Incumbents are seeking re-election in only three of the eight states where voters will select state school chiefs next month, and the results of at least two races will be historic no matter what the outcome.
In California, a woman will become superintendent of public instruction for the first time, while Florida will elect either its first black education commissioner or the first Republican to hold the post.
While both contenders in California’s officially nonpartisan race are Democrats, the campaign has focused largely on their respective political alliances.
State Rep. Delaine Eastin, a lawmaker since 1986, is the chairwoman of the Assembly’s Education Committee. Maureen DiMarco, a former Orange County school board member and president of the California School Boards Association, has served as Republican Gov. Pete Wilson’s secretary of child development and education since 1991.
Ms. Eastin is portraying her opponent as the ally of a governor who has cut school funding and antagonized educators; Ms. DiMarco charges that her opponent is too close to the California Teachers Association.
The most important substantive difference between the two women--who are neck and neck in recent polls--involves the controversial California Learning Assessment System, which Governor Wilson halted by vetoing enabling legislation this year.
Both support the idea of performance-based testing. But Ms. DiMarco says the CLAS test is “seriously flawed,” and agrees with the Governor that the state needs a test that can provide individual scores.
Vouchers, Mandates at Issue
The Florida race, which is also close, pits Doug Jamerson, a former state legislator who was appointed to the chief’s post by Gov. Lawton Chiles last January, against Republican Frank Brogan.
Mr. Jamerson, who is black, says his opponent is unprepared for the diversity of Florida students. Mr. Brogan, the superintendent of schools in Martin County, portrays Mr. Jamerson as a politician with no education background.
Both candidates say they would like to return more control of schools to local districts. Mr. Jamerson recently launched a deregulation initiative, but Mr. Brogan has criticized his “Blueprint 2000" education strategy as creating a whole new level of bureaucracy.
Mr. Brogan, who has courted the support of Christian conservatives, favors using tax dollars to fund private school tuition, an idea Mr. Jamerson opposes.
In the three states with incumbents bidding for re-election, the races are focusing on their records.
In Georgia, Republican Linda Schrenko is trying to blame Democrat Werner Rogers for the state’s poor ranking on standardized tests. (See related story.)
Democrat Sylvia Weinberg, who has been a teacher and administrator for nearly 28 years, has taken a similar approach in South Carolina, where she is challenging state Superintendent Barbara Nielsen, a Republican.
Ms. Weinberg has also touted a set of proposals that she says would reduce violence in schools, which includes using law-enforcement officers as substitute teachers.
Ms. Nielsen, whose wider recognition gives her the edge, has defended her record and her efforts to make the state’s schools more progressive, touting school-to-work and safe-schools legislation and efforts to restore more local control.
She has said that it is the superintendent’s job to set high standards but that districts should be held accountable for meeting them.
Pros and Cons of Incumbency
In Oklahoma, Republican Linda Murphy has concentrated on criticizing the Democratic state superintendent, Sandy Garrett, for supporting outcomes-based education.
Ms. Murphy, a special-education teacher, calls for returning more control over the public school system to the local level, and for clear, measurable academic standards.
“She has brought us O.B.E. and poorly defined goals,” Ms. Murphy says of her opponent.
But Ms. Garrett, whose incumbency has given her an edge in the race, has touted her progress in implementing a 1990 education-reform bill, which she claims has resulted in lower dropout rates and higher standardized test scores.
In Arizona, Republican Lisa Graham, a speech pathologist who is the chairwoman of the House Education Committee, has presented herself as a supporter of innovation in her close race against Lela Alston, a Democratic legislator, for the post of superintendent of public instruction.
Ms. Graham supports private school vouchers, and was a primary backer this year of an education-reform bill that authorized the creation of charter schools.
Ms. Alston opposed the bill. While she supports the idea of charter schools, she says the new law is too lax and would allow anyone to open a school. She calls for reforming the state’s finance system, which was declared unconstitutional by a state court this year.
In Idaho’s race for state superintendent, Republican Anne Fox, a former district superintendent, proposes shifting responsibility for education funding almost totally to the state. She also supports vouchers.
Democrat Willie Sullivan, a former president of the Idaho Education Association, has emphasized site-based management and calls for eliminating state mandates. He opposes vouchers, and does not think the state’s finance system--which is facing a pending legal challenge--needs major overhaul.
Democrat Judy Minier and Republican Judy Catchpole are facing a tight race in Wyoming, where finding more school funding is the major issue.
Ms. Minier, who also touts her 23 years of experience as a teacher and administrator, has proposed holding a summit conference with representatives of the state’s industries to discuss school funding.
Ms. Catchpole, a former teacher and school board member, has called for partnerships between local businesses and schools.
Finally, in Oregon, Superintendent Norma Paulus retained her seat in May’s nonpartisan election.
A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 1994 edition of Education Week as In 8 Chiefs’ Races, 3 Incumbents Seek Re-Election