Questions surrounding Tom Horne’s start as superintendent of public instruction

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is facing questions about what he said about disciplining students and a controversial staff hire.
Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 7:58 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Tom Horne was the first newly-elected state official to speak at Thursday’s inauguration. The new Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction, who beat incumbent Kathy Hoffman in the November 2022 elections, referenced a need to improve standardized testing and return to traditional discipline.

“Our number one goal will be to significantly increase test scores,” Horne said. “We need a return to traditional discipline in our schools. When a student misbehaves and there’s no consequence, other students learn they can also misbehave.”

A Department of Education spokesperson confirmed to Arizona’s Family that ‘traditional discipline’ means timeouts and possible principal visits or suspensions, not any form of physical punishment. But the way it was phrased, along with the heavy emphasis on test scores, concerns Arizona Education Association President Marisol Garcia. “The Superintendent might be a little out of touch with what’s happening in our schools,” Garcia said.

She says there are bigger priorities. “Everything from smaller classes, to resources, to the amount of adults in the classrooms, to health and safety issues,” Garcia said. “All of those things are more important to Arizona educators, to students, and to families.”

Before his remarks, Horne had already started announcing new staff members. One of those, Character Education Program leader Mila Mikal, has responsibilities that include promoting positive traits like respect or compassion. But some are concerned with his appointment after he posted multiple images from the right-leaning group ‘Patriot Life’ over the last year, including a picture of President Joe Biden where it says ‘Let’s Go Brandon.’ “It’s unfortunate that any state employee would feel that it’s OK to bring their political views into state work,” Garcia said.

In a statement to Arizona’s Family, Department of Education spokesperson Doug Nick says, “every person has political viewpoints and opinions. It doesn’t mean they can’t do their jobs well. Like every citizen, Mila Mikal is guaranteed the First Amendment right to express his personal views.”

But Garcia says moving forward, it’s a school leader’s job not to mix education and politics. “Educators do not post things like that,” she said. “They’re not allowed to because they’re employees.”

Arizona’s Family attempted to speak with Mikal directly about these Facebook posts, but he was not available for interviews.