2022 Election: Kathy Hoffman concedes to Republican Tom Horne in race to lead Arizona schools

Democrat and incumbent Kathy Hoffman has conceded in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction against Republican Tom Horne.

Hoffman released the following statement on Nov. 17:

"After a hard-fought race, we came up short. I want to thank my supporters, volunteers, and staff who stood by me during this election. And I especially want to thank my family for all of their love and support.

Serving as Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction has been among the greatest honors of my life. I’m proud of the incredible work we did. I remain more inspired than ever by the amazing students, educators, & schools across our state. Our future is bright because of you."

Currently, Horne leads the current superintendent by less than 9,000 votes with more than 99% of the votes counted. Less than 16,000 votes still need to be counted statewide.

This small margin will likely trigger an automatic recount, which would happen after the election is set to be certified in December.

Hoffman was a teacher and speech therapist before running for office, the first to run the Department of Education in 20 years. The department oversees school funding distributions, ensures state and federal education laws and policies are followed and oversees statewide testing.

Horne had been superintendent from 2003 to 2011 before serving as the state's attorney general.

Candidates had sparred in debate

The candidates seeking Arizona’s top K-12 education post sparred in a debate back in September over critical race theory, services for LGBTQ youth and whether students are safe and learning as they should.

Horne said schools were shut down for far too long at Hoffman’s urging, leading to learning loss for children, job issues for their parents and sagging test scores.

Horne pointed to the dispute between Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Hoffman six months into the pandemic, when he wanted metrics used to trigger schools closures changed. Hoffman wanted to stick with previous guidelines, which were tougher. The pair had generally been on the same page when the pandemic first hit Arizona in March 2020.

"That was not good for students, its was certainly not good for their parents, some of whom had to give up their jobs," Horne said.

Hoffman defended her response, saying that in hindsight she may have made slightly different decision, but not substantially so. She said she never imagined when she was elected in 2018 that she would be making condolence calls to co-workers of teachers who had died of COVID.

"And so of course, my focus, along with Governor Ducey, was how can we ensure that we’re doing everything possible to keep our kids alive and safe," Hoffman said. "And making sure that our schools are a healthy learning environment for everyone who was working in that environment."

Horne said a lot of private and charter schools remained open, with no major issues. And he said "kids are resistant to COVID as opposed to older people."

Horne's push during his superintendent years for a ban on a Mexican-American studies program taught in Tucson schools led to testy exchanges. A federal judge found that law was enacted for racist intentions by Republicans who were politically motivated and permanently blocked it after a seven-year court battle.

Horne himself brought up the issue, after he was asked about his views on "critical race theory" a hot-button topic for Republicans even though it is not taught in K-12 schools.

"Critical race theory is the opposite of what I believe, and what I believe is the American ideal," Horne said. "And that is that we’re all individuals. We’re all brothers and sister under the skin, we’re all entitled to be judged as individuals, and race is irrelevant.

"In critical race theory. They teach kids that race is primary," Horne said. "And they create a tension between groups."

MORE: A recap of the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction debate

The Associated Press contributed to this report.