Tom Horne may be Arizona’s top elected official for education, but Gov. Janet Napolitano is receiving more deference these days from groups representing teachers and school boards.
Horne is planning a series of speeches starting Jan. 6 in Phoenix to commemorate his first year as the state’s superintendent of public instruction.
The Phoenix Republican said he will talk about the success of eight initiatives first proposed during his 2002 campaign, and offer some new ideas as well.
To draw more attention to the speeches, Horne asked at least two major education lobbying groups to be his sponsors. They turned him down, saying they are more interested in what Napolitano will say to the Legislature in her annual State of the State address Jan. 12.
"We did not want in any way to be part of an event that would sort of pre-empt the governor and her education message in the State of the State speech," said John Wright, vice president of the Arizona Education Association.
Horne has developed a cordial working relationship with education groups. But the groups see Napolitano, a Democrat, as their champion because of her efforts this year to prevent state budget problems from disrupting the flow of tax dollars to education.
"She’s gone to bat for us," said Panfilo "Ed" Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association. "She really weathered the storm for us in terms of the vetoes and what she did with the budget when she received it."
Napolitano is expected to make school funding and her early education initiative central themes of her upcoming speech.
The groups have questioned the timing of Horne’s speeches around the state, just days before Napolitano’s most significant address of the year.
But Horne said he’s not trying to steal the stage from Napolitano.
"I think we’d probably be talking about different things," Horne said. "The governor and I have had a very cooperative relationship."
For example, Horne offered a plan early in 2003 to return funding responsibility for school construction to school districts, but the bill failed to advance in the Legislature. Horne said he now will let Napolitano deal with funding for StudentsFIRST, the state program that costs an estimated $300 million a year.
A Napolitano spokeswoman said the governor has no concerns about Horne’s agenda.
"The subject of the children of Arizona shouldn’t be a subject of partisan politics in the first place," said Jeanine L’Ecuyer, Napolitano’s press secretary. "Any attention that superintendent Horne draws to the issues is valued."
Horne is best known for his campaign to beef up enforcement of a law adopted by voters in 2000 that requires English immersion in schools instead of bilingual education. He also successfully pushed for changes in standards for social studies classes to require teaching about the U.S. Constitution and the Greco-Roman foundations of Western civilization.
There was a packed house for Horne’s speech when he took the oath of office last January, which was held at the Phoenix headquarters of the state Department of Education.
"We’ll certainly be interested to hear his assessment of his first year and his plans for the future," Wright said. "I would doubt that there would be any enormous surprises because he’s been, if nothing else, very conscientious about keeping up with all of us in the education community. Still, we would like to hear if there’s something new that he has mapped out and would look for some really substantive policy discussion and not necessarily something along the lines of campaign rhetoric or the candidate who has kept his promises."
Tom Horne’s first anniversary speech
When: 10 a.m. Jan. 6
Where: Madison Rose Lane Elementary School, 1155 E. Rose Lane, Phoenix