A Democratic politician from Antioch, California, Torlakson is currently serving his third and final term representing the 11th District, which covers a north section of Contra Costa County.
As his contender in the November election, Larry Aceves, did a month ago, Torlakson visited San Joaquin County on October 11, 2010, to participate in the second forum in an ongoing series hosted by the Teachers College of San Joaquin (TCSJ). Bilingual Weekly had the opportunity to talk to Torlakson. This is what he said,
BW: Some California Central Valley’s school districts share the lowest academic achievement indexes in the state. Do you know why?
TT: High unemployment, high poverty, lack of funds. There’s a connection. That’s why I have (always) pushed for legislation to provide funds where they are needed the most.
BW: Are you familiar with Migrant Education? Will you expand it or reduce it? Why?
TT: Migrant education addresses the mobility of the work force. It needs to be expanded.
BW: You have exhausted all legislature jobs and it is easy to suspect why you are running for this office. Why, in your words, want to lead education?
TT: My passion is education… to take children to their (educational) potential. This is not new, CABE (California Association for Bilingual Education), PACT (members) known of my strong defense of education…
BW: Are you familiar with Bilingual Education? Are we better off without Bilingual Education?
TT: I fought Proposition 227 (a California ballot proposition passed in 1998 that effectively ended bilingual education programs in the state —with some exceptions— and replaced them with the structured English-immersion model) The effect of 227 is unclear because of cuts in education (since then) had had a serious impact. I envision honoring the fact of knowing two languages. I want to add a seal in their graduation diploma recognizing they speak two languages. (Ed’s note: The Bilingual Education Act was terminated in 2001 with the passage of No Child Left Behind by the U.S. Congress. This law offers no support for primary language learning, but rather emphasized accountability in English only, and mandates that all students, including English Learners, are tested yearly in English.)
BW: In this campaign, you present yourself first as a teacher, then as a lawmaker. If you were first a sailor, a teacher for 5 or 6 years, and a politician for 32… Any comment?
TT: I have spent 25 years coaching…
BW: Back and forth Sacramento?
TT: I was teaching and coaching while I was a County Supervisor… Title 1 schools, really! Teaching at a community college, I spent 10 years teaching Health, Nutrition, Ecology and Biology in high school.
BW: According to a recent report by the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at UCLA, California once enjoyed having one of the country’s best public school systems. Now it ranks at or near the bottom on academic achievement and school funding. Can you give ONE example of something you will do to revert this?
TT: Get the legislation and the government to stop cutting the funds. We are, as of now, the 47th state in the nation when it comes to spending in the education of our kids
BW: But, if you get elected, your position is largely symbolic. You don’t get to decide budgets…
TT: …But I know legislature and legislators.
BW: According to the current Superintendent of Public Education, Jack O’Connell, California education budget has been reduced by $17 billion over the last two years’ period. Lay off teachers, increase class sizes, close campuses, eliminate summer school and cut programs… the question is not if there will be cuts, but where. As an elected Superintendent, where you see this happening first?
TT: Again. Stopping the cuts, bring business and labor leaders together to seek solutions. Build more green schools
BW: And if that fails?
TT: Cut, scaling back management.
BW: Some local education administrators, observers and critics claim the powerful California Teachers Association (CTA) and its “business-as–usual” approach is to blame for California children not performing any better. The CTA has spent over $1.5 million on getting you elected. Are you satisfied with their performance?
TT: I commend teachers for the job they are doing, for the kids achieving success
BW: …But they are not succeeding!
TT: It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep them accountable for their (lack of) teaching. (Regarding the CTA endorsement) I am an independent thinker. I get the economic backing of a combination of labor and business…
BW: What business… can you name one?
TT: Tom Warner… solar power. I enjoy a bipartisan base. In 1988 I launched ACE (Achieving a College Education) the largest after school program with the backing of both parties (Ed’s Note: ACE is a program that targets students who may not consider going to college and attaining a baccalaureate degree to be an achievable goal)