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Get to know Tom Horne, America’s worst state education official

Tom Horne was the only Republican to win statewide office in Arizona in November. And he's going to be a terror — again — for the state’s public schools.


Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, was the only Republican running for statewide office in Arizona to win in November — Democrats claimed the governorship, attorney general and secretary of state offices, and saw Sen. Mark Kelly re-elected to another six-year term. 

Horne, who previously served two controversial terms as superintendent from 2003 to 2011, avoided the GOP bloodbath. And that’s terrible news for Arizona’s public schools, given that Horne’s record arguably makes him the worst state education official in the entire country. 

Let’s count the ways. It’s time for America to get to know Tom Horne. 

It’s time for America to get to know Tom Horne.

Horne, at age 77, is a pioneer in the right-wing crusade against school teachings centered on nonwhite people and social inequality. More than a decade before Republicans would begin to scapegoat critical race theory as a means to ban socially conscious lesson plans, Horne led a fight against “ethnic studies.” A Horne-supported ban on ethnic studies in Arizona schools passed in 2010, which led to mass demonstrations by students. In 2017, a federal judge overturned the ban after finding that it had an “invidious discriminatory racial purpose, and a politically partisan purpose.”

In 2010, the Justice Department found that Horne’s office had broken the law with a policy meant to ban bilingual education services in school. (Remarkably, he was elected Arizona’s attorney general that same year.)

When it comes to Arizona’s public school system, which has routinely ranked among the nation’s worst, Horne seems intent on destroying it. Previously as superintendent, Horne oversaw a proliferation of charter schools in his state. A 2021 study found Arizona to have more charter schools than nearly every other state in the country. 

Makes sense, really. 

The Arizona Republic reported recently that the state has the most expansive voucher program in the country to aid students in paying for charter and private school costs. And advocates for charter and private schools are over the moon with glee, as they fully expect Horne to double down on funding. 

(In the interest of transparency, I graduated from an Arizona charter high school.)

Horne and fellow Arizona conservatives often portray such schools as a preferable and more effective alternative to traditional public schools, but reports have found that many of the charter schools that sprouted up during Arizona’s charter boom have failed

The fact that Horne succeeded in November while other Arizona Republicans failed shows that Democrats can’t afford to take Arizona for granted.

And lest you believe Horne has turned over a new leaf, a quick glance at his plans as superintendent shows that all his revanchist proposals remain in place, such as his quest to ban ethnic studies (he has added CRT now), his attempt to restrict bilingual services, and his support for an exodus of students from Arizona’s public schools. 

The fact that Horne succeeded in November while other Arizona Republicans failed shows that Democrats can’t afford to take Arizona for granted. There’s still a strain of oppressive conservatism that has statewide appeal.

I fear Tom Horne is about to put that on full display. Stay tuned.