SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— The closest statewide race on the November ballot could be one between two Democrats who are running for a non-partisan job. It’s the battle between State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck.

Torlakson is a former classroom teacher in the Bay Area before being elected to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. He was elected to his position as school superintendent four years ago.

One of the issues in the race for state school superintendent is the Vergara ruling, in which a state judge found that California teacher tenure and dismissal rules are unconstitutional in that they hurt the education of the poorest school children.

Marshall Tuck, who is challenging the incumbent schools chief, agrees with that judge’s decision. Torlakson supports an appeal of the Vergara decision.

Torlakson said the state’s graduation rate is at its highest than it’s ever been at 80 percent. He said that finances are stabilizing and that California’s public schools are seeing resurgence in art, music and drama programs.

Torlakson said that when he took office that he declared a state of financial emergency because tens of thousands of teachers were being laid off and programs were being dismantled.

Since taking office he said he’s worked on shifting the funding formula to get more resources to the students of greatest need in order to help close the achievement gap.

Torlakson’s challenger, Marshall Tuck is a Bay Area native who worked in Silicon Valley before moving into education. He ran a group of charter schools in Los Angeles and was tapped by then-Mayor Villaraigosa to help turn around underperforming inner-city schools. This is his first run for public office. Tuck said he’s spent the last 12 years turning around the lowest-performing schools in Los Angeles and has opened charter schools and is familiar with the needs of teachers, principals and parents. He said that’s a direct contrast to his opponent who has been in Sacramento for almost two decades.

“He’s been a full-time politician for almost 30 years,” Tuck said. “We’ve got a crisis. There are 2.5 million kids that can’t read and write at grade level in our public schools right now.”

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