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    Tony Thurmond makes a pointless run for governor after many years as a failed politician
    • July 13, 2023

    Although the election to succeed term-limited Gov. Gavin Newsom still is more than two years away, the field to replace him already is getting crowded.

    Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and former Controller Betty Yee announced their campaigns for governor months ago.

    The latest to join them is Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who said he is “seriously considering” a run at the top state job. But he’s going to have a hard time explaining the state’s sharp decline in test scores since he was elected in 2018 – even as per-pupil K-12 spending has soared above $23,000 per student.

    He tweeted in his announcement he was focusing on “taking on MAGA extremists who want to ban books” and “defending classroom teachers and students against the constant assault on our democracy.”

    Thurmond certainly seems to have the talking points of a Twitter-addicted-Democrat down. But to anyone of even slight political sophistication, Thurmond’s substance-free talking points mask his record of abysmal failure.

    Thurmond failed to lead when Newsom and school officials allowed aggressive school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. As late as April 30, 2021, according to an EdSource analysis, 55% of students were still learning, or not learning, at home. For low-income students, the number was a staggering two-thirds.

    Predictably, resulted in sharp declines in learning and by extension test scores. A December 2022 analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California of 2022 scores found “the share of fourth graders meeting state standards fell from 42% pre-pandemic to 33% in math and from 48% to 42% in English Language Arts.”

    A generation has been devastated academically on the watch of Tony Thurmond.

    “I can’t think of one single thing he did to improve education in California as superintendent,” said Lance Christensen, who lost to Thurmond in the superintendent’s race last November and now is the vice president of education policy and government affairs at the California Policy Center. “Fight MAGA? California is owned by the public-employee unions and the environmentalist groups. MAGA has no standing in California when it comes to governing.”

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    Christensen said the only 2018 campaign promise Thurmond kept was “kneecapping charter schools.” Indeed, after growing rapidly for 30 years, charter school enrollment under Thurmond’s tenure stagnated at 11% of enrollment statewide.

    Thurmond also came under fire in 2021 for hiring Daniel Lee, a buddy from his Philadelphia social-worker days, as the Department of Education’s superintendent of equity at $179,832 a year, without posting the job for others to apply. Lee also still lived in Philadelphia and “has a separate job there,” Politico reported. That report led to Lee’s resignation in December 2021.

    All of this said, we believe this is a unique opportunity for Thurmond, whom we found to be a pleasant candidate during our interview with him last year. Thurmond could, for example, finally lead on education in California and be a voice for the majority of Black and Latino parents who support school vouchers in California. Thurmond could, if he cared about underserved students failed by the K-12 government school system, use his bully pulpit the next two years to advocate for school choice, including backing Arizona-style universal school vouchers, to help students get out from under a failed and failing system.

    Otherwise, his candidacy and his time in public service is utterly pointless.

    ​ Orange County Register