Crowded State-Chief Races in Georgia, Idaho Narrowed by Primaries

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 21, 2014 3 min read
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Two states held crowded primaries on May 20 to replace outgoing Republican school superintendents. And supporters of the Common Core State Standards can feel encouraged that the top-performing GOP candidates in each of the two right-leaning states have expressed their support for the standards.

Georgia alone had 15 candidates (nine Republicans and six Democrats) seeking to replace John Barge, who lost his bid to win the GOP nomination for governor. That contest now goes to a run-off between the top two primary finishers in each party. Meanwhile, Idaho’s state-chief race had four Republicans seeking to replace Tom Luna, who declined to seek a third term, along with an unopposed Democrat.

In Georgia, Michael Buck, a former principal and Title I director for schools in the state who is now the chief academic officer at the state education department, topped the GOP primary poll with 19 percent of the vote with all but two of 2,727 precincts reporting as of mid-morning May 21. Despite the turmoil over common core in the state, he’s a “fan of our standards” (meaning the common core) and lists as one of his major accomplishments the full implementation of the standards in the 2012-13 school year. Not so Richard Woods, a former teacher and school administrator who came in second in the GOP primary with 17 percent of the vote. He wants “common sense” over the common core and says on his website: “Be wary of accepting any policy or legislation that is approved or sponsored by the federal government.”

On the Democratic side in Georgia, the top two vote-getters, Valarie Wilson (33 percent) and Alisha Morgan (26 percent), are both clear fans of the common standards. Wilson was a member of the Decatur City school board from 2002 to 2011 before going to work for the state school boards association and becoming its president. She lists as her priorities defending local control, restoring funding, and opposing the privatization of schools. Morgan, meanwhile, left her position as a state legislator to run. I wrote about her vocal support for the standards several months ago. She’s received prominent backing from StudentsFirst, the advocacy group run by former District of Columbia schools boss Michelle Rhee, and is a supporter of charter schools and school choice.

The primary run-off in Georgia will take place July 22.

In Idaho, Sherri Ybarra appears to have nabbed the GOP nomination for state schools chief over three rivals. She’s the director of federal programs and curriculum for the Mountain Home district in the state. On her website, she tackles the common core this way: “There are some valid concerns and challenges surrounding the adoption of the Common Core; however, Idaho realized what the research confirmed ... that our students needed more. The Idaho Common Core is the critical first step towards achievement.” She also says that the argument over charter schools and school choice is not especially productive, since, “Truth of the matter is, there is not enough funds for either traditional or charter schools.”

The Democratic candidate, who ran unopposed, is Jana Jones, who worked for former state superintendent Marilyn Howard, a Democrat, and now works as on education issues at Maximus, a consulting firm. In addition to supporting the common core, Jones says she wants to fix the “huge trust deficit” the state’s current educational leadership has created. She wants more funding for schools and more early-education programs.

There are other primaries coming up for superintendent positions in states including South Carolina and Oklahoma. Outgoing South Carolina Superintendent Mick Zais, a Republican, has already endorsed a candidate in the GOP primary to replace him: Meka Childs, a former K-12 policy adviser to former Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican:

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.