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State superintendent of public education
Who's next to guide California's priorities on education?

The next state superintendent will be the foremost elected official charged with overseeing California’s public schools. California is home to more than a thousand school districts, and the state superintendent oversees them all.

The job isn't to create educational policy — that's on the legislature and Board of Education — but the superintendent makes sure districts comply with state laws and federal standards. The main tasks: distributing funding to districts, monitoring how that money is spent and tracking academic performance.

Tony Thurmond

Age 50

State Assemblymember

Tony Thurmond

Thurmond is a California legislator representing the 15th Assembly District in the Bay Area. Prior to his tenure in the Assembly, Thurmond served as a school board member and social worker. He lists himself as an educator and legislator on the ballot.

Listen to Thurmond on Take Two:

Marshall Tuck

Age 45

Educator

Marshall Tuck

Tuck was president of the Green Dot charter school network before becoming CEO of the Partnership for L.A. Schools. He’s currently an educator-in-residence at the New Teacher Center. Tuck bills himself as a school improvement director with experience running charter and traditional public schools. He ran against the current state superintendent, Tom Torlekson, in 2014, taking home nearly 48 percent of the vote.

Listen to Tuck on Take Two:


Where do the candidates stand on the issues that matter to you?
Academic performance
Tony Thurmond

Thurmond says a universal preschool program is the first step in addressing low academic performance. He adds that intervention needs to happen both within a classroom environment and in the home, and encourages parents to read more with young children. “There’s nothing more important than early childhood education to help make sure we prevent the achievement gap in the first place,” told KPCC in June.

Marshall Tuck

Tuck says our elected leaders have not been adequately focused on California’s public schools. He talks about increased training and continued mentoring and support for teachers and principals as the remedy for poor academic performance. He points to his time at Green Dot as an example of what can be brought to other districts. “When we had investment in our teachers and principals, we got our parents involved, leveraged technology, our kids soared and had real success,” he told KPCC.

School funding
Tony Thurmond

Thurmond says funding is the biggest challenge for the next superintendent, and that it would be his top priority. He says he would lead a campaign to support a ballot proposition in 2020 to change the way Prop 13 — the landmark law that limits property tax increases — taxes corporations, in order to raise another $6 billion for education.

He also says he would “make a different ruling” on the way the state’s school funding and accountability system, Local Control Funding Formula, works. It was originally designed to select schools with a high population of underperforming students, and provide them with additional funding to lift those students up — but current superintendent Tom Torlekson allowed the funding under this system to go toward increasing teachers’ salaries. “Those dollars should be used to support the students they were intended to serve,” Thurmond told KPCC in October.

Marshall Tuck

Tuck says one of the first things he would do as state superintendent would be to change the interpretation of Local Control Funding Formula, the state’s school funding and accountability system. He says current superintendent Tom Torlekson’s decision to allocate some of its funds for across-the-board raises for teachers has undermined the values of the policy. “Money alone doesn’t solve the problem,” he said in an August debate at the Public Policy Institute of California, noting that policy and implementation must be aligned to make those dollars work.

Tuck also says he would prioritize current dollars more for education, and advocate for shifting spending from sectors like prisons and cannabis to bump up the budgets for schools. He also supports the 2020 ballot proposition that would change the way Prop 13 taxes corporations in order to raise more money for education.

Academic disparity
Tony Thurmond

Thurmond says social and economic strains block equal access to education, and says schools need to provide more nutritional and mental health services to help close the gap. He also says exams need to be written with “cultural competency” so as not to disenfranchise students of diverse backgrounds. If elected, he would prioritize pre-K literacy programs, reduce chronic absenteeism in the state, and focus on closing the school-to-prison pipeline.

Thurmond says we need to create ongoing resources for educators, like professional development opportunities. “We spend so much time talking about blame about teachers and how to fire teachers; we spend so little time frontloading training,” he said at an August debate.

He opposes the idea of paying teachers differently to work in low-income communities, as Marshall Tuck has supported. “I would argue it’s more about collaboration and professional development, not about creating a differentiated pay scale,” he said in August.

Marshall Tuck

Tuck says he would prioritize universal pre-K as a first major step in closing the achievement gap. He also advocates for paying educators more to work in high-poverty communities in order to raise retention rates — something Green Dot did under his leadership. “If we do not change that fact and ensure that Latino and African-American kids have teachers in front of them and principals that are going to stay and going to be there, then we will never close the achievement gap,” he said in August.

He also says he would try to create more time and opportunities for enrichment activities for low-income students, and get parents and communities engaged in schools.

Charters versus teacher unions
Tony Thurmond

Thurmond has received support from the California Teachers Association, which has campaigned for more transparency and accountability from charter schools. But Thurmond says the needs around education are much more complex than being pro- or anti-charter. He says that overall, the experience of charter schools is largely similar to that of traditional public schools, though he says he would ban for-profit charters. And while he hasn’t called for a moratorium on new charter schools, he’s said that we shouldn’t open any new schools without providing additional resources to support them. Thurmond also says that his record is balanced when it comes to charters and traditional public schools, and that we need to find common ground over what’s best for students.

Marshall Tuck

Tuck is endorsed by the California Charter Schools Association, although he, like Thurmond, says the issues are more complicated than being for or against charters. Tuck says he has a “unique perspective," having experience managing both charters and traditional public schools. He says he’ll bring interest groups together over their common concerns.

He doesn’t support a blanket moratorium on new charter schools, but says California can make some adjustments in charter policy to ensure the growth of successful ones and shutting down ineffective ones. He also says he would ban for-profit charter schools.