Meet Our Candidates: David Garcia for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.”  Make your voice heard in 2014!

In his campaign for the statewide office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. David Garcia has declared that he will work for innovation in Arizona’s public schools. Backed by appropriate resources — including positive leadership and responsible funding — this would provide better future opportunities to all Arizonans. Included is his commitment to ensure that students are getting the comprehensive, relevant information they need to best make decisions about all aspects of their lives.

As a public high school teacher, I know that my students’ sexual and reproductive health care education is an integral part of their overall education and empowerment. For instance:

  • If I never have another student ask me, “Miss, do you need to be a certain age to buy condoms?” or, “Where can I buy a pregnancy test?” — it will be too soon.
  • In my decade of teaching, I have seen more and more students being comfortable openly identifying as gay — and that’s awesome. But certain portions of our health curriculum, by law, do not allow health teachers to say that being gay is OK — or to give these students the complete and accurate information that is necessary to ensure their sexual health and safety.
  • I have had too many students who were abused as younger children and simply never had the correct words — in terms of consent, in terms of bodily autonomy — to name the wrong for what it was. Consequently, the abuse was long-lasting and the healing slow in coming.

When we empower our children to feel secure in their bodies and their identities, we empower them to pursue their educations, goals, and ambitions. In that light, I am pleased that PPAA has endorsed a candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction — because who we have in that office matters — and even more pleased that they endorsed David Garcia.

Dr. Garcia was kind enough to take the time for this interview on July 25, 2014. Please also check out our followup interview with Dr. Garcia, in which he spoke to us in more detail about his opponent in the general election, Diane Douglas.

“Planned Parenthood Advocates has taken a bold stance on changing state level leadership. I greatly admire and respect an organization that has the courage to call out policymakers not working for the greater good of Arizonans.”

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’ve devoted my career to improving public schools because I believe public education is the great equalizer in society and the reason I obtained the American Dream.

My dad was a commercial painter and my mom a factory worker. I grew up in Mesa, in a neighborhood where my parents still live. I wasn’t a great student, and it took enlisting in the Army for me to turn my life around and get serious about school. After the Army, I attended Arizona State University, becoming the first in my family to graduate from college. I went on to earn a doctorate in education policy studies from the University of Chicago.

I returned to Arizona and worked for the state senate education committee as a policy analyst. I later moved on to the Department of Education as a policy researcher and was eventually appointed Associate State Superintendent of Public Instruction for Standards and Accountability.

From the ADE I moved on to Arizona State University where I teach future education leaders as a professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. I have authored numerous national publications and am the director of the Arizona Education Policy Initiative at ASU.

Why was it important for you to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona?

Planned Parenthood Advocates has taken a bold stance on changing state level leadership. I greatly admire and respect an organization that has the courage to call out policymakers not working for the greater good of Arizonans. I am proud to be endorsed by a group that stands against the status quo and in favor of moving Arizona forward.

Earlier this summer, controversy arose around the current Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, regarding his conduct while representing the state of Arizona. It was revealed that he anonymously made several inflammatory comments on Internet blogs, including a comparison of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger to Adolf Hitler, and a characterization of recipients of public assistance as “lazy pigs.” He defended his posts, saying, “I chose this approach because I felt that any other would limit a free and open exchange.” How do your ideas about professionalism and accountability differ from those of your likely opponent?

John Huppenthal’s statements were offensive, racist, and historically inaccurate. Quite simply, anyone espousing those views is unfit to lead and especially unfit to lead our schools. My opponent did not blog anonymously because he was defending his right to free speech as commentary on public policy, but rather because he knew what he was blogging was offensive hate speech.

[Editor’s note: Be sure to check out our followup with Dr. Garcia to read his thoughts on his opponent, Diane Douglas.]

Arizona Mayors released a report stating that high school dropouts cost the state $7.6 billion over the course of their lifetime. What do you think about the connection between teenage pregnancy and high-school dropout rates?

The economic loss resulting from high school dropouts is astounding and offers grounds for policymakers to be concerned about the reasons teens drop out.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 30 percent of teenage girls who drop out of high school cite pregnancy and parenthood as the main reason for leaving school, and only 40 percent of teen moms will complete high school. Clearly, there is a strong connection between teen pregnancy and the dropout rate. This is yet another reason why comprehensive, medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education is so important.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, a bill that would have allowed businesses and other nongovernmental institutions to assert their religious beliefs to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. Similarly, a year after Arizona made dubious national news with its anti-transgender “bathroom bill” (SB 1045), Tucson Unified School District amended its nondiscrimination policy to include protections for transgender students and employees. Given the discrimination that LGBTQ Arizonans still face, how would you help schools protect their students from bullying and harassment based on gender identity and sexual orientation?

Schools should be a place of learning, a place that respects and is inclusive of all students, including our LGBTQ students. These students are deserving of the same protections and respect as other students and should be included in all anti-bullying efforts.

Last year, the Tempe Union High School District voted to implement comprehensive sex education in its schools. Do you consider this a victory, and if so, how would you work to advance a similar development statewide?

I’m encouraged by Tempe Union’s openness and approach to comprehensive sex education in their schools. They decided to have an honest conversation with their community about the best programs for their students. This collaborative approach brought in multiple stakeholders and offered an opportunity for the community at large to have a say in their children’s education.

As state superintendent, I would encourage school boards across the state to engage in this type of open and honest dialogue with their community about the benefits of comprehensive sex education.

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. David Garcia, including more detailed positions and other endorsements, you can visit his campaign website. You can also stay up to date on his campaign via Facebook and Twitter.