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Voters across the Inland Empire take to the polls on Nov. 4, 2014. (File photo by Eric Reed, ɫ̳/SCNG)
Voters across the Inland Empire take to the polls on Nov. 4, 2014. (File photo by Eric Reed, ɫ̳/SCNG)
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This November California voters have the best chance ever to reform their underperforming public schools. Innovator Lance Christensen faces off against sclerotic incumbent Tony Thurmond in the race for state superintendent of public instruction.

As in the primary, we endorse Lance Christensen, a longtime policy expert who has worked for years with elected officials including Tom McClintock and John Moorlach.

Related: Our full list of endorsements

Given education is so important and is constitutionally guaranteed 40% of the state’s general fund budget, the state superintendent is a critical position. He or she is supposed to be the parents’ and students’ advocate. Yet, as Christensen points out, “There hasn’t been a single superintendent who has pushed back against the governor in the last 20 years I’ve been in California politics. I will use the bully pulpit every day to hold the governor, our districts and the unions accountable.”

A recent World Population Review survey uncovered California suffers the lowest literacy rate of any state. When our editorial board interviewed Thurmond, we asked him about that. He responded by saying the state now is developing new programs to improve literacy.

Related endorsement: Rob Bonta for California Attorney General

Yet the real problem is not the lack of new programs, but a fundamentally broken system.

This broken system is a direct consequence of allowing teachers unions to call the shots on education policy. School vouchers, supported by most parents in California and even more so by Black and Latino Californians, have been verboten in discussions of education.

Even modest teacher-tenure reforms, as proposed by then-Assemblymember Shirley Weber a few years ago, have been spiked at the urging of the California Teachers Association.

The results have been predictable. Most graduates of California’s K-12 system over the past many years haven’t been able to read, write or do math at grade level.

On none of these fronts has Thurmond been a leader for California’s kids.

In an interview, Christensen says now is the right time for a parent revolt. In February, even liberal San Francisco recalled three extremist school board members. “San Francisco showed us that it wasn’t just parents and conservatives that want a decent and quality education for our kids, it’s most Californians,” Lance said. “I present a stark contrast to the failure of the union-backed incumbent who puts children last in our public schools.”

He also pointed out Thurmond, despite being the incumbent with strong backing by the teachers’ unions, got only 46% in the primary. Rejecting Thurmond were the other 54%.

Christensen said his major focus is to put parents “back into the education equation and give them freedom over their schools” through advancing charter schools and other school-choice reforms.

By contrast, he said, “There is not a single academic achievement that Thurmond can point to in his tenure. He blames the pandemic, but every state had the same problems and got their schools open while Thurmond hid under his desk. All he has now are large government programs and throwing money at some fad that likely won’t work to improve student literacy or prepare them for college.”

California now boasts of spending $24,000 per student. The money is there. The will is there. California just needs to resist the obstacles from the teachers’ unions and advance parent-power reforms. Lance Christenson would do that. He would put kids first.

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