California Primary: Charter School Advocate Marshall Tuck Leading for School Superintendent

Marshall Tuck (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)
Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press
Newport Beach, CA

California primary election returns show charter school advocate Marshall Tuck defeating the teachers’ union-endorsed candidate by 38 percent to 34.3 percent Tuesday in the race for California school superintendent.

Despite being a Democrat and losing in 2014 to now termed-out Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson by a narrow 51 percent to 49 percent margin, Tuck was vilified at the California Democrat Convention in February, where he only received just 5 percent of the votes for endorsement, compared to 89 percent for teachers’ union- and SEIU-endorsed candidate Tony Thurmond.

Tuck is disliked by Democrat insiders because he graduated from the Harvard Business School, worked on Wall Street at Solomon Brothers investment bank, helped build a Silicon Valley software company, and then became president of Green Dot, which seeds and manages charter schools in neighborhoods with the worst performing public students.

The teachers’ unions and other Democrat Party funders went all-in for Thurmond, with $3 million in campaign donations and thousands of volunteers. But Tuck raised a jaw-dropping $7 million from school reform advocates and charter school proponents. He is endorsed by the Association of California School Administrators.

California Gov. Jerry Brown and his teachers’ union allies have driven up K-12 educational spending from $47 billion in 2011-2012 to $78 billion in the fiscal year that began July 1. With teachers’ unions arguing that society must address the socioeconomic problems that hinder learning, Brown has pushed the “Common Core” curriculum and restructured spending to send more money to supposedly “under-served communities.”

But last year, slightly over half of California’s public school students could not read and write in English at their grade level, and 63 percent did not meet math standards, according to California’s Assessment of Student Performance and Progress.

Tuck led Green Dot Public Schools, a network of independent charter schools in Los Angeles, and Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which acted as a turnaround management team to oversee a mix of traditional and charter schools serving 15,000 students. Tuck told a recent education forum audience that he is not a typical career politician, because he has been an educator.

Tuck supporters say families should have the right of choice regarding which schools that their kids attend. His supporters also tend to want to end the rules protecting senior teachers, and make school assignments according to student needs.

An April poll of likely voters by the Public Policy Institute of California found that Tuck and Thurmond were both tied at about 13 percent support, with almost three-quarters of likely voters still undecided.

Given that union-backed candidates traditionally do much better in the usually low-turnout primaries than in general elections, Tuck appears to be in a strong position to win in November.

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