The two finalists for California’s state schools chief faced off in a debate Tuesday night in a race that pits teachers unions against charter school advocates.
Former charter school executive Marshall Tuck and Assemblyman Tony Thurmond finished neck-and-neck in the June primary for state superintendent of public instruction.
Both are Democrats and they agree on a lot, from free preschool for all children to fixing the teacher shortage.
But they disagree on a heavily contested issue: the growth of charter schools in California.
Tuck criticized Thurmond for calling for a pause on new charters. Tuck called it counterproductive, especially when there isn’t a high-quality public school alternative.
“We shouldn't pause the growth of high quality nonprofit charters particularly in low income communities where we have underserved our students for a long time,” he said.
Thurmond, who’s backed by the state’s powerful teachers unions, said charters are leaving behind children with special needs, which ends up putting a financial strain on traditional public schools.
“If charters can make decisions about whether or not to serve a student because they think that student is so expensive to serve, why shouldn't school districts be able to consider the costs of adding a new school in their district that they're responsible for serving?” Thurmond said.
They also debated a decision by current superintendent Tom Torlakson, a teachers union ally, that allowed schools to use money for low-income students, English language learners and foster kids for teacher pay raises.
“With that decision, all this money that was supposed to go to our neediest students got spread across school districts,” Tuck said, vowing to reverse it.
But Thurmond argued that inadequate funding isn’t the issue. “The reason our English language learners have struggled so much is because we haven't had bilingual educators to support them,” he said.
Charter school advocates and teachers unions have each contributed millions of dollar to their candidates.