Superintendent of Public Instruction
In many ways, Tony Thurmond owes his life to public education. In his early childhood, he was raised by his single mother, a teacher from Panama. After his mother passed away when Thurmond was six, he was taken in by his uncle and cousin, both school police officers.
Thurmond started his professional career as a social worker at nonprofits serving youths leaving the foster care and juvenile justice systems. After winning local and state elected offices, Thurmond ran for state superintendent in 2018 against charter school executive Marshall Tuck in a race that became a proxy battle between educator unions and school choice advocates. Billionaires and teachers unions pumped millions into the contest, breaking fundraising records for this office.
Thurmond narrowly defeated Tuck with 51% of the vote, but it’s unclear whether the charter school landscape would look much different today if Tuck had won.
California State Superintendent of Public Instruction
His first term has been defined by his handling of the pandemic, which shut down public schools across the state for nearly two years.
His management style entered the spotlight when a 2021 Politico report detailed accusations of a toxic work environment at the California Department of Education. Months later, another report found that Thurmond had hired a Philadelphia resident to be his chief of equity. The official resigned days after publication.
California State Assembly
First elected in 2014 to represent parts of the Bay Area including Richmond, San Pablo and Berkeley
Authored approved bills that related to childcare, the environment and health care and served as chairperson of the health and human services budget subcommittee.
West Contra Costa Unified School Board
Worked to avoid school closures during the recession by getting funding from city governments.
Richmond City Council
“As a legislator, you’re really just one vote. As superintendent, while it’s not a direct path to moving policy forward, you have a lot of paths to be creative.”
Here’s where Tony Thurmond stands on the big questions about California education.
The state superintendent of public instruction oversees a public education system serving more than 6 million K-12 students.
My top priorities are recruiting and retaining 15,000 teachers and 10,000 new mental health counselors to address staffing shortages in schools and to make sure students have the help they need to recover from learning gaps they have experienced because of COVID-19, and providing preschool education to all four-year-olds while ensuring access to universal school meals, so no child in our public schools goes hungry.
I’m proud as superintendent to have worked closely with the governor and state Legislature to secure billions of dollars in funding for our schools, including record funding this fiscal year for education programs, mental health services, community schools, literacy programs, universal school meals, and programs focused on improving all student outcomes in the wake of the pandemic. I will continue to work collaboratively and closely with the governor and Legislature to fully invest in our schools, and create policies and directives that close the achievement gap and support our students and families.
I’ve taken a strong collaborative approach with local school officials, especially through COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, I convened weekly meetings with county superintendents, local health officials and other school officials, and worked with the constantly to identify needs and provide the guidance and resources they needed. California is the most diverse state in the country and we have some of the largest public school systems. Our state superintendent needs to have a close relationship with local school officials and open channels of collaboration. I have been that collaborative leader and will continue to be so.
Public school enrollment is declining across the country and California is no exception. We have to recognize that parents are upset and we need to take action, so they have reason to continue investing in our schools. That’s why I launched a task force this year to study enrollment decline and offer recommendations and assistance to districts to offset the challenges it poses. I’ve sponsored legislation to provide innovative policy solutions to help address declining enrollment, including Assembly Bill 1614, to increase funding schools receive through the Local Control Funding Formula, and SB 952, to provide funding for more dual-language immersion schools.
Our statewide masking rules early in the pandemic were guided by state health officials and were critical in ensuring the safety of our teachers and students. Our COVID situation has since changed and I believe school districts should adopt masking rules based on the latest health guidance from their local health officers.
As superintendent, I have worked closely with traditional and charter public schools to ensure that all of our students receive a top-quality education and the resources they need to succeed. I’m committed to continuing that work to support our students and their families.
I have worked to provide accountability in ensuring that LCFF funds are being used for the students they’re intended to serve, especially foster youth and other disadvantaged students. I have made rulings to cite districts that have used LCFF funds that fall outside the intended use of LCFF.
Transparency in local school district spending is critical. I am proud to be working to establish a portal that districts will use to provide complete transparency on how LCFF funds are being expended.
There is no question that the pandemic unveiled tremendous mental trauma and widened the achievement gap. Closing the achievement gap has been a top priority for me. I’ve brought huge investments into recruiting and hiring more teachers of color to better reflect the students they serve. We also need solutions to address the achievement gap from an early age and outside the classroom. I’m proud to be leading the implementation of free universal preschool programs for every four-year-old in the state, universal meals for students, and record investments in wraparound services to meet students’ physical, mental health, and social services needs.
There is much work to be done to improve the math framework and we must recognize the concerns that have been raised around the draft proposal. As superintendent, I am committed to helping the State Board of Education create a math framework that promotes rigor, while eliminating racial biases in math education that have contributed to learning gaps for students.
Decades of budget cuts and divestment in our public schools and the affordability crisis have led to massive teacher shortages. I am leading an effort to provide $500 million in scholarships to aspiring teachers and efforts to recruit and retain 15,000 new teachers in our classrooms. This year, I’ve established a task force to identify strategies for improving compensation, training, and recruitment strategies that will create more pathways for educators and retain more teachers and classified staff. I have also led programs to fund affordable housing so educators can continue to live in the communities where they work.
We are facing critical teacher shortages across the state, and if we want to close that gap, we need to utilize every tool we have to recruit and retain new teachers. And that includes increasing teacher pay, building teacher housing so teachers can live where they work and providing scholarships and pathways to becoming an educator. Funding, including pandemic aid, should be used where it’s appropriate and where it directly helps us address the teacher shortage.