Who is Tom Horne? What to know about Arizona’s new superintendent of public instruction
Tom Horne is expected to be Arizona’s next superintendent of public instruction.
He is poised to win the position following several days of ballot returns that shifted the winning margin back and forth between Horne and Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman.
Hoffman conceded Thursday morning. She was trailing in the ballot tally by nearly 9,000 votes.
This will be his third term as superintendent of public instruction.
The role of superintendent is largely an administrative job, not a policy-creation one. What Horne can accomplish depends in large part on how aligned his priorities are with that of the newly elected governor and members of the Legislature.
Here’s what to know about Arizona’s next superintendent of public instruction.
What’s Tom Horne’s background?
Born in Quebec to Polish immigrant parents but raised in New York, Horne, 77, moved to Arizona not long after graduating from Harvard Law School.
He has held multiple elected positions, including school board member, state representative, superintendent of public instruction and attorney general.
Horne describes himself as 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 for civil rights.
He lives in Phoenix with his wife and runs a law practice in Scottsdale.
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How did he get into politics?
Horne was civically engaged as early as high school. He was the founder and first president of the Political Science Club and also took part in the Glee Club and Russian Club at Mamaroneck High School, north of New York City, in the early 1960s.
He first entered public office in 1979 as a member of the Paradise Valley Unified School District board, where he served for 24 years.
Horne joined the Arizona House in 1996 and was elected as state school superintendent for two terms beginning in 2003. During his tenure overseeing Arizona schools, he worked to dismantle ethnic studies in Tucson Unified School District and limit bilingual instruction for English language learners.
He then won election as Arizona's attorney general and took office in 2011. During his time in that role, Horne defended the governor and state in the federal government’s legal challenge to SB 1070, the controversial "show-me-your-papers" immigration law, and pushed for the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold an Arizona law that aimed to disqualify abortion providers from receiving Medicaid funding for any medical services they provide.
He lost his reelection primary to Mark Brnovich, who campaigned on investigations targeting Horne for campaign malfeasance. In 2017, an investigation concluded Horne improperly used the attorney general's office staff to work on his re-election effort.
He announced his run for superintendent in the spring of 2021, saying academic gains made during his tenure as schools chief had been undone.
"I was a crusader against mediocrity, laziness and political indoctrination as a substitute for academic teaching," he said at the time.
Horne has weathered several scandals.
During this campaign, he came under fire for initially supporting, and then reversing course and rejecting, a former lawmaker who gave an in-kind donation to Horne’s campaign for superintendent of public instruction. The lawmaker had a history of making racist statements and was accused of sex crimes against minors.
Where does Tom Horne stand on key issues?
Horne has led his campaign with divisive political issues about what is taught in Arizona classrooms, which recalls his fight against ethnic studies in Tucson when he was last superintendent.
Among his campaign promises is to remove critical race theory from Arizona schools. The university-level academic concept analyzes the impact of race on society, but some conservatives use the phrase as a de facto term for any analysis that uses race, particularly in a historical context.
Horne has said he will start a hotline for reporting educators thought to be teaching critical race theory.
He has also promised to end bilingual education for English learners, even as some language experts say that is a more supportive learning experience. “If I am elected, we will not have bilingual education in our classes,” he said during the Republican primary debate in June.
Other priorities include a test required for graduation and more aggressive discipline in classrooms.
What will Tom Horne do on Day One?
Horne has said that his top focus will be improving test scores, which he says will be achieved by limiting non-core academic classes, increasing discipline in classrooms and discouraging the use of social-emotional learning, an educational framework that encourages students to learn interpersonal skills and self-control.
Who did Tom Horne beat in the election?
Horne defeated Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman, who saw schools through the tumultuous first years of the COVID-19 pandemic and came to office on the energy of the Red for Ed teacher labor movement.
Hoffman, a former speech therapist and preschool teacher, staked out a significantly different position to Horne by advocating for mental health support for students, giving schools greater flexibility to hire counselors and vocally supporting LGBTQ students.
But she served alongside a Republican majority in the Legislature and a Republican governor, limiting her ability to execute her vision for public education. She also ran as a Clean Elections candidate, meaning that she had significantly less money to spend than Horne, who was financed through his own wealth and familial support.
Yana Kunichoff is a reporter on The Arizona Republic's K-12 education team. You can join the Republic's Facebook page, and reach Yana at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @yanazure.
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