State superintendent race headed to runoff

Political neophyte and longtime education insider Mike Buck appears to have beaten back a crowded, far better funded field of opponents to earn a spot in the Republican runoff for Georgia school superintendent.

With the vast majority of the state’s counties reporting their vote totals, Buck, the chief academic officer for the state Department of Education, was far ahead of his GOP opponents. Buck, though, did not clear the 50 percent-plus-one-vote threshold needed to avoid the July 22 runoff.

He appears likely to face Richard L. Woods, a longtime educator from Irwin County.

T. Fitz Johnson, a businessman, was far back in the pack, a spectacular flame-out for the candidate who raised the most money in the race.

On the Democratic side, the two candidates who had the most money and the highest name recognition going into Tuesday’s primary — former City Schools of Decatur school board member Valarie Wilson and state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell — were the top two vote-getters and are likely to face each other in the runoff.

The general election will take place in November.

If either Wilson or Morgan survives a runoff and wins the general election, she would become the first black statewide officeholder since 2011, when Thurbert Baker completed his term as attorney general and Michael Thurmond finished up as labor commissioner.

The national set of academic standards called Common Core was a major point of discussion in the primary, and it’s likely to come up frequently in a runoff.

Some conservatives oppose the standards as a federal intrusion into state control of public education. Supporters see them as an improvement that harmonizes what students across the country are expected to know.

Opposition intensified when the Obama administration used federal grant money to encourage states to adopt the standards.

Buck has been a strong supporter of Common Core; Woods has opposed the standards.

Common Core is less of a political issue for Democrats, as both Wilson and Morgan support the standards.

But that doesn’t mean their political battle in the runoff won’t be pitched.

Morgan has angered many in her party by supporting school choice options like charter schools.

Like conservatives who have long supported charter schools, Morgan has argued that charters are an important alternative for parents whose children attend low-performing traditional public schools.

Unlike most Democrats in the General Assembly — and unlike their backers in public education — Morgan supported the 2012 constitutional amendment that clarified Georgia’s ability to authorize charter schools.

Opponents of the amendment argued that charter schools are not a panacea for problems in public education and that the focus on them detracts from traditional public schools, where the vast majority of children in Georgia are educated.

That amendment passed, however, bolstering Morgan’s claim that school choice options like charter schools are broadly popular even among Democratic voters.

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