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Past Republican superintendents endorse Garcia in Arizona

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PHOENIX — Saying Diane Douglas is “promoting a sort of a paranoia,” former state schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan, elected as a Republican, is backing Democrat David Garcia for the top education post.

Keegan told Capitol Media Services that much of her decision is based on Douglas’ almost singular focus in trying to kill the Common Core academic standards that Arizona and other states have adopted. Keegan called those moves “destructive.”

But Keegan, now a political independent, said she also got a chance to see Douglas at work a bit closer.

Douglas served on the board of the Peoria Unified School District for a half-dozen years, including two as president. And Keegan, a resident of Peoria — her husband was mayor there — said that was not a good experience for the schools there.

“I think it was a distraction when she had the job,” Keegan said.

“I think we frankly lost some really good people in Peoria because of that distraction,” she continued, saying the district’s rating went from A to B during that period. “And, frankly, I don’t want to see that happen in Arizona.”

Keegan is not alone in her concerns. Republican Jaime Molera, appointed by Gov. Jane Hull in 2001 to replace Keegan as superintendent of public instruction when she quit to head a think tank, also is backing Garcia over Douglas.

“I think Diane is incredibly extreme,” he said. “And I think Arizonans don’t want a superintendent that’s going to want to blow up the system every other day.”

And Democrat Carolyn Warner, who held the post before Keegan, also endorsed Garcia.

Douglas declined to be interviewed, responding only with a prepared statement.

“It’s no surprise that these three educational insiders from the past support greater federal interference into Arizona’s schools,” the statement said. “I am the only candidate who supports high-quality, state controlled standards for our students.”

The Common Core standards were developed by the National Governors Association in connection with business leaders and school officials.

In essence, they spell out what students should know at specific points in the education process. It also requires standardized tests to not only measure if individual students have met those standards but also to provide a way of comparing achievement among different states.

The standards have the backing of Gov. Jan Brewer. They also have been supported by John Huppenthal, the current superintendent of public instruction, a factor that likely figured in his loss in last month’s primary to Douglas.

Keegan acknowledged that focus on Common Core has struck a chord with voters.

“There’s no question that the whole Common Core idea has been badly managed,” she said.

“And I understand people think it’s not about academic standards,” Keegan continued. “They think it’s about something else.”

Douglas, in her campaign, has defined that “something else” as local control.

“Arizonans know what’s best for their children and they don’t need Washington, D.C. or a few privileged corporations telling them how to educate their children,” she said in an election night interview with Capitol Media Services. And Douglas said her formula for winning is to “appeal to the moms and dads of Arizona because they know what’s best for their children.”

Keegan said Douglas has plugged into public fears.

“I think she’s promoting a sort of a paranoia,” Keegan said. But she also said that has struck a chord.

“She’s going to be tough to beat because there’s this public perception out there that it’s run amok,” Keegan continued. “What I’m concerned about is, are you going to be really serious about clearly defining what Arizona students need to know and telling the public how our schools are doing and supporting all the work of schools.”

Keegan said her decision is more than her concerns about what having Douglas would mean to education.

She said that Garcia a former deputy state school superintendent, worked with both her and Molera. Garcia now teaches education at Arizona State University.

“He’s a very smart guy who relies on data,” Keegan said.

“We obviously don’t agree on everything,” she said. “But I like competent, high-integrity, smart people who are optimistic about what’s possible.”

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