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Sac Bee: Schools chief debate recap

This year promises another competitive race for California superintendent of public instruction. The primary for the nonpartisan office, which oversees education policy in the state, has attracted more than $12.5 million in outside spending from teachers’ unions and wealthy individuals who want to overhaul the public school system. Tony Thurmond, a Democratic Assemblyman from Richmond, and Marshall Tuck, a former school executive in Los Angeles, met in Davis on Saturday for a candidate forum hosted by the Youth Power Summit, answering questions from students of color.

THURMOND: Sharing his own experience of childhood adversity — he says he might have ended up in prison if not for strong mentors — Thurmond spoke about closing the “school-to-prison pipeline.” He is carrying a bill this session that would tax private prisons in California to fund about $25 million in grants annually for preschool and after-school programs. Thurmond wants to cut back on school expulsions that can leave students feeling like they have no options. He said he would work with the Legislature and the governor to increase education funding, including for universal pre-kindergarten and free community college.

TUCK: With a focus on equity for minority and poor students, Tuck wants to conduct an audit of all public schools in the state to find differences in course offerings, attendance, suspensions and expulsions that need to be addressed with policy changes. He said he would interpret California’s school funding formula differently, directing more money to needy districts with high teacher turnover so that they can pay higher salaries and attract better instructors. Tuck, who narrowly lost the contentious 2014 superintendent of public instruction race, also emphasized the need for universal pre-kindergarten to level the playing field for all students.

KEY DIFFERENCE: Both Thurmond and Tuck largely sidestepped a question about charter schools at the forum, other than to say they support a ban on for-profit charters. But this is one of the issues driving the big spending in the campaign. Thurmond wants a “pause” on new charters while the state figures out how to make up for the funding they have drained from traditional public schools. Tuck, who ran a charter chain in Los Angeles for several years, has been at odds with California’s teachers’ unions over his lighter regulatory approach, as well has his willingness to challenge the state’s hiring and firing practices.

By Alexei Koseff for the Sacramento Bee.