After Avalanche of Mail-In and Provisional Ballots Swings Close Race, State Assemblyman Tony Thurmond to Become California’s Next State Superintendent

Superintendent-Elect Tony Thurmond (Courtesy)

Eleven days after the election, Tony Thurmond accepted a concession call from Marshall Tuck and will become California’s state superintendent of public instruction.

A spokesman for Tuck’s campaign confirmed Sunday that the race was over and that Tuck had conceded Saturday morning in a phone call to Thurmond.

Thurmond tweeted out his thanks to voters on Saturday and said in a statement, “I intend to be a champion of public schools and a Superintendent for all California students. I ran for Superintendent of Public Instruction to deliver to all Californians the promise that public education delivered to me — that all students, no matter their background and no matter their challenges, can succeed with a great public education.”

Thurmond, 50, is a state assemblyman and a former social worker and school board member in the San Francisco Bay area. He had the backing of the powerful teachers union and other organized labor groups throughout the state. Every state superintendent in the past 24 years has won with teacher union support.

Tuck, 45, had an 86,000-vote lead after Election Day, but as provisional and mail-in ballots were counted, that margin evaporated, and Thurmond’s lead is now nearly three times what Tuck’s was. Results will not be official until all votes are counted — about 2 million remain — and are certified in December.

The 325,000-member California Teachers Association “phone-banked, texted, canvassed and volunteered for candidates like Tony who want quality public schools,” CTA president Eric C. Heins wrote in a news release. “It’s clear that educators played a pivotal role in this election.”

The state superintendent job lacks partisan affiliation, carries little statutory power, and has not historically set its occupants on a path to higher office. But the record $60 million spent on the race proved it was a sought-after bully pulpit. A win for Tuck would have given education reformers a public counterweight against Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, the new state board of education that he will appoint, and the Democratic majority in the state legislature — all of which were elected with union backing.

The race centered on California’s debate over school choice, pitting Thurmond against Tuck, who was supported by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates and wealthy reformers. Both are Democrats, oppose for-profit charters, and called for more transparency measures. But Thurmond suggested that a “pause” on new charter schools might be necessary until new revenues are found to offset the dollars that districts lose when their students move to charters. Tuck argued that school districts should not be allowed to reject new charter petitions because of the financial hardship that might result.

Both candidates also agreed on adding more recognized subgroups of students who are underachieving — such as African Americans — to the state’s Local Control Funding Formula, which provides additional funding for English-learning, low-income, homeless, and foster students. They also agreed on free preschool for all children across the state and additional mental health support for students.

But Tuck had vowed to fight for changes in how school districts are allowed to spend the extra funding. The current superintendent has said the money can be used for across-the-board raises for teachers. Tuck vowed to end that. Thurmond declined to say if he would continue it, CALmatters reported.

Bill Lucia, president and CEO of EdVoice, said by email Monday, “We wish Mr. Thurmond nothing but success in delivering on campaign promises made to parents with children being failed by the current system. The first test will be whether he follows through or reneges on the explicit promise to reverse Superintendent Torlakson’s ill-advised decision to redirect funds for across-the-board pay raises from extra help intended for English learners and kids in poverty. Fixing broken California public schools will require tough and unpopular decisions that will likely upset the special interests that funded his campaign. Hopefully, he can find the courage to stand tall and do it.”

EdVoice is a California education advocacy organization that supported Tuck’s campaign.

The heated contest featured disputes over negative advertising and became the most expensive race in the nation for a state superintendent — for the second time. Tuck narrowly lost in 2014 to Tom Torlakson, who served two four-year terms and is now termed out. That race cost $30 million. This time, the candidates raked in twice that — more than any House race this cycle and all but a handful of the most expensive Senate races. Tuck took in the lion’s share, outspending Thurmond roughly 2-1.

Tuck was president of Green Dot Public Schools, a nonprofit charter management organization started in 1999 in Los Angeles, as well as the founding CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a network created a decade ago by former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa after his failed attempt to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Tuck wrote to his supporters Saturday, “I just spoke with Assemblymember Thurmond and congratulated him on his victory. I offered to help him be successful and wished him the best in his new role. Given it has become clear that we are not going to win this campaign, I felt it was in the best interest of California’s children for me to concede now so that Assemblymember Thurmond has as much time as possible to plan to take over as State Superintendent (all votes will still be counted but conceding allows candidates to move forward).”

He added, “I recognize that change is very hard and politics, particularly when you lose, can be disheartening. I remind myself that winning the election isn’t the end goal. The end goal is that all children in this state and country, regardless of background, get access to quality public schools. Reaching that goal is going to take a lot of work and absolutely requires us to get over this loss quickly. We must continue to be extremely determined to do our part to help our children.”

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