Outside groups doubling down on race for schools chief

Outside groups doubling down on race for schools chief

(Calif.) Despite significant support from the California Teachers Association, outside groups supporting Assemblyman Tony Thurmond for state schools chief have been outspent by his competitor, Marshall Tuck, by more than two-to-one since April.

According to campaign statements filed last week, independent expenditure committees favoring Tuck, a former charter school administrator, have spent $8.5 million since the middle of April. During roughly the same period, outside supporters of Thurmond have spent just $3.5 million.

Although the job of State Superintendent of Public Instruction holds little actual authority over education policy, the race has in recent years become a proxy in the ongoing battle between traditional school organizations—especially the unions—and the charter movement.

Four years ago, independent committees spent close to $5 million in the race between Tuck and Tom Torlakson, the current superintendent.

Some of the ads currently running on radio target support Tuck is getting from wealthy charter advocates–some of whom live out of state.

Indeed, the primary outside support for Tuck is a committee sponsored by Sacramento-based EdVoice, which has over the years counted among its backers Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, Silicon Valley investment banker John Doerr, and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

The EdVoice-sponsored committee has since the beginning of the year spent almost $4 million on radio and TV ads, mailers and other literature as well as web-based advocacy favoring Tuck.

Since the beginning of the year, EdVoice donors gave a total of $5.7 million to the independent committee supporting Tuck.

Overall, the candidates themselves have raised and spent similar amounts of money since the campaign began in earnest about a year ago.

Tuck started 2018 with almost $1.6 million on hand; Thurmond had $1.1 million.

As of the middle of May, Tuck has received close to $900,000 in donations this year. Meanwhile, over the same period, Thurmond has raised just under $500,000.

The struggle between charter supporters and the traditional public school advocates is not a new one. The CTA, which has played a dominate role in Capitol politics for decades, has been critical of the charter movement almost since it began in the early 1990s.

But the landscape may be changing—first with the election of Donald Trump as president and his appointment of Betsy DeVos, pro-charter enthusiast, as Secretary of Education, and secondly, with a pending case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could drastically curtail the fundraising ability for public employee unions.

The other development, at least in California, is that charter issues have taken a prominent role in the governor’s race.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has received close to $16 million in spending from largely pro-charter donors. Meanwhile, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsome has taken in about $4 million from unions, including $1 million from CTA.

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