Arizona Governor Hopeful Lake Seeks Expanded School Choice

PHOENIX (AP) — Kari Lake, a former television anchor leading the GOP field in the campaign for Arizona governor, called Thursday for higher teacher salaries and an expansion of school choice options for parents.

Lake also called for banning mask mandates, COVID-19 vaccine requirements and the teaching of critical race theory, though the GOP-controlled Legislature has already adopted limits on masks and race-focused instruction in schools.

Lake outlined her plans to transform education and elevate the role of parents, an issue that has animated Republican candidates around the country ahead of the 2022 election.

“When I’m governor, there will be no more COVID closures, no more masks on our beautiful children’s faces, and we will not require our children to have a COVID shot,” Lake said.

Lake, who has often insulted journalists and accused them of bias while sidestepping questions, softened her combative tone while fielding questions from a mix of reporters and her supporters.

Lake said she'd push to grow the state's extensive options for parents who choose not to send their children to their neighborhood public school, including charter schools, vouchers for private schools and homeschooling.

Voters in 2018 rejected an expansion of the state’s school voucher program, but Lake said she was confident they would view it differently now.

Lake said teachers are underpaid but rejected the explanation offered by most education advocates: underfunded schools. Instead, she claimed school administrators have grown their own salaries at the expense of classroom teachers. She said she'd push for an annual bonus of at least $5,000 that would bypass districts and go directly to educators.

Her plan also would promote vocational education, eliminate the AzMERIT standardized test and ban sex education before fifth grade.

Lake said she would not require students or teachers to get COVID-19 vaccines but she also would not move to eliminate the vaccine requirements that were in place long before the coronavirus outbreak.

She called her plan an “aspirational policy guide” that would require cooperation with the Legislature and others to implement.

“I’m not a dictator,” Lake said. “I can’t force all of this.”