Tom Horne, Republican nominee for schools chief, aims for 3rd term

As state superintendent from 2003 to 2011, Tom Horne worked to ban ethnic studies in Tucson schools and championed English-only instruction for English learners.

Now, Horne is back. And, as the Republican nominee for state superintendent of public instruction, he wants to lead Arizona schools again.

This time, he promises to end the specter of politicized learning by creating a hotline to report instruction on “critical race theory,” an academic concept that says racial bias is embedded in American institutions but has become a catch-all for conversations about race and history in schools.

That puts him in stark contrast to his opponent, Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman.

They're competing in a politically divided environment around schools, and in a state where students of color are now the majority of learners.

Hoffman, who came out of the #RedForEd teacher movement, has promised to focus on stemming the shortage of instructors and bringing more counselors into schools.

Horne’s campaign is both a hearkening back to divisive education issues on which he built his legacy while sweeping in newly explosive issues like “critical race theory” and “cancel culture.”

“Liberals are trying to indoctrinate our school children to hate America. They want our children to believe we are a racist country,” says his website. “Tom Horne will stop them.”

This time around, Horne's plan for schools also includes police officers in all schools, mandating tougher discipline policies in Arizona classrooms that he says may also help stem the teacher shortage, introducing a test students must take to pass high school and offering scholarships to those who perform exceptionally well on that test.

Education: 5 takeaways from Arizona schools chief debate

Promises on teaching and learning

Born in Quebec to Polish immigrant parents but raised in New York City, Horne, moved to Arizona not long after graduating from Harvard University law school. He first entered public office in 1979 as a member of the Paradise Valley Unified School District board, where he served for 24 years.

He joined the Arizona House in 1996, was elected as state school superintendent for two terms from 2003 to 2011, and then won election as Arizona's attorney general. He joined a private law practice in 2015.

As schools superintendent, the Republic’s earlier coverage found, Horne created fairer measures for judging school performance that didn’t penalize schools on the socio-economic background of students. He also heralded Arizona student test results on the SAT and ACT, although critics questioned whether he was accurately presenting the results.

As attorney general, he sued a mortgage company targeting Spanish-speaking clients, held a 'Why Should I Care About Elder Abuse?' junior high school arts competition and fought Maricopa Community Colleges' efforts to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students.

He's also come through some financial scrutiny, including allegations that he illegally coordinated with a political committee to attack his Democratic rival. That led to an investigation that concluded there was not enough evidence to press charges and a years-long battle over allegations of campaign finance abuses.

The allegations were that he used his public office staff to help run his campaign. In 2019, a county attorney investigating the case concluded there was not enough evidence to convict him. However, Horne paid a $10,000 fine to the state's Citizens Clean Elections Commission to settle complaints of violating finance laws.

Supporters in and outside the classroom

Sitting in his law office, Horne reclines in his desk chair with an easy smile. On the walls around him are photographs of him with family, standing in clear blue waters in the Cayman Islands, or a poster full of signatures proclaiming Horne a great boss, dating to his first terms as state school superintendent.

Horne’s campaign finance records show the majority of the funding in his coffers comes from loans to the campaign — 95% of the $652,477 he reported in the first quarter filings in 2022 — that he says came from himself, his sister and his wife. Other donations come from a charter school principal, several real estate agents and attorneys.

Most of this funding, said Horne, would be used after the primary.

His supporters laud his policy approaches, as well as his manners.

Margaret Dugan, who worked under Horne as deputy superintendent of education 2005 to 2010 and then as operational chief of staff when Horne was attorney general, said she first met Horne while organizing around an initiative to remove bilingual education in Arizona around 2002. She is now his campaign manager.

“He is a gentleman,” said Dugan, who describes Horne playing the piano at book studies or events. “He is very talented, not only academically but also musically.”

Phoenix Union educator Catherine Barrett, a founder member of the Red for Ed movement and now an outspoken supporter of more conservative education measures in Arizona schools, said she appreciated Horne for his efforts to include teacher voice in the campaign.

“Corrective action needs to take place,” said Barrett. “We see that with Mr. Horne. He is not afraid to offer that.”

Sounding the alarm for English language learners

Tom Horne has cited the work of academic Joseph Guzman as central to his approach to English learning policy in schools.

Guzman’s research found that students who had gone through English as a Second Language programs outperformed students from bilingual education by every measure considered.

Students who learned English through ESL programs, rather than bilingual education, were more likely to complete more years of education, graduate from university and earn higher incomes, Guzman said.

But Horne's critics say they not only disagree with his policies on language learning but see them as harmful and not following best practices on language acquisition.

Reyna Montoya moved to Arizona from Mexico and began her first year of school in Gilbert in eighth grade. The four-hour block of mandatory English immersion language in place at that time meant that Montoya was not able to enroll in a higher-level math class, an experience that affected her academic confidence, she said.

"Do people only think I'm smart if I speak English?" Montoya, who founded the community group Aliento, asked herself at the time. "I felt very frustrated because I felt that I was getting behind in all my core classes."

A number of studies show that students in dual language programs do as well, or better, than their peers in English immersion programs. A 2010 study of English immersion in Arizona schools, conducted by Arizona State University and the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the English immersion program actually separated English learners in Arizona schools from their English-speaking peers and hurt their prospects of graduating.

More broadly, a 2015 Stanford study of English learner students in a large urban district found students in dual language programs did better academically over the longer term. And a 2017 study, by the RAND Corporation, found that English learner students in dual language learning in Portland were less likely to still be an EL by sixth grade.

Critics have said the program separated English learners from the rest of the school population and made them miss out on other learning.

In 2015, the Department of Education loosened the required English immersion hours, and in 2019, Gov. Doug Ducey gave districts even more flexibility to determine the best learning models for English language learners.

About 8% of students in Arizona schools are English language learners.

Patricia Gándara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California Los Angeles, said a second Horne run as superintendent would be disastrous for English language learners.

“He did everything he could to dismantle a reasonable education for all these children,” said Gándara, whose research focus is the experience of English learners in American schools. “This adds fuel to the fire around racial issues that we are experiencing in this country right now, and is very injurious to communities of color.”

Celebrating the individual

Horne said he is committed to English language learner students as well — and that is what has made him push for growth in English-only instruction. Any negative experiences students have had likely have come from bad teachers, Horne said.

“If I am elected, we will not have bilingual education in our classes,” he said during the Republican primary debate in June.

In 2013, as attorney general, Horne’s office sued Maricopa Community Colleges for providing reduced tuition to young immigrants who received DACA status under the Obama administration.

He declined to comment on whether he supports a coming ballot resolution to secure in-state tuition for undocumented students in Arizona.

Horne said he wants Arizona students to get an education that teaches them, first and foremost, that they are individuals, an approach he sees as counter to discussions about racial and cultural identity.

“There’s one thing that is in the marrow of my bones that will never change,” said Horne, who describes himself as the ultimate anti-racist, and points to his attendance at the March on Washington in 1963 and his litigation work in favor of clients mistreated by police as proof of his support of civil rights.

“We’re all individuals, and what race we were born into is irrelevant. Telling them they’re oppressed, it’s not good motivation for kids.”

Reach the reporter at and follow her on Twitter @yanazure.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona school superintendent 2022 candidate: Tom Horne