California voters will have the opportunity to choose between two Democratic candidates to lead the California Department of Education, which oversees more than 10,000 public schools and more than 1,000 school districts.
California state Assemblymember Tony Thurmond and New Teacher Center educator-in-residence Marshall Tuck — both members of the Democratic party — are running for the position of state superintendent of public instruction. Current superintendent Tom Torlakson is stepping down after holding the position since 2010, having narrowly defeated Tuck for re-election in 2014.
In the state primaries, which were held in June, Tuck edged out Thurmond 37 percent to 35.6 percent. The candidate who garners the most votes in the general election will assume control of the state education system responsible for the largest and most diverse pool of students in the nation.
Both candidates have similar stances on major issues, including prioritizing public school funding and closing the achievement gap.
“Every single kid, every single neighborhood deserves a quality public school, and it’s time that we start to make that a reality,” Tuck said.
Thurmond also plans to emphasize school safety and fight the Trump administration’s attempts to “privatize our public education system,” according to his campaign site.
As a state Assembly member for District 15, Thurmond authored AB 1014, which uses grants to reduce truancy and prevent students from dropping out of school. He also introduced AB 2186, which would create a $200 million grant fund for STEM education programs.
“I’m running for Superintendent of Public Instruction because I believe we must ensure that every California child gets the education they need to realize their potential,” Thurmond said on his campaign site. “We can’t be satisfied with the status quo.”
Tuck said he aims to provide all students, especially low-income children, with access to prekindergarten education. He added that he would like to increase support and resources for special-needs students and English learners.
Tuck added that he would like to start prioritizing higher education, beginning with controlling the cost of tuition, which he said is “too high.” He said he would like to implement a new system to ease the transition from high school to college, especially for first-generation and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.
“We’re not prioritizing our neediest kids, and that needs to change,” Tuck said.
Thurmond has the backing of the majority of the Democratic establishment, including current superintendent Torlakson, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and the California Democratic Party. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and California’s five statewide teachers of the year for 2018 have also endorsed Thurmond’s campaign.
“For more than two decades, Tony Thurmond has fought for the children who most need a champion,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a press release. “I am endorsing Tony for State Superintendent of Public instruction because I know that he will never back down when it comes to California’s students.”
According to Tuck, his experience in public education sets him apart from Thurmond, who has spent a majority of his career in politics — a background that Tuck said is not bad but “not what this job needs.”
Tuck has been endorsed by previous U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan, the Association of California School Administrators, or ACSA, and state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco.
“Tuck’s vision for California schools is consistent with ACSA’s commitment to putting the interests of students above all,” ACSA president Lisa Gonzales said in a press release. “Every one of his guiding principles maintains the objective of prioritizing California students.”
This year’s campaign for superintendent is expected to attract a record amount of funding, outdoing the unprecedented donation count of the 2014 cycle through contributions from teachers’ unions and charter school advocates. Members of the public will get the chance to weigh in by casting their ballots for the election Nov. 6.