Arizona State Seal Photo by Gage Skidmore
Great Seal of the State of Arizona outside the Arizona Capitol Museum building in Phoenix, Arizona.

A growing number of Arizona’s legislators are current and former educators—and even more are on the ballot this year, vying for a seat at the Capitol.

This year, 72 candidates for the state Legislature in 27 legislative districts have experience working in education, whether through politics or within the education system. While most list education as a top priority on their campaign websites, others seem to distance themselves from their academic past.

Educational priorities and policies tend to fall on partisan lines—Democrats generally push to strengthen public school funding and make curriculums more inclusive, while Republicans rally for public funding for private and charter schools—often described as universal school choice—and are strongly opposed to teachings on race and ethnicity.

However, there are some candidates whose policies and proposals distinguish themselves from the others, whether they cross party lines and agree with opposing ideas or they push further on an idea than the rest of their party.

Senate Candidates

In the state Senate races, 25 candidates from 19 districts have backgrounds in education. Fourteen are Democrats and 11 are Republicans.

Of those running, 17 candidates are already serving in the legislature:

  • Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills
  • Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, member of the Senate Education Committee, former vice chair of the House Education Committee.
  • Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, member of the Senate Education Committee, recommended by the Arizona Education Association and endorsed by Save Our Schools Arizona.
  • Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, former member of the House Education Committee, recommended by the Arizona Education Association. 
  • Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, former member of the House Education Committee.
  • Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, recommended by the Arizona Education Association and endorsed by Save Our Schools Arizona and Stand for Children Arizona.
  • Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa
  • Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, former member of the House Education Committee.
  • Former Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Laveen, former member of the Senate Education Committee.
  • Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, recommended by the Arizona Education Association and endorsed by The Friends of the Arizona School Boards Association, Save Our Schools Arizona, Stand for Children Arizona, and AZ High School Democrats.
  • Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler
  • Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, former member of the House Education Committee.
  • Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista
  • Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, member of the Senate Education Committee
  • Sen. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Sahuarita
  • Rep. Frank Carroll, R-Peoria
  • Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, member of the House Education Committee

An addition to those currently serving, another eight candidates hope to be elected this November:

  • Mike Fogel, running as a Democrat for LD1, which covers Sedona.
  • Jeanne Casteen, running as a Democrat for LD2, which covers north Phoenix.
  • Janelle Wood, running as a Democrat for LD11, which covers Laveen and south Phoenix, including South Mountain.
  • Cindy Hans, running as a Democrat for LD13, which covers Chandler and west Gilbert.
  • Taylor Kerby, running as a Democrat for LD16, which covers Casa Grande, northwest Tucson, and the Gila River and Ak Chin Reservations.
  • Priya Sundareshan, running as a Democrat for LD18, which covers northeast Tucson.
  • Stan Caine, running as a Republican for LD18.
  • David Sandoval, running as a Democrat for LD28, which covers Sun City and Sun City West.

Public School Teachers: Jeanne Casteen, Cindy Hans, and Taylor Kerby

Casteen, Hans, and Kerby are all former or current teachers who say they want to strengthen the educational system through increased school funding, financial accountability and transparency, and career education development. The AEA and Save Our Schools Arizona have recommended all three candidates.

Former Teacher, School Board Member: Mike Fogel

Fogel is currently running as part of the Clean Slate for Democracy campaign, which includes fellow Democrats Cathy Ransom and Neil Sinclair. Ransom and Sinclair are the economy and environment experts of their platform, while Fogel, a former teacher and current school board member, represents education.

On the Clean Slate for Democracy website, Fogel says he wants to increase school funding and fully fund all-day kindergarten, lower class sizes, and increase teacher pay to improve educator retention, repeal the Aggregate Expenditure Limit, and provide functioning community college services to rural areas. 

Fogel is endorsed by the AEA.

State Education Official: Janelle Wood

Wood has worked as part of the Arizona Department of Education on its School Safety Task Force and its Equity and Inclusion Council, and has been a member of the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools. 

In her previous work with her nonprofit, Black Mothers Forum, and as part of the Phoenix Police Department’s Use of Force Task Force and Disciplinary Review Board, Wood has worked to end the school-to-prison pipeline.

On her website, Wood says she is passionate about securing safety for Black children in schools, so they can “live out their God-given purpose, free from the threat of systems, laws, policies, procedures and practices that limit and control the movement of their Black bodies.”

She is not currently endorsed by any major educational organizations.

Law Professor: Priya Sundareshan

Sundareshan is a law professor at the University of Arizona teaching natural resources law. Though her website says she is prioritizing nature conservation, she has educational priorities as well. 

Those include increasing teacher salaries to help lower teacher-to-student ratios and providing free school meals to low-income students without stigma. 

She is not currently endorsed by any educational organizations, but lists endorsements from multiple members of school boards.

School Board Member: David Sandoval

Sandoval has been a member of the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board since 2016. He is endorsed this year by the Arizona Education Association.

Sandoval faced a failed recall in 2021 because he voted against making masks optional in schools and due to his involvement with the Peoria Education Association and the Arizona School Board Association—the latter of which his critics alleged—without evidence—“teaches school boards and districts to teach critical race theory,” according to the application for a recall petition against him.

Substitute Teacher: Stan Caine

Caine is a substitute teacher in Arizona who has also coached children’s sports. Unlike many other Republican candidates, the educational priorities he lists on his website are relatively nonpartisan. 

Caine says he is the right candidate to bring solutions to falling test scores and rising teen suicides, citing his experience in the educational system. However, he criticized public school districts and teachers for “want[ing] more money” even as their student populations dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He does not have any endorsements listed on his website.

House Candidates

In the Arizona House of Representatives, 47 candidates from 23 districts have a background in education. Twenty are Republicans and 27 are Democrats.

Of those running, 17 candidates have already served in the legislature:

  • Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, member of the House Education Committee
  • Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, member of the House Education Committee, recommended by the Arizona Education Association, and endorsed by Save Our Schools Arizona and Stand For Children Arizona.
  • Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix.
  • Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron.
  • Rep. Daniel Hernández, Jr, D-Tucson, member of the House Education Committee
  • Rep. John Fillmore, R-Phoenix.
  • Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, member of the House Education Committee, recommended by the Arizona Education Association, and endorsed by Save Our Schools Arizona and Stand For Children Arizona.
  • Rep. Marcelino Quiñonez, D-Phoenix, recommended by the Arizona Education Association.
  • Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, member of the House Education Committee, recommended by the Arizona Education Association and endorsed by Save Our Schools Arizona.
  • Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande
  • Rep. Christopher Mathis, D-Tucson, recommended by the Arizona Education Association
  • Sen. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, D-Tucson, recommended by the Arizona Education Association
  • Former Rep. Lydia Hernandez, D-Phoenix
  • Rep. Joel John, R-Buckeye, member of the House Education Committee
  • Rep. Christian Solorio, D-Phoenix, recommended by the Arizona Education Association and endorsed by Stand for Children Arizona.
  • Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, R-Peoria, vice chair of the House Education Committee, endorsed by former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, as well as members of various school district governing boards.
  • Former Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, former member of the House Education Committee
  • Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, former member of the House Education Committee

Non-legislators

Some of the Democratic educators who haven’t been in the state Legislature before are: 

  • Laura Terech, running for LD4, which covers the northeast Valley. She is a recommended candidate by the AEA and endorsed by Save Our Schools Arizona and Stand for Children Arizona.
  • Brianna Westbrook, running for LD5, which covers Central Phoenix. She is a recommended candidate by the AEA.
  • Michael Butts, running for LD11.
  • Shams AbdusSamad, running for LD11. 
  • Naketa Ross, running for LD11.
  • Keith Seaman, running for LD16. He is a recommended candidate by the AEA and endorsed by Save Our Schools Arizona and Stand for Children Arizona.
  • Brian Radford, running for LD17, which covers Saguaro National Park. He is  recommended by the AEA and endorsed by Save Our Schools Arizona.
  • Nancy Gutierrez, running for LD18. She is recommended by the AEA and endorsed by Stand for Children Arizona.
  • Sanda Clark, running for LD19, which covers Sierra Vista, Tombstone, Apache National Park, and Coronado National Forest. She is a recommended candidate by the AEA. 
  • Consuelo Hernandez, running for LD21, which covers southeast Tucson and Nogales. She is a recommended candidate by the AEA and endorsed by Stand for Children Arizona.
  • Mariana Sandoval, running for LD23, which covers Avondale, northern Yuma, and the Tohono O’odham Nation. She is a recommended candidate by the AEA and endorsed by Save Our Schools Arizona and various school governing board members and leaders.
  • Anna Lynn Abeytia, running for LD24, which covers Glendale. She is a recommended candidate by the AEA.
  • Pedro Lopez, running for LD24.
  • Cesar Aguilar, running for LD26, which covers west Phoenix. He is recommended by the AEA and endorsed by various school governing board members.

All of these candidates’ websites list educational policies that are standard for the Democratic party, like decreasing the student-to-teacher ratio, fully funding the public school system, and keeping school vouchers limited to certain students.

Some of the Republican educators who would be first-time legislators are:

  • Selina Bliss, running for LD1.
  • Alex Kolodin, running for LD3, which covers Fountain Hills, Cave Creek, and Tonto National Forest. 
  • Matt Gress, running for LD4.
  • Jana Jackson, running for LD4.
  • Tatiana Peña, running for LD11.
  • Jim Chaston, running for LD12, which covers Chandler, south Phoenix, and south Tempe.
  • Natalie DiBernardo, running for LD13. 
  • Laurin Hendrix, running for LD14, which covers east Chandler, Gilbert, and Queen Creek
  • Rachel Jones, running for LD17.
  • Michael Carbone, running for LD25, which covers east Yuma and the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
  • Trey Terry, running for LD29, which covers Surprise and the Luke Air Force Base.
  • Bill Hardt, running for LD30, which covers Bullhead City, Kingman, Lake Havasu, Lake Mead, and the Colorado River Indian Reservation.

These candidates’ websites show educational priorities that fall in line with the rest of the Republican party, like support for expanding education vouchers in the name of school choice, calls to ban “critical race theory,” and involving parents more in school curriculums and materials.

Democrats Aaron Marquez of District 5 and Nathan Davis of District 18, and Republican Suzanne Lunt of District 13, have policies that generally follow their parties’ positions, but have additional positions that are more unique or go beyond their party’s standard platforms.

School Board Member: Aaron Marquez

Marquez is an at-large member of the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board, where he says he has been “fighting for progressive change to improve local public schools for our students and their families” by focusing on public health and restorative justice policies. 

In his priorities, he specifically mentions that he will work to fight against proposals like SB 1165—a bill that bans transgender girls from playing school sports—as well as other measures that actively discriminate against marginalized groups.

Marquez is not endorsed by any major education organizations.

Longtime Educator: Suzanne Lunt

Lunt has been a preschool and public school teacher in Mesa and Gilbert, as well as an instructional coach for other teachers. 

Lunt’s education priorities do not include popular Republican policies like universal school choice and a ban on ethnicity and race education; rather, she focuses on funding special education, kindergarten, and preschool. She also says she is “encouraged” by the Achieve60 AZ initiative, which seeks to have 60% of Arizona adults ages 25-64 educated with a professional certificate or college degree by 2030.

Lunt is the only Republican legislative candidate endorsed by Save Our Schools Arizona in their first round of endorsements.

Substitute Teacher: Nathan Davis 

Davis is a teacher in Tucson, currently substitute teaching while he runs his family’s business, who says the solutions to Arizona’s poor education system comes from “structural change rooted in sound policy decisions and new ideas.”

Davis proposes standard Democratic policies like raising per-pupil funding to the national average and ensuring access to career and technical education for all high school graduates,  but he also wants to create a universal preschool program for 3- and 4-year-old Arizona children. 

Davis does not list any endorsements on his website.

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