Arizona schools Superintendent Hoffman focuses on issues in debate while opponent Horne decries LGBTQ website and CRT
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- The Republican candidate for Arizona's top educational official is lashing out at incumbent Kathy Hoffman for her agency's decision to promote a web site for LGBTQ and "questioning teens.''
"I think its very harmful,'' said Tom Horne of QChat during a debate Wednesday for superintendent of public instruction. He said the site, which can be accessed directly from the web page of the Arizona Department of Education, is designed to undermine the rights of parents to know what their children are viewing.
"Kids can go on there without their parents' permission,'' Horne said.
"They give detailed information about themselves,'' he said. "They give detailed information about their sex lives or sexual thoughts.''
And he said there even is a function designed to help youngster keep their parents from finding out what they're doing: an "escape'' button on the page that replaces what is on the screen with a Google page.
Democrat Kathy Hoffman, seeking reelection, does not dispute what is on the site. But she said Horne is making too much of it.
"The QChat is recommended by the CDC and the national organization Mental Health America as a resource helping to support our LGBTQ youth,'' she said.
Hoffman said the decision to post a link came after consulting with a committee of parents, educators and LGBTQ students. She said it's part of her agency's role in providing resources for these students.
"This is a group of students who far too often are facing hate in the world and communication that's attacking our LGBTQ youth,'' Hoffman said, who need resources to get information. And she called Horne's attacks "political.''
Horne, however, questioned whether students were getting real help.
He said the moderators are not licensed professionals.
"We don't know how many of them might be predators,'' Horne continued, though the site says the "facilitators'' are "verified.'' And then there's keeping parents out of the loop, citing the escape button.
The solution for kids who can't talk with parents, he said, is to go to "trained, licensed counselors in their schools.''
"This is outrageous for the parents to not play any role,'' Horne said. "If you're comfortable having your child talk with a stranger about sexual matters without your participation, please vote for Kathy Hoffman.''
For her part, Hoffman called the debate over the web site -- it also has resulted in a lawsuit against Hoffman by Republican activist Peggy McClain -- a diversion.
"What I am focused on is not these culture wars attacking the LGBTQ youth,'' she said, but rather on issues like why Arizona does not fund preschool or full-day kindergarten. "If we want our state to be moving forward, let's be supporting public education, including making our schools safe and inclusive for all kids.''
Hoffman also launched an attack of her own, saying if Horne is concerned about child welfare he never would have accepted support from former state Rep. David Stringer. The Prescott Republican stepped down from the legislature in 2019 following disclosure he had been arrested years earlier on various charges, including paying to have sex with an underage boy.
Horne said the only involvement Stringer had in his campaign this year was his decision to erect some campaign signs for him at a cost of $1,400. Stringer then posted pictures of himself next to those signs.
But when the support first came to light, Horne initially defended Stringer, saying he was innocent of those 1983 charges from Maryland and there was never any conviction. Only later did he distance himself from Stringer and reimburse him for that $1,400 expense.
During the half-hour debate aired on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate, the pair also found themselves on opposite sides of the decision earlier this year by the Republican-controlled legislature to create a universal system of vouchers to allow students to attend private and parochial schools at state expense.
"I think public education dollars should stay in public education,'' Hoffman said. She said the new law provides no accountability, like standardized testing, to ensure students going to priavte schools with tax dollars are learning what they need to know.
Horne, however, said he sees vouchers, formally known as empowerment scholarship accounts, as an important equalizer.
"Rich people can send their kids to any school they want to,'' he said.
"Poor people should have that ability as well,'' Horne said. "And the whole idea of the ESA program is to give the people who don't have as much money the ability to do the same thing that rich people do now.''
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