Judith Billings, a former state superintendent of public instruction in Washington, narrowly finished first among six candidates vying for the job of schools chief in the Sept. 14 statewide primary.
Ms. Billings held the post from 1988 to 1997, stepping down after she contracted HIV.
Cleared by her doctors to run for office, she threw her hat into the ring last summer, after current Superintendent Terry Bergeson lost the support of the political action committee of the Washington Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association representing 76,000 educators in the state.
The unofficial election tally showed Ms. Billings with 207,060 votes, or 35.5 percent, to Ms. Bergeson’s 205,589 votes, or 35.3 percent. Four other candidates for the nonpartisan office were far behind. The top two finishers will face off in the November general election.
Ms. Bergeson, who was beaten in her first campaign for schools chief by Ms. Billings in 1992, has irked union leaders by supporting state testing of students as a graduation requirement and a new charter school law.
Ms. Billings has taken the opposite position on those issues.