In November, Californians will elect a new superintendent of public education. Education is by far the largest state spending area, and California’s public K–12 system—which educates more than 6 million children—is critical to the state’s future. What are the top priorities of the two candidates and what are their visions for California’s schools? PPIC president Mark Baldassare talked to Tony Thurmond, a member of the state assembly, and Marshall Tuck, a school improvement director, about how they would approach the job.
The candidates largely agreed on the need to increase state education funding and the importance of improving outcomes for low-income students, English Learners, and foster youth. Both are strong advocates for universal preschool. And both stressed the need to prepare all students not just for college and careers but also for civic engagement.
After noting that California currently ranks near the bottom among all states in per pupil funding, Tony Thurmond promised to prioritize moving the state into the top ten within his first four years—and to “take us to number one within eight years.” To help close achievement gaps, he would expand successful local approaches. He cited the Freedom School, an Afro-centric literacy program, and Footsteps to Brilliance, which focuses on immigrant families, as models.
Marshall Tuck emphasized the need to “start with equity.” His first priority would be to change the current funding policies to make sure state funding gets to kids with the greatest need. He would also work to streamline the state education code in order to “unlock the creativity of teachers and principals.”
While they agreed on many issues, Thurmond and Tuck emphasized differences in their backgrounds, each arguing that his experience makes him the better candidate.
Tuck argued that, while money is important, “implementation is key,” and cited his experience implementing successful policies in Los Angeles. After noting that the system has not been working, he argued that the next superintendent should be an education professional who can “fundamentally change the way we are approaching public education.”
Thurmond noted that the superintendent needs to be able to work with the county superintendents, the legislature, and the governor. He outlined his experience as an elected official and educator, as well as his “lived experience” as a student in California public schools—an experience, he said, that demonstrates how “education can save lives.”