Tony Thurmond Wins Close Race to Become California's Next Top School Official

East Bay Assemblyman Tony Thurmond will be California's next Superintendent of Public Instruction, narrowly beating Marshall Tuck. (Courtesy of Thurmond campaign)

Nearly two weeks after Election Day, former state Assemblyman Tony Thurmond has declared victory over Marshall Tuck to become the state's next Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Associated Press has not called the race, but Tuck conceded on Saturday morning as Thurmond's lead grew to more than 150,000 votes, with an estimated 2 million ballots left to count.

“I want to thank the voters of California for electing me to serve the 6 million students of California," Thurmond said in a statement. "I intend to be a champion of public schools and a Superintendent for all California students."

Thurmond — who represents parts of the East Bay in the state Assembly and used to be a Richmond City Council member, school board member and social worker — trailed Tuck by 86,000 votes on election night and was polling more than 10 points ahead of Thurmond a week before the election.

The nonpartisan race was the most expensive state superintendent election in U.S. history, according to an Associated Press analysis. Tuck outraised Thurmond by a nearly two-to-one margin, with significant support from charter school advocates.

Tuck's loss is a blow to charter schools, whose supporters also contributed heavily to his unsuccessful 2014 run for superintendent against Tom Torlakson. They had hoped Tuck would bring a more supportive view of charter schools to a position that doesn't have policy-making power, but does have a large megaphone at its disposal as the leader of the state's Department of Education.

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The governor and state Legislature have much more control over actual education policy, and Gov. Jerry Brown has been friendly to charter schools. Advocates this summer backed former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to replace Brown in hopes of keeping an ally in the governor's mansion. But Villaraigosa failed to advance out of the top-two primary, and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom has taken an aggressive stance against charter schools.

Newsom will be on the same page as his new top school official Thurmond, who supports a moratorium on charter schools in California. Thurmond's other policy positions include support for Brown's big education reforms, universal preschool, increased funding for K-12 schools, and better salaries and training for teachers.

Thurmond countered Tuck's support among charter school advocates with backing from teachers unions and other labor groups, the California Democratic Party, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee.

KQED's Vanessa Rancaño contributed to this report.