Reformers Groan, Unions Cheer as Torlakson Beats Tuck in CA


In an election that education reformers and unions nationwide watched closely, incumbent Tom Torlakson has claimed victory over opponent Marshall Tuck in the race for California state superintendent of public education.

Torlakson came away with 53% of the vote; Tuck had 47%.

“We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Torlakson said in a statement. “They were strong, but we were stronger. They were tough, but we were tougher. After all, we’re teachers – we did our homework.”

With $20 million in outside spending, the race saw more money spent than any other race in the state this fall.  Both sides saw money being poured into attacking political ads on television as well as nasty mailers. On one side were billionaires looking to overhaul low-ranking schools within the state, and on the other, teachers unions looking to protect their jobs.

Typically the race for the non-partisan position is anything but a hot topic, as the position holds little actual power to create education policy in the state.

This year however, saw a heated debate over the Vergara v. California case.  The lawsuit claimed that teacher tenure laws in place in the state allowed poor teachers to remain in the classroom, depriving mainly low-income students of their constitutional right to an education.

Tuck took the side of the judge, urging California citizens to reject the “status quo” and back the decision.  He said would like to see the Education Code dismantled in an effort to give schools more flexibility and fewer rules.

“People thought we had no chance but we’re knocking on the door of finally making the changes to public education that our children deserve,” Tuck said.

The move made Tuck an enemy of the California Teachers Association.  The group stands in opposition to other reforms Tuck has suggested, including using student test scores in teacher evaluations.

Meanwhile, Torlakson looked for an appeal of the ruling from the state, and in doing so drew criticism from Tuck who claimed he was a “wholly owned subsidiary of the CTA.” 

Torlakson claimed the ruling to be an attack on teachers, who he felt should not be to blame for the failing education system.  He spent much of the campaign asking for additional funding and was in favor of extending tax hikes set to expire in two years approved in Proposition 30.

“The public response to the Vergara case has created a certain amount of pressure for finding an approach to education in California that can build a broad majority support,” said David Menefee-Libey, a professor of politics at Pomona College. “So the sharp drawing of lines between these two factions may not be the future anymore in this state.”

Both candidates support a higher funding for schools, and more specifically, a new funding plan that would allow for extra money to be given to districts with large numbers of low-income families, English as a second language students, and foster students.

Tuck and Torlakson, both Democrat, also support the Common Core standards currently in use by 46 states.