The four leading Republican candidates vying to replace Gavin Newsom: from left, John Cox, Larry Elder, Kevin Faulconder and Kevin Kiley

Of the 46 candidates on the ballot to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom, EdSource sent questionnaires regarding K-12 issues to the four leading Republican candidates, based on the results of the most recent voter survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. Only one, syndicated radio host Larry Elder, registered with double-digit support (26%). The other three had 5% or less support: former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin; and John Cox, the Republican candidate who lost to Newsom in 2018.

Faulconer and Kiley returned the questionnaires; Cox requested an interview, which we conducted. And Elder did not respond to repeated inquiries.

Click on the photos to read their responses or, in Elder’s case, positions he expressed on his website or in news media interviews.

John Cox

Lawyer, accountant and investment manager

John Cox, 66, is a Republican lawyer, accountant and investment manager who ran unsuccessfully for Congress, the U.S. Senate and the presidency before losing the governor’s race to Gavin Newsom in 2018 by 24 percentage points. An Illinois native who moved a decade ago to Rancho Santa Fe, he has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a law degree from the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He is the founder of a chapter of the nonprofit Rebuilding Together, which repairs homes for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. He is touting his business expertise as what distinguishes him from other candidates.

The answers are from an interview, edited for brevity, and a news conference on education issues that Cox gave on Aug. 27 in San Jose.

Would you rescind the mask mandate for staff and for students in public schools if elected?

We need to make sure that children are going to school without being forced to wear masks. I am all for parents who desire to wear a mask. And I believe that parents who don’t want to have their children wear masks should not be forced to do so.

There’s a cost to have our children masked up in schools. Several countries have done analysis of this. And they’ve concluded that the risks of forcing a mask mandate, inhaling all those microbes in those masks, as well as the socialization, psychological aspects outweigh the benefits of it.

Would you require vaccination of students and staff if the FDA gives full authorization to Covid vaccines?

I would encourage vaccinations with every fiber of my being. But I believe in freedom, I don’t believe we should mandate the vaccination. I believe in people’s freedom to be able to say, no, I’m not going to do this.

How else would you have dealt differently from Gov. Newsom with TK-12 school reopening?

I would not have shut them to begin with. I would have had the children back in school; the American Pediatric Association was pushing for kids to be in school last July. Parents don’t have choices like Gavin Newsom does. Most parents aren’t wealthy like me, they’re consigned to the public schools. I just regret what was happening to the 6 million public school children. They weren’t able to be in front of a teacher. I think it’s just reprehensible.

 Would you have mandated, required schools to be open?

Obviously schools are run by local school boards. The state of California doesn’t have direct control of the schools. I would have done what I could have to get kids back in front of teachers. Teachers and the union bosses were the ones that prevented this. In other states, governors put their foot down and said, hey, if nurses and doctors can go to work, if Costco workers can go to work, if fire and police officers can go to work, what is it about teachers that they didn’t have to go to work?

If you favor an expansion of school choice, who would it target, and what would your program look like?

John Cox: This is not rocket science, and it’s done in other countries. You give a voucher or an education savings account to each parent instead of giving it to the school district, and they choose a good school. You can still audit the schools. You can still make sure the schools are adhering to the standards. That’s certainly doable. You can certainly authorize parents to spend a little bit of the savings account on a consultant that will help guide parents that can’t on their own choose the best school for their child.

You might target an extra amount to a special needs child. You might target the vouchers based upon local costs as well.

I believe competition and choice drive quality and efficiency. I want to see the money go into the classroom. And, you know, the only way that that’s going to happen is with a parent with economic power, who says, hey, I’m not going to go to this school. This school doesn’t devote the resources to the classroom. They employ a bunch of administrators pushing out reports. I want people that are going to spend the money on instruction and technology and enhancements and other things that would enhance my child’s learning experience.

How about we get a bidding war going for teachers? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

Would you sign a bill requiring ethnic studies as a high school graduation requirement (Assembly Bill 101)? If not, why not?

We need to make sure that we focus on curricula that will actually enhance success for our students. We certainly should learn backgrounds and the history of various peoples who have come to America to become Americans. And we can do that in the context of history and civics. We don’t need to do that with a separate program. We should stay away from political indoctrination. I would like to see a lot less emphasis on race and people’s derivation. I look at everybody and I think of them as Americans. I don’t, I don’t think of people as Asian Americans or African Americans or Latin Americans.

Do you favor increased funding to create universal transitional kindergarten and expanding funding for preschool? If not, why not?

I’m a couple of minds on that. I enrolled my children in a pre-kindergarten — we felt it was important. Other parents may not feel it is. In California, we tax too much, and we have too high a cost of living. I am worried about adding another government program. I might agree to a voucher program for pre-kindergarten, but I would base it on financial need.

Would you continue funding pre-K-12 education through the Local Control Funding Formula?

It’s based on financial need, and I’m inclined to support it. I believe in affirmative action, by the way, but not based on race, based on financial need for the same reasons.

How would your approach to education differ from the agenda set by Govs. Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom?

My approach is to empower parents and give parents the same choice, educational choices that Newsom had, that Barack Obama had, that Bill and Hillary Clinton had for their children.

Other issues:

Teacher tenure: We need to make sure we have the best teachers. I don’t have tenure with my investors, with customers. My employees, my associates don’t have tenure. That was intended for university professors; that’s different from elementary and secondary teachers being removed because of inadequate performance. I believe in evaluating teachers based upon professional standards, not just test scores, but we need to make sure that we get the very best teachers.

Vocational education: Not every child is going to go to college, and not every child should go to college. We need to revive the idea of tradespeople and teach children to be electricians and plumbers, roofers, and carpenters. Those are wonderful trades, and they should be taught in the schools.

Larry Elder

Nationally syndicated conservative radio host

Larry Elder, 69, is a nationally syndicated conservative radio host, broadcast on 300 stations in 50 states, a newspaper columnist, a documentary film producer and author of a half-dozen books. He calls himself the Sage of South Central, a reference to his Los Angeles roots. After graduating from Crenshaw High, he received a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. He practiced law before turning to radio broadcasting 27 years ago.

Elder did not respond to multiple requests to complete the EdSource questionnaire. In his website’s section on education, Elder criticizes Gavin Newsom’s failure to reopen schools last year and his ties to the California Teachers Association. Elder is an advocate of school choice and has made that a central issue of  campaign.

“As soon as the science made it clear that children were not at grave risk from Covid-19 they should have had the choice to go back to class. I would have provided parents with that choice,” he wrote. “That is far from what we saw in California. We had a governor who is shamelessly beholden to the teacher’s unions. A governor who sent home millions of public school children while his own children received elite in-person instruction at a private school.”

“I think Californians can see that these mandates, and shutdowns, are not about ‘following the science’ but about power and control. And in the case of primary and secondary education, that abuse of power damaging our children during their critical years — we can only shudder to think.”

Regarding school choice, he wrote, “It is simple, the money follows the child, not the other way around. Studies have shown that school choice improves education in the suburbs and in the inner cities alike. Positive competition improves the product. Education is a 21st-century civil rights issue. It’s not right to force parents to send their children to an under-performing school. We need to empower parents and students. California deserves better.”

During the campaign, Elder indicated he would declare a state of emergency to fire thousands of “bad” teachers, whom he estimated would make up 5% to 7% of the state’s 300,000 teachers. He didn’t say how he’d decide who should be fired. But in a recent interview with the Mercury News, he backed off that position, stating it’s “almost impossible to fire an incompetent teacher.” He would focus on school choice instead, relying on competition from charter and private schools to improve education.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Elder said he opposes granting a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, as well as providing them in-state tuition and driver’s licenses. At a conservative megachurch in Rocklin, whose pastor has endorsed ousting Newsom, Elder said sex education “has no role in schools at all” and that transgender students should not be able to use the bathroom of their choice.

In a 2010 syndicated column, he suggested the Constitution should be amended to deny immigrants public services, including children’s access to public schools. He pointed to former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as someone whose education philosophy he admires.

Kevin Faulconer

Two-term mayor of San Diego from 2014 to 2020

Kevin Faulconer, 54, served two terms as a Republican mayor from 2014 to 2020 in San Diego, where Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans. He was a member of the San Diego City Council for 12 years before that. A native of Oxnard, he received a bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University and worked in public relations for the firm Porter Novelli before turning to politics. He started campaigning for governor in February, stating it was appalling that public schools were stuck in remote learning while private school students attended class in-person.

Would you rescind the mask mandate for staff and for students in public schools if elected?

I believe schools need to remain open for in-person instruction for our students. We cannot afford another year of lost learning. I would allow local districts to decide their policies on masks based on the condition of the pandemic in their communities. I do not think a one-size-fits-all approach works for a state as large and diverse as California.

Would you require vaccination of students and staff if the FDA gives full authorization to Covid vaccines?

I strongly support vaccines and encourage every Californian to get one, including children as soon as they are eligible. As with all decisions on Covid, I am going to listen to doctors on the best path forward.

How else would you have dealt differently from Gov. Newsom with TK-12 school reopening?

When you take a step back and look at the totality of Gavin Newsom’s decisions, time and again California found itself under the nation’s toughest lockdowns — while also experiencing the worst Covid rates. Newsom gave us the worst of both worlds during this pandemic. As the science on Covid evolved, Newsom’s approach didn’t. His rules became so confusing and contradictory that he even violated them himself.

When it comes to public schools, Newsom followed special interests, not the science. Failure to reopen schools to in-person learning last year was one of the largest failures of the Newsom administration. Private schools were safely welcoming students into classrooms because they were accountable to parents, yet many public schools — where students are more likely to be middle-class, low-income, Latino, or Black — had no in-person instruction because they were accountable to Newsom.

Safe in-classroom learning must be treated as the norm, not the exception. Students do better when they learn in a classroom, and I would have provided the leadership needed to safely reopen our schools just like nearly every other state in the country did. For example, I would have made sure that education funding was directly tied to in-person school attendance.

I would have also worked to give public school parents an education stimulus check to help cover the costs of learning from home. Moms and dads gave up jobs so they could be home with their kids, parents had to pay for tutors, and many families had to purchase laptops, tablets, and faster internet. The State of California should have helped to make them whole.

Even now that schools appear to be reopening, Newsom’s education crisis will remain with us for years to come. As governor I’ll work with schools to help our children get caught up. I will prioritize funding in the state budget to make sure kids have access to summer school, longer school days and after-school tutoring. And I will support more mental health counselors for students who have been affected by the pandemic and isolation.

If you favor an expansion of school choice, who would it target, and what would your program look like?

Every student deserves a world-class education. A public school student in Compton should be able to receive the same quality of education as a public school student in Beverly Hills. But under Newsom the quality of education is often decided by a family’s zip code. The current public education system is letting down far too many students I will give parents a choice to pick the best school for their children. I support a school choice system that will allow access to charter schools and examining educational savings accounts for working- and middle-class families to use for private schools.

Would you sign a bill requiring ethnic studies as a high school graduation requirement (Assembly Bill 101)? If not, why not?

I support allowing for ethnic studies courses in K-12 schools, but I would not make it a requirement for graduation. The current ethnic studies curriculum was developed through a divisive and political process that drew objections from the California Legislative Jewish Caucus due to accusations of anti-Semitism. We need to depoliticize this issue and focus on teaching our students about history, not about politics.

Do you favor increased funding to create universal transitional kindergarten and expanding funding for preschool? If not, why not?

I support universal TK and more preschool options, especially for working- and middle-class families. Ensuring that California can sustain these programs over the long-term will be a vital factor, so we must do it in a way that ensures the program can continue to provide for students into the future.

Would you continue funding pre-K-12 education through the Local Control Funding Formula, which ties funding to districts to the proportion of English learners, and low-income, foster and homeless students?

Yes. Districts with higher numbers of disadvantaged students deserve extra funding. I would support enhanced accountability measures to ensure that districts are truly directing that funding towards the students they are intended for.

How would your approach to education differ from the agenda set by Govs. Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom?

Our public schools were failing before the pandemic, and Gavin Newsom has only made things worse. California should be the first in the nation for education, but instead we are competing against poorer states at the bottom of educational ranking lists. I will not be beholden to the same education special interests that have dominated the Capitol under previous administrations. I will put students and parents first and focus on how we can best serve their needs, and support teachers who want to help us make California’s education system the best in the U.S. No point better illustrates the flawed approach to education under Governor Newsom than California’s failure to reopen our schools last year — costing many students an entire year of education. Other states were able to succeed while California failed. That would not happen under my administration.

Other sources: As governor, Faulconer said he would propose fully paid parental leave for primary caregivers for up to 12 weeks and add 200,000 more spots in state-funded child care. He would eliminate the state income tax for families that earn less than $100,000.

Kevin Kiley

Three-term assemblyman from Rocklin, vice-chair of Assembly Education Committee

If elected, Kevin Kiley, 36, would be the nation’s youngest governor. First elected to the Legislature in 2016, the three-term Republican Assembly member from Rocklin is vice chair of the Assembly Education Committee. With a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a law degree from Yale Law School and a master’s in secondary education from Marymount University, he taught school for two years at a low-income high school in Los Angeles before he became a prosecutor and deputy attorney general. His mother was a special education teacher.

Would you rescind the mask mandate for staff and for students in public schools if elected?

I would end the State of Emergency and return a child’s personal health decisions to their parents.

Would you require vaccination of students and staff if the FDA gives full authorization to Covid vaccines?

Californians are well informed on how to protect themselves from Covid-19. The state should continue, where appropriate, to provide educational resources. But decision-making going forward should be in the hands of local communities and their citizens.

How else would you have dealt differently from Gov. Newsom with TK-12 school reopening?

Gavin Newsom is setting the stage for another school shutdown. That will not happen if I replace him. Every school will be open. Full-time, five days a week, no excuses.

California has been a national outlier in the Covid era, imposing both the longest school closures and the most severe lockdowns. Other states that have taken a more balanced approach have allowed their kids to remain in school and their businesses to remain open, while also having better overall public health outcomes than our state.

If you favor an expansion of school choice, who would it target, and what would your program look like?

I strongly believe that your zip code shouldn’t be your destiny: that quality public education options must be available to all students. I have fought for school choice in the State Legislature, and have often been one of the few voices willing to speak out in defense of charter schools.

In California, it must be said, school choice is already fully available to a portion of the population: wealthy families like Gavin Newsom’s who can pay private tuition or move to a neighborhood with quality public schools. The prevailing education agenda at our state Capitol seeks to entrench this inequity.

A school choice agenda, by contrast, seeks to overcome it by putting every California parent in the driver’s seat, regardless of where they live or how much money they make. That is what I will fight for if elected governor.

Would you sign a bill requiring ethnic studies as a high school graduation requirement (Assembly Bill 101)? If not, why not?

No, and I opposed this bill when it came before the Assembly. When the first version of the ethnic studies curriculum was released, it was universally condemned. The Legislative Jewish Caucus said it “echoes the propaganda of the Nazi regime.” But this was not enough to stop it in its tracks.

One Jewish-American group calls the revised version “tantamount to putting an even larger target on the back of every Jewish student.” And anti-Semitism is just one manifestation of what is so fundamentally wrong with this curriculum. Its undisguised purpose is to impose on students a particular worldview, rather than giving them the tools to construct one for themselves.

But there’s a larger reason I opposed this legislation. We’ve simply lost touch with the purpose of education. That purpose used to be preparing students for citizenship. Civics wasn’t just an add-on to one subject but was a unifying thread across all subjects. I would work to renew the true meaning of civic education — one based on a deep appreciation for American institutions and values.

Do you favor increased funding to create universal transitional kindergarten and expanding funding for preschool? If not, why not?

Early education is key to supporting working parents and providing the building blocks for long-term success in the classroom. I am very interested in a number of ways to expand these educational opportunities.

Would you continue funding pre-K-12 education through the Local Control Funding Formula, which ties funding to districts to the proportion of English learners, and low-income, foster and homeless students?

The Local Control Funding Formula takes power out of the hands of Sacramento and gives it to school districts and their representatives. I would, however, like to see more accountability mechanisms added to ensure additional funding goes to support the students it is intended to help.

How would your approach to education differ from the agenda set by Govs. Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom?

Unlike Newsom, I would fight to empower parents above special interests and push forward a school choice agenda. I would work to reform policies like teacher tenure so that new educators have more time to develop their skills. I would invest in high-quality professional development where teachers continually review their practice, assess its effectiveness, and develop the knowledge and skills to lead students to greater success. As a former teacher, I know how important this is. And finally, I would work to break up large school districts like LAUSD that continue to have poor academic outcomes for students and struggle to maintain fiscal solvency.

Other sources:

Kiley told CalMatters: “Ultimately, I would like to see traditional public schools look a lot more like charter schools. I would like to have districts liberated from our education code: Less mandates coming from Sacramento and a lot more freedom.”

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  1. Brenda Lebsack 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    What these candidates have in common is what Newsom lacks... they are not controlled by the almighty powerful Teacher's Union. Last year, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) held students' education hostage with unrelated political demands such as a wealth tax, Medicare for All, police-free schools, and a ban on charter schools. And Myart-Cruz, UTLA's President, smugly stated to the press “You can recall the Governor. You can recall the school board. But … Read More

    What these candidates have in common is what Newsom lacks… they are not controlled by the almighty powerful Teacher’s Union. Last year, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) held students’ education hostage with unrelated political demands such as a wealth tax, Medicare for All, police-free schools, and a ban on charter schools. And Myart-Cruz, UTLA’s President, smugly stated to the press “You can recall the Governor. You can recall the school board. But how are you going to recall me?”

    As a “former” CTA member of over 20 years, all I can say is, the teachers’ union is an embarrassment to the teaching profession and their “demands” during this pandemic crisis have revealed that students are not their first priority. .

    We need leaders who will not kowtow to powerful unions or special interest groups while sacrificing the overall best interest of the people (especially children).

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/careersandeducation/los-angeles-s-largest-teachers-union-is-out-of-control/ar-AAOdMin?ocid=msedgdhp&pc=U531