Incumbent Woods to battle Searcy for Georgia school superintendent

Incumbent Richard Woods clobbered his Republican opponent in the GOP primary for state school superintendent Tuesday night, and will likely face Democrat Alisha Thomas Searcy in the November general election.

Thousands of votes remained uncounted in DeKalb and Fulton counties and a handful of other locations around the state. And the vote totals may not yet include all absentee and provisional ballots. But Woods garnered nearly three votes for every one netted by Republican challenger John Barge as of Wednesday morning.

Democrats chose Searcy over three other candidates who lagged far behind: Clayton County teacher James Morrow Jr., Cobb County school board member and dentist Jaha Howard and Atlanta lawyer Currey Hitchens.

Searcy appeared to have enough votes to avoid a runoff, with 57% of the total when all but 5% of precincts had reported. The former Democratic state representative from Austell in Cobb County ran a small charter school network after leaving office. She is now an educational consultant. If her total slips below 50%, she would face the next leading Democrat in a June 21 runoff election.

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The state school superintendent leads the Georgia Department of Education, and is responsible for monitoring schools and distributing state and federal funding to them while also ensuring that they follow state law and policy. The superintendent serves as the executive to a policymaking board appointed by governors.

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Barge was state school superintendent eight years ago when he chose to run for governor instead of reelection. After losing the gubernatorial primary, the Republican made the unusual decision to endorse Woods’ Democratic opponent. The feud continued over the next eight years as Barge ran unsuccessfully to get his job back in 2018 and then again this year when he lost by an even wider margin.

Woods, a former teacher and school administrator from rural Georgia, has said he wants to recruit more teachers and increase graduation rates by giving students more options than a purely academic path, for instance by offering more “career pathway” programs that allow a focus on job-related skills.

Searcy has long been a proponent of school choice, supporting charter schools and policies that make it easier to switch between schools in the same district and backing tax credit-funded private school scholarships.