Sid Chapman (left) and Otha Thornton (right)

Two Democrats are vying to lead the state’s public schools.

Two Democrats are battling for the party nomination for Georgia schools superintendent, the state’s top K-12 educational post.

Sid Chapman, a former teacher, turned state teacher advocate is competing against Otha Thornton, a former national parents’ advocate. The pair emerged from a three-way primary election in May. The winner on July 24 will face incumbent Republican Richard Woods, a former teacher and school administrator concluding his first term as superintendent.

Georgia runoffs: what you need to know

So who are Chapman and Thornton?

Chapman, 59, earned a doctorate in education from Walden University after earning a master’s from Mercer and a bachelor’s from Emmanuel College. The Griffin resident was born in Barnesville and went on to teach high school social studies in Clayton County, where he was elected president of the local chapter of the Georgia Association of Educators. He was then elected to lead the state group, an affiliate of the National Education Association, serving as president until his term ended this month.

Thornton, 50, earned a master’s in communications from Michigan Technological University and a bachelor’s from Morehouse College. The Richmond Hill resident is from Elberton and is married with two adult children. He served in the U.S. Army in Iraq, earning a bronze star medal in combat operations, and later was assigned to White House communications, retiring from the military as a lieutenant colonel. He now works as a military contractor and, until recently, was president of the National PTA.

Claim to fame:

Chapman, as head of GAE, has become a familiar figure at the state Capitol, promoting teacher issues with lawmakers. He was among the many education advocates to publicly oppose Gov. Nathan Deal’s constitutional amendment for an Opportunity School District and has pushed for more funding for public schools.

Thornton was the first African-American male president of the National PTA. In that role, he worked alongside the Georgia PTA in its campaign against Deal’s Opportunity School District, speaking publicly against it.

Talking points:

Chapman says public schools need more money and more help recruiting and retaining quality teachers, and the state needs stronger technical and vocational programs. Thornton says public schools need to be firmly under the control of locally-elected officials, and that the state’s more than 30-year-old formula for funding them needs to be updated to give schools more money.

What they don’t want to talk about:

The superintendent’s office has declined in political relevance over the past couple decades, with lawmakers periodically calling for an overhaul that would remove it from the list of elected offices, making the superintendent an appointed position.

Who’s funding them:

As of June, Thornton had raised more money — $79,000 to Chapman’s $62,000. But Chapman had at least $14,000 more on hand, with Thornton down to $3,100 in the bank.

Chapman’s donations came in small amounts, typically $100 or less, much of it came from Georgia educators and retirees. Thornton’s contributions tended to be larger and they typically didn’t come from educators. The CEO of a Virginia consulting company gave him $3,900 and several retirees in and out of Georgia gave him at least $1,000. The Georgia Federation of Teachers, which competes with group’s like Chapman’s for members and influence, gave him $2,000.

Pressing issues for next superintendent:

In the wake of school shootings across the country, school safety is a pressing concern. Low teacher pay has become a chronic problem across the country, resulting in walkouts in other states. The mood is calmer in Georgia, but for how long? Numerous governors have tried and failed to overhaul the Byzantine formula used to calculate the state allotment for education, currently over a third of the $26.2 billion state budget. The superintendent could be influential in any future effort.

Why it matters:

The superintendent oversees the Georgia Department of Education, which oversees compliance with federal law, sets academic standards and measures school performance.

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