Originally published Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 05:57a.m.

KINGMAN – The major issue for Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Jonathan Gelbart is teacher salaries and getting more dollars into the classrooms to fill teacher vacancies.

Candidate Bob Branch wants President Donald Trump to follow through on his campaign promise to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education, which has become a “bloated bureaucracy.”

Gelbart and Branch each gave a quick presentation on their backgrounds and qualifications in running for state school superintendent at Monday’s luncheon meeting of the Conservative Republican Club of Kingman, then took questions from the audience.

Gelbart read a couple paragraphs from a newspaper article about declining test scores and other problems with America’s public education system, noting that the article was written in the 1950s, yet those same issues persist today.

Then he picked up the 19-chapter, 850-page Code of Regulations for public education and said he wants to work with legislators to scale it back and focus on individual learning.

“We need to rebuild and transform the state department of education,” the 29-year-old Gelbart said. “That place has been a disaster. Finally, we need someone who’s an advocate for public education. That takes reaching out and building relationships.”

Branch, who teaches doctorate-level teachers at Liberty University and Grand Canyon University, said he decided to run for Superintendent of Public Instruction when he heard Trump say he would dismantle the education department.

“I look at this as a revolution,” he said. “When we get rid of the (U.S.) Department of Education, we can then take back our education system.”

He said the state couldn’t go into Tucson Unified School District and look at what was allegedly being taught in the schools about La Raza and undermining the U.S. government.

“That’s how corrupt the system is getting. That’s why I say it’s a revolution,” Branch said.

Arizona receives about $1.2 billion from the U.S. Department of Education, but it has to be written with grants, and that’s money that citizens sent to Washington, he mentioned.

“We don’t have to raise any taxes at all because the money’s there and we’re just not getting it like we should be,” he said.

The Conservative Republican Club has now heard from Gelbart, Branch, Tracy Livingston and Frank Riggs, all running for Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested positions in the 2018 election.

“It’s because we have a weak incumbent (Diane Douglas) and I think people want a change and to see a strong leader for education in Arizona,” Gelbart said.

Superintendent is the highest education position in Arizona, and it’s not just for K-12 education, but higher education as well, Branch said.

He wants to improve the quality of education in Arizona, which consistently ranks at or near the bottom in national reports.

“What is the likelihood of a kindergarten kid getting a good education and graduating and getting a good job? That’s what we’re looking at,” Branch said.