With the midterm elections less than two weeks away, an unlikely race is heating up — the one for the California Department of Education’s top spot.
Former president of Green Dot Public Charter School Marshall Tuck and incumbent Tom Torlakson are vying for the position of state superintendent of schools.
Both candidates are Democrats with strong backing behind them.
Torlakson has the support of mainstream Democratic Party officeholders and the California Teacher’s Association, which is spending heavily on TV and radio advertisements.
Tuck, meanwhile, is the renegade Democrat, who ran then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s partnership for L.A. schools to improve the most underperforming schools in the city’s poorest areas.
He’s drawn support from education reformers, high-tech executives and even Hollywood stars. Celebrities Joel McHale, Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell, for example, starred in a web ad with Tuck.
Tuck says he wants to evaluate teachers based on merit and rid the state of the seniority system.
"That’s a piece of policy that doesn’t make sense for kids," Tuck said.
Torlakson, on the other hand, supports the tenure system and touts accomplishment during his own tenure as state superintendent.
"Our graduation rate went up to 80 percent, the highest in the state’s history for our high schools," Torlakson said. "Our eighth grade reading scores in California are higher than reading scores in any other state in the nation."
And while the position doesn’t hold much power, the race for the state’s schools chief is being watched around the nation.
The most recent poll has Tuck leading 31 to 28.