California Education Reform: Races Heating Up
As Election Day nears, two races are heating up that could severely impact California education reform efforts. The races represent fights between education reformers and members of the traditional education system. We saw this fight play out four years ago in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction. In that race, the reformers backed Marshall Tuck, who formerly headed up the Green Dot Public Charter Schools. The traditionalists supported Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in his bid for re-election. The race was decided by about four percentage points and ended up costing $24 million between all of the interests involved.
This year, Torlakson is termed out and cannot run again, but Tuck is back again with heavy reformer support. He will face off against Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, who represents the Oakland/Berkley area and is receiving strong support from the traditionalists. Whoever wins the race will be the next Superintendent of Public Instruction and will be in charge of the Department of Education. For our interests this would be a huge deal and could impact hundreds of charter schools throughout the state; touching everything from charter appeals, SB 740 funding determinations, requests from CDE, facility issues and how statutes are interpreted. I expect both sides to spend large amounts of money on this race but it will seem a tiny amount compared to what will be spent on the Governor’s race.
The Governor’s race pits the same two interests against each other with other groups also joining the fray. The latest polling shows Gavin Newsome with a slight edge but there is plenty of time for that to change. The SurveyUSA poll has Gavin Newsom (D) with 21%, followed by Antonio Villaraigosa (D) at 18%, John Cox (R) at 15%, Travis Allen (R) at 10% and John Chiang (D) at 9%. Several other candidates poll between 1% – 3%.
In California, we have a top-two primary so the top two vote-getters will move on to the November general election. The Republicans are assisting John Cox with numerous efforts because they cannot have two Democrats running on the general election ballot for the state’s top office. They are convinced that would suppress Republican turnout throughout the state and hurt many of their congressional candidates in the general election. The reformers are backing Antonio and have already begun funding independent expenditures that will run adds on his behalf.
Reed Hasting, the CEO of NetFlix has donated $7 million and Eli Broad has kicked in $1.5 million to date. The traditionalists have also declared that they will spend as much money as it takes to back Gavin. They will be joined in this effort by other labor unions who view Gavin as more open to their issues than Antonio. While Mayor of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa led a number of education reform efforts and attempted to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District. He eventually gained control of a group of schools that he used to increase student performance and implement his proposals. Marshall Tuck ran these schools for a period of time. So again, this race will have huge ramifications for California education reform efforts and charter schools.
We will update you again on as election day gets even closer and the race becomes more clear.