by David Safier
Let's move the focus off of Ed Supe-elect Diane Douglas and check out what's happening education-wise with our Governor-elect Doug Ducey. He's chosen his three education advisers for the transition period: Lisa Graham Keegan, Matthew Ladner and Erik Twist. It's not exactly Lincoln's Team of Rivals. No one from a school district on the team — teacher, administrator or superintendent — only people from the conservative privatization/"education reform" part of town. The three are cut out of pretty much the same cloth in terms of their educational priorities, which is pretty much the same cloth Ducey is cut from. If Ducey follows their advice, here's the education agenda we'll be hearing out of the governor's office for the next four years: No more money for K-12 schools than is absolutely, legally necessary; a redistribution of education funds to favor charters and high-rent school districts; and a push for more vouchers. Most likely Ducey will advocate for Common Core as well, though it's hard to say what form that will take.
Let's take a look at the three advisers.
First, Lisa Graham Keegan. Two decades ago when Keegan was in the legislature, she sponsored a bill to create vouchers, and it had a good chance of passing. To head off the voucher bill, Democrats and teachers unions reluctantly decided to back a bill creating charter schools that made it easy to start a charter and assured that the new schools would be lightly regulated and have minimal oversight. Keegan became Ed Supe directly after and set up the system that guaranteed Arizona would be the Wild West of charter schools. When she left office, she became a mainstay of the national "school choice" movement. For the past few years, she's been pushing for a new system of distributing public education funds here in Arizona which would result in moving money in the direction of charter schools as well as school districts that serve children from high income families. That would mean less money for schools with the hardest-to-reach students. Keegan supported David Garcia in the recent Ed Supe election, not because she's become more progressive, but because she fears Diane Douglas' Tea Party education agenda, and she felt she could trust Garcia to be a reasonable actor in the job, even though she doesn't agree with him on many issues.
Next, Matthew Ladner. Ladner served as the Goldwater Institute's education guy for a number of years, until he left to become the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research at Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education. He's a smart guy in general, but he's a near genius when it comes to research that begins with the conclusion he wants and works its way backward to the facts and faux-facts that make the conclusions look good. Ladner supports education privatization in pretty much every form it can take and has pushed vouchers hard for years. He's the co-author of ALEC's yearly Report Card on American Education.
Finally, Erik Twist. Twist has the thinnest resume of the three. He was assistant principal at BASIS Scottsdale charter until he moved over to the Great Hearts charter chain, where he taught, was a headmaster and now oversees Great Hearts' K-5 schools. That means he's worked for two of the premier charter chains for high achieving students — though unlike BASIS, Great Hearts is willing to reach out to lower achieving students in less affluent areas with its "separate but equal" policy of setting up schools in low income neighborhoods specifically for those students, a policy that got them banned from opening schools in Nashville, Tennessee, one of the places they were looking to expand their charter network. Twist's 15 minutes of fame came in 2012 when he sent an email to the parents of the Great Hearts school where he was headmaster advising them to vote against Proposition 204, which would have created a one cent sales tax for education. State law prohibits the use of school equipment for election advocacy. He complained in the email that Prop. 204 would "throw taxpayer money indiscriminately" at schools. However, Great Hearts pushes each parent to contribute $1,500 per student per year, saying it can't run its schools on state funding alone.
There you have it, the three people helping Ducey set his education agenda. I imagine sometime or other, he'll probably invite someone connected with school districts and a teachers union rep in for tea so he can say he's listened to their ideas.