The one idea that has the state teachers’ union allied with Tuck over Thurmond

In something of a role reversal, Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck, the candidates vying to become California’s next schools’ superintendent, disagree about pending legislation that would require later school start times for the state’s middle and high school students.

Tuck opposes the bill that would require all those schools to start regular classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m.—putting him on the same side as the powerful California Teachers Association, despite its opposition to his candidacy. He said school start times should be determined by local districts, not mandated by state law.

Thurmond voted for the bill in the Assembly—parting company with the teachers’ union on that issue despite its overall support for his candidacy. He said research indicates later school start times help boost students’ academic achievement, although he acknowledged that they would likely disrupt work schedules for some parents.

At a debate this evening sponsored by the Sacramento Press Club, Thurmond, a Democratic legislator from Richmond, touted his vote for the hotly debated SB 328 as an example of his independence from the interest groups funding his campaign. The school start time bill is arguably a lower priority for the teachers’ union than high-stakes issues such as state funding for public district and charter schools.

Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to sign or veto the bill, approved by the Legislature in the waning hours of this year’s session.

Thurmond said the state would need to help local school districts put the policy in place.

“I think local control is very important in how this is implemented,” he said. “If this is just another unfunded mandate, it won’t happen in a way that is even and consistent throughout the state so that all our students can benefit.”

Tuck, until recently an educator with the New Teacher Center and with the support of the California Charter Schools Association, agreed that older students should get a later start to their day. But, he added, “I also believe that I want teachers and principals and school board members and parents and local communities making decisions for their kids.

“One of the challenges for public schools in California is in the last 40 years, Sacramento politicians have made more and more and more and more decisions for schools that are so far away from them,” Tuck said.

Both candidates got to ask each other one question during the debate—a segment during which they accused each other of distorting or making false statements about their relative backgrounds and experience.

They also were at odds over:

  • The state’s formula for channeling extra money to schools with higher concentrations of needier students. Both candidates advocate more transparency in how schools spend this money, but Tuck characterized the funding mechanism as flawed because he said the extra money isn’t guaranteed to go directly toward students in need, while Thurmond called for adding more dollars to the formula and promised to launch targeted assistance for English language learners.
  • Universal free preschool. Both candidates agreed this should be a top priority for the next state superintendent, but differed over how to pay for it.
  • Whether teachers and principals should be paid more to work in schools with large populations of low-income students. Tuck supports the approach, saying it worked when he was CEO of a nonprofit that aimed to turn around low-performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, but Thurmond is opposed, questioning the research behind the idea and insisting that it takes more than higher pay to boost achievement.

The debate was moderated by CALmatters editor Dave Lesher.

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