Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.
KINGMAN – Frank Riggs made it clear early on that he’s the most conservative candidate running for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction when he spoke Monday to the Conservative Republican Club of Kingman.
As a three-term U.S. Congressman from California, he led an effort to downsize the U.S. Department of Education and give states more control over local education systems.
Riggs also referred to himself as one of the “founding fathers” of charter schools, going back to bills he authored in Washington.
His legislative experience as chairman of the Early Childhood Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee gives him a better understanding of the political framework that goes with being the state’s top education official, he added.
Riggs would oversee the education of 1.1 million Arizona students in some 2,000 public and charter K-12 schools.
“I believe strongly that all children can learn, and that we have to have high expectations of parents and teachers alike,” Riggs told about 30 club members at their monthly meeting. “Parents are lifelong teachers of their children and they have a fundamental right to choose the best education for their children.”
Riggs said he’s opposed to the “one-size-fits-all” education system called Common Core, and there’s a solid majority of Arizona legislators looking to change it. There is no perfect education model that can accommodate every child’s learning needs, he said.
Public schools were originally known as “common schools,” and their primary purpose was to teach civics and history, which has gradually eroded over the centuries, Riggs said.
“I’m going to put civics right back where it belongs, front and center. Only one in five eighth-graders score proficient in civics. That makes me worry about our future,” the U.S. Army veteran and former police officer said. “We’re raising a generation of students who are history illiterate.”
He also wants to place more emphasis on career and technical education, or CTE. There are 6 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. economy, many of them in technical, construction and manufacturing industries, he noted.
Meanwhile, college graduates have accumulated $1.1 trillion in debt.
“There’s an obvious disconnect there,” Riggs said. “I want CTE offered in all high schools, with certification programs from ninth grade on. It’s critical that we put an emphasis on career technical education, especially for the older kids.”
Riggs said he was approached by some of current Superintendent Diane Douglas’ strongest supporters to run for the position.
“Why? They felt she had shut them out and reversed herself on Common Core,” he said. “Those same people came to me in December 2014 and said, ‘She won’t meet with us. Will you talk to her and see why she’s frozen us out?’ The first rule of politics is you dance with who brought you there.”
Riggs suggested that Douglas walk three blocks from her office to the state Capitol and build collegial relationships.
“Her response: If they want to meet with me, they can home here. That’s bunker mentality,” Riggs said. “She’s marginalized herself and made herself very ineffective as Superintendent of Public Instruction. The fact of the matter is she’s not taken seriously.”
Riggs and his wife, Cathy, have been married 37 years and currently live in Scottsdale.