The race for the state’s top schools job has long followed a familiar pattern: A state legislator, anointed by the Democratic establishment and the teachers unions, faces off against political outsiders who want to bust up the Sacramento status quo.
This year’s election for state superintendent of public instruction sticks to that trend with Assemblyman Tony Thurmond facing three challengers, including main contender, Marshall Tuck.
The two candidates with the most votes on June 5 will face off in November, unless one gets more than 50 percent of ballots cast.
The superintendent oversees the state Department of Education, which administers the $93 billion education budget. The superintendent also sits on the governing boards for the University of California and California State University systems, and for the teachers’ pension fund, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.
Tuck and Thurmond are Democrats, but they come at public education from different angles.
Thurmond, who represents Richmond, touts his political insider status as a strength, saying his relationships with state and national elected officials would allow him to increase funding for schools and address California’s teacher shortage and a pension crisis pushing school districts to the financial brink.
The superintendent has to know how to work with the Legislature, the governor, local superintendents and the congressional delegation to get things done, Thurmond said.
The East Bay politician is just finishing his first term in the Assembly, after serving on the Richmond City Council and West Contra Costa school board.
“I want to use all those experiences to champion issues,” he said. “I want to be fighting for kids every day, all the time.”
This is Tuck’s second run at the state superintendent’s office. In 2014, he challenged incumbent Tom Torlakson, a former state senator, coming close with nearly 48 percent of the ballots cast in his favor. Torlakson has served eight years in the role and will term out this year.
Tuck lives in Los Angeles and most recently worked as an educator in residence at the nonprofit New Teacher Center, which addresses teacher retention. As in the last election, Tuck’s supporters include a short list of state elected officials, school board members from across the state and a long list of teachers, superintendents, charter school advocates and individuals associated with education reform groups. Labor support is lacking.
The son of a teacher, Tuck has also been chief executive of the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, working with 18 struggling schools in the city’s school district.
He began his career in education as president of Green Dot Public Schools, a nonprofit organization that manages a chain of charter schools.
“We need real change in our schools,” Tuck said, adding that he’s worked extensively with both charter and traditional public schools. “Our main opponent in this race is another example of a politician — a city council member, school board member and state legislator.”
Tuck said he believes the state “absolutely” has to increase funding for schools and will fight hard to direct revenue from the legal cannabis industry into the education budget.
“Everyone always says more funding, but the question is why aren’t we doing it?” he said. “Why haven’t we dramatically increased it?”
He also wants to reverse a policy that allows school districts to give teachers raises with money designated to help English learners, economically disadvantaged students and foster children, saying the money needs to get to the children who need it most.
Thurmond also wants to see more money flow into schools and said he will convene business leaders, educators and government officials to identify funding sources.
“I’m willing to look at all options,” he said. “My sense is that for a state as large and complex as ours, it’s just been underfunded for decades. It’s time for us to reconcile that.”
Both candidates said they will also prioritize the pension crisis, although they provided no specifics.
The two additional candidates are Steven Ireland and Lily Ploski. As of this week, neither had raised the $5,000 minimum that would require campaign finance filings.
Ploski is a financial awareness instructor for Upward Bound at Mills College and a former administrator at Solano Community College.
On the ballot, Ireland identifies his profession as a parent. He owns SLIVideo TV, a television production company.