The Proxy War to Control the Future of California’s Public Education

The Proxy War to Control the Future of California’s Public Education

Among the many political contests California voters will decide in November, the race for state superintendent of public instruction is one worthy of special consideration.

Not only is it destined to be the state’s most expensive race this election cycle, it is also a proxy war between two titans—the charter school advocates who largely support former charter school executive, Marshall Tuck (defeated by current Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in 2010) and the candidate supported by labor organizations, California Assemblyman Tony Thurmond. As often happens here in California, both candidates are members of the Democratic Party. 

There appears to be very little distance between them regarding education policy. During a forum in May, both candidates agreed on the state’s need to substantially increase funding for education and tackle school discipline by embracing the concepts of restorative justice. 

In addition, both candidates stressed the need to find a solution to the state’s teacher shortage—both  Thurmond and Tuck referred to the state’s shortage as a “crisis.” They are also aligned on the need to increase teachers’ pay—though they disagree on how such raises should be applied. They both also support a ban against for-profit charter schools. 

Although neither candidate likes being classified as either for or against charter schools, it appears their funders have decided for them. Several independent expenditure committees have given millions to their preferred candidate, yet the $10.8 million raised by charter school advocates in support of Tuck dwarfs the $4.9 million raised by independent expenditure committees on behalf of Thurmond (independent expenditure committees have no limits on the amount of money they can contribute to a campaign). Tuck has also raised at least a million dollars more in direct contributions. 

In 1992, California became the second state to adopt public charter school legislation and this school year, there were 1306 charter schools and seven all-charter districts operating in the state. 

There is no argument that some public charter schools are successful just as some traditional public schools continue to be. There are also public charter schools that experience the same challenges as traditional public schools. Several reports have also shown levels of student achievement in public charter schools are often indistinguishable from levels of student achievement in traditional public schools. 

In general, both systems appear to have failed to consistently deliver the level of quality education Californians desire for the state’s students. 

California’s first public charter schools opened their doors in the 1993-94 school year. Yet, here we are nearly twenty-five years later, and the competition between public charter schools and traditional public schools has failed to elevate the quality of education or the level of student achievement hoped for. It appears the only thing that has elevated is the millions of dollars being spent in order to determine which group of lobbyists will ultimately control the state’s public education process. 

The race to fill the position of California Superintendent of Public Instruction should be more than a proxy war between charter school supporters and those who support traditional public schools. The fate of California students, including the quality of their education and level of achievement, is too important to their futures to be sold to the highest bidder. 

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams
Managing Editor

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