Thurmond for State Superintendent campaign
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond campaigning.

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With the power of incumbency and a funding advantage behind him, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond handily won election to a second 4-year term on Tuesday.

Thurmond, 53, a former two-term Democratic assemblyman from Richmond, was leading Lance Christensen by nearly 2-to-1, 66% to 34% with more than half of the vote reported. It was a larger margin than Gov. Gavin Newsom held over his Republican opponent, state Sen. Brian Dahle.

That contrasted with Thurmond’s grueling victory four years ago over another Democrat, Marshall Tuck, a former charter school leader and administrator of a partnership of low-income schools affiliated with Los Angeles Unified. Thurmond won that race 51% to 49% in the state’s most expensive state superintendent campaign and in which wealthy supporters of charter schools outspent public employees unions’ contributions for Thurmond 2-to-1.

The office of state superintendent is nonpartisan, with no party affiliation listed on the ballot, but Thurmond had the backing of the state’s leading Democrats and the California Democratic Party. Christensen, 45, is the vice president of education policy and government affairs at the California Policy Center, a conservative research and advocacy nonprofit, and a former legislative adviser to two Republican state senators.

The state superintendent has no authority to set policy or pass legislation but has the biggest microphone on education issues. The primary responsibility is to run the California Department of Education, with its 1,500 employees, who administer laws and state and federal regulations and funding.

Thurmond was expected to handily defeat Christensen, a relative unknown whom Thurmond refused to debate. Thurmond was forced into a runoff by failing to receive a majority vote in the June primary election. He received 46% in a field of seven candidates, nearly four times what second place Christensen captured with 12%.

Thurmond faced turbulent times in his first term, with Covid shutting down schools, sending students home to remote instruction, in March 2020, 15 months after he took office. He led the effort to raise $30 million to buy and distribute 100,000 computers and hot spots and advocated strongly for more state funding for counseling and mental health services for students while steering clear of parent groups demanding to reopen schools when Covid infections declined. The news site Politico reported on the high turnover of Thurmond’s administrative staff and quoted unnamed former employees who cited a toxic work environment.

“Thurmond was a shoo-in for reelection in a one-party state,” said Dan Schnur, a longtime political observer and adjunct faculty member of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  “In a more politically balanced state, he could have faced a more difficult reelection campaign.”

Newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times editorial board, that expressed disappointment with his first term nonetheless endorsed his re-election, finding Christensen’s stances too conservative. “Christensen’s positions are too out of line with the values of most voters in California to make him a candidate worthy of consideration,” the editorial board said.

Christensen’s long-shot hope of victory rested on turning the election into a referendum on school choice and parent anger over the slow reopening of schools during Covid as well as vaccination and masking policies. That didn’t happen.

Schnur said he wasn’t surprised. “When one party so dominates the other, partisan imbalance tends to obscure most policy disagreements,” he said. “Many parents are concerned about their family’s education but not enough to change parties.”

The $159,000 for the campaign that Christensen raised, compared with $3.5 million for Thurmond, including $2.7 million that the California Teachers Association and other public employee unions raised independently, made it difficult to get the word out, Christensen said. State Republican Party donors he was counting on didn’t deliver, putting their money in local school board races for the first time, he said.

“I had no regrets getting into the race when others didn’t. I wanted to make sure there was someone to articulate concern with the state of education and dissatisfaction with the incumbent,” he said Tuesday. He said he would not give up on school reform issues. In 2024, that could be advocating for school choice or literacy reforms, he said; Christensen helped draft a proposal for an Education Savings Accounts initiative, providing families with money for private or religious school tuition, that didn’t make the ballot this year.

During the past year, Thurmond created a task force on early literacy. He secured funding through the Legislature for $20,000 scholarships for those pursuing careers in counseling who are willing to commit to two years of working in schools of high need. He also obtained money for anti-bias efforts in schools and created a plan to obtain more Medi-Cal funding to expand mental health care for students.

Other priorities, he said, would include helping students in career pathways to obtain paid internships and expanding opportunities for STEM education, civics and environmental literacy.

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  1. Jim 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Hiding in a cave works! Tony kept his head down and stayed invisible during the most tumultuous time in education and was rewarded with another term. “D” stands for “Diploma” must be his motto.

  2. Brenda Lebsack- CTA member 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    As a CTA member, I did not vote for Thurmond. Yes, he has the biggest microphone on education, however he blatantly lies to the public and to teachers. Multiple times he said Critical Race Theory is only for higher education so the K-12 controversy on this subject is irrelevant. He harshly criticized school boards who are banning CRT teachings. However, as a union endorsed candidate who just received $2.7M from … Read More

    As a CTA member, I did not vote for Thurmond. Yes, he has the biggest microphone on education, however he blatantly lies to the public and to teachers. Multiple times he said Critical Race Theory is only for higher education so the K-12 controversy on this subject is irrelevant. He harshly criticized school boards who are banning CRT teachings. However, as a union endorsed candidate who just received $2.7M from the CTA for his campaign, he definitely knows that the NEA passed a Business Item in 2021 promoting CRT in K-12 education. I showed him the document in person via a QR code for NEA’s NBI 39, but when you have the biggest microphone on education, untruths do not matter because (as they say) if you say a lie long enough, people will believe it (even uninformed teachers).
    https://web.archive.org/web/20210717130547/https://cc.bingj.com/cache.aspx?q=https%3a%2f%2fra.nea.org%2fbusiness-item%2f2021-nbi-038%2f&d=4585809818419222&mkt=en-US&setlang=en-US&w=5cJWRRYjfIMlYoNuJUZphyjxO9_EOzYt

    In my opinion, due to his union endorsement, Thurmond did not have to accept any interviews or debates during his campaign. Due to his easy “cruising” election success, his arrogance is understandable. He at first accepted an invitation to speak with the Interfaith Statewide Coalition to answer questions from Muslim Imams, Jewish Rabbis, Korean and Spanish Pastors, but when the clergy wanted to invite journalists into the discussion from LA Times, SF Chronicle and EdSource, he bowed out of the commitment. Apparently, these groups are unworthy of his time or attention. For an elected official who says he stands for the “marginalized,” it appears his words do not match his actions.

    In 2020 he made an untrue comment saying that schools with high minority populations are the most under-resourced. As a teacher and former school board member, I know this is not true. Our Local Control Funding Formula grants more funding with districts that have more English Learner students. I work in one of those districts and we receive an abundance of more funds compared to our neighboring districts that are less racially diverse.

    It must be nice to speak unchecked and unchallenged comments when endorsed by the powerful teachers union, which has become an arm of the Democratic party.

    As a CTA member, on Sunday, Nov 5th, I received a random text message on my phone from CTA leader “Joe”, telling me to vote for Thurmond. I don’t know Joe and I never gave him my cell number. How did he get it? Because CTA helped pass AB 119 in 2017 (coincidentally at same time Janus Supreme court ruling happened) the law says school employers must share private information of newly hired teachers to union rep’s WITHOUT their consent, which includes their cell phone number. So by law, a teacher’s right to privacy of personal information is seized by the union once a teacher signs that contract. Thanks to Janus, teachers do not have to join this politically power hungry union. Years ago I left the union, however, I recently decided to re-join in order to have a voice and be a catalyst for change, but when I tried, the CTA suspended me from attending conferences in order to shut me up. https://timcast.com/news/opinion-preferred-pronouns-and-more-what-i-saw-at-the-nea-teachers-union-convention/

    Information is power and their goal is to keep their subjects (teachers) under-informed in order to use teachers’ good hearted professional reputations for their political gain. The union knows how to keep teachers happy and quiet by greasing their palm with collective bargaining, while quietly passing laws that take away their rights as employees and as parents. Most teachers are not aware of the many laws being passed (CTA endorsed) that are stripping them of their rights. Here are some facts CTA does not want teachers to know. https://brenda4kids.com/index.php/our-media/cta-facts-that-got-me-suspended-from-union

    My goal is to start a revolt by teachers against our hypocritical union. We’ll see how that goes.

  3. Dr. Bill Conrad 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    The children and families in CA deserve stronger leadership than what they get in Tony Thurmond. He epitomizes a culture of self over service and loyalty over competence. There was a need for 2 million computers and Broadband during the Pandemic. Thurmond was only able to acquire 100,000. He failed to make the hard decisions required to dip deeply into state budgets to ensure children especially children of color gained access to technology. Very shameful. He … Read More

    The children and families in CA deserve stronger leadership than what they get in Tony Thurmond.

    He epitomizes a culture of self over service and loyalty over competence. There was a need for 2 million computers and Broadband during the Pandemic. Thurmond was only able to acquire 100,000. He failed to make the hard decisions required to dip deeply into state budgets to ensure children especially children of color gained access to technology. Very shameful.

    He is unwilling to mandate that school districts use curricula, pedagogy, and assessments aligned with the science of reading preferring to take the cowardly approach of creating one more commission to study an an idea that long ago was settled. He should be strongly supporting implementation and monitoring not studying the legitimacy of the approach.

    As Anthony Muhammed once said that politics eats good ideas for lunch and then spits them out because it can. Thurmond’s allegiance is to the unions and power brokers of the state. Not the children and families.

    We could have done much better than electing this go along to get along political character.

  4. Robin 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Sad for California children. Kids will continue to be failed and fall further behind.