne, a former state lawmaker, to eventually make a run for higher office. "He loves the game," Dowling said.

Horne always seems to be midcampaign. The schools chief once stood up abruptly in the middle of a Board of Education meeting and excused himself in front of the board and a room full of people. Horne explained he had a guest spot on a radio talk show and would be back in 10 to 20 minutes.

Aside from keeping his promise to toughen the English-only law, Horne will report in his speeches this week that he also has kept his promise to require students in the Class of 2006 to pass the high school Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS test, before they can graduate.

Former schools chief Molera had persuaded the Board of Education to allow some students to substitute a portfolio of class work or a project if they couldn't pass the AIMS test. Horne ridiculed the idea in his television campaign ads by showing a student cutting out a string of paper dolls. It's the one policy he is most proud of killing once in office.

"It is a corpse sufficiently rotted so nothing is left but a shiny skeleton," Horne has said more than once. "It was my best issue."

Balancing left, right

When Horne wants to be, he can be the consummate politician at balancing the left and right. For every hard-line action, Horne can find an equal and softening reaction:


Yes, every high school student must pass AIMS to graduate, but Horne has made it easier to pass the test.

Every school must be labeled using test scores, but Horne has made it easier for schools to be labeled "excelling," "highly performing" and "performing."


Horne promises that schools that don't perform well on tests will be labeled "failing" in October and face state intervention. But he has made it harder for schools to earn a "failing" label.

Horne's balancing act will be tested in 2004. First, he must share the stage with Gov. Janet Napolitano and keep lawmakers from cutting school budgets.

There are more promises to keep. Horne said he'd send trained experts, called solution teams, to help 150 schools the state labeled "underperforming" in 2003. He promised to shorten testing time by blending the state elementary AIMS with the national Stanford 9 tests.

In October, about 80 schools will be facing a third year of unimproved test scores and a "failing" label. Most are expected in poor and minority communities, which will bring plenty of political heat to Horne.

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