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California State Superintendent of Public Instruction

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The State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) of California is the nonpartisan (originally partisan) elected executive officer of the California Department of Education. The SPI directs all functions of the Department of Education, executes policies set by the California State Board of Education, and also heads and chairs the Board. The superintendents serves a four-year term, serves as the state’s chief spokesperson for public schools, provides education policy and direction to local school districts, and also serve as an ex officio member of governing boards of the state’s higher education system. The current Superintendent of Public Instruction is Tom Torlakson.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction of California
Seal of California.svg
California State Seal
California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.jpg
Tom Torlakson

since January 3, 2011
Style The Honorable
Term length Four years, two term limit
Website Executive Office, Department of Education

Under Section 2 of Article 9 of the California Constitution, the Superintendent must be directly "elected by the qualified electors of the State at each gubernatorial election." But the State Board of Education is not directly elected, and its members are not appointed by the Superintendent. They are appointed by the Governor subject to the approval of the state Senate. Therefore, if the Governor's party has a majority in the Senate and the Governor has drastically different views on state education policy than the Superintendent, it is readily foreseeable that through board appointments, the Governor could conceivably put the Superintendent in the awkward position of chairing a board full of members whom he or she strongly disagrees with, and who in turn attempt to force him or her to direct the Department to implement policies contrary to strongly held personal views. The California Constitutional Revision Commission proposed that the Superintendent should be converted from an elected official into an appointed one, but the Commission's proposal was rejected by the state electorate in 1968.


List of California State Superintendents of Public InstructionEdit

Name Party Date Assumed Office
John G. Marvin D Jan. 1, 1851
Paul K. Hubbs D Jan. 1, 1854
Andrew J. Moulder D Jan. 1, 1857
John Swett Union Jan. 2, 1863
Oscar Penn Fitzgerald D Dec. 2, 1867
Henry N. Bolander R Dec. 4, 1871
Ezra S. Carr R Dec. 6, 1875
Frederick M. Campbell R Jan. 5, 1880
William T. Welcker D Jan. 8, 1883
Ira G. Hoitt R Jan. 3, 1887
J.W. Anderson R Jan. 5, 1891
Samuel T. Black R Jan. 7, 1895
Charles T. Meredith D Sep. 24, 1898
Thomas J. Kirk R Jan. 2, 1899
Edward Hyatt R Jan. 7, 1907
Will C. Wood NP Jan. 6, 1919
William John Cooper NP Jan. 20, 1927
Vierling C. Kersey NP Feb. 11, 1929
Walter F. Dexter NP Feb. 1, 1937
Roy E. Simpson NP Nov. 13, 1945
Max Rafferty NP Jan. 7, 1963
Wilson Riles NP Jan. 4, 1971
Bill Honig NP Jan. 3, 1983
David Dawson (acting superintendent)   Feb. 24, 1993
Delaine Eastin NP Jan. 2, 1995
Jack O'Connell NP Jan. 5, 2003
Tom Torlakson NP Jan. 3, 2011

See alsoEdit

  • "A History of the California State Department of Education, 1900–1967"(undated)[1]
  • "The 'Department of Public Instruction' Before 1921" (undated)[2]
  • "The Jones Report and the Department of Education, 1921—1927" (undated)[3]
  • "Departmental Change and Growth Through the Years of Depression and War, 1927—1945" (undated)[4]
  • "The Strayer Report and the Reorganization of the Department, 1945-1963" (undated)[5]
  • "The State Superintendent of Public Instruction--A report on the history of the office in the State of California, and a review of the recent trends in the other 49 states" (1963)[6]
  • "The Little Reports and Reappraisal, 1963—1967" (1967)[7]
  • "The State of Our Schools - Who's in charge of education?" (Editorial), The San Francisco Chronicle, December 22, 2002, p. E4[8]
  • California Department of Education
  • California State Board of Education


  • G. Vernon Bennett, Los Angeles City Council member, 1935–49, ran for state superintendent of public instruction


External linksEdit