David W. Packard, heir to a computer fortune, on Thursday announced an extraordinary donation of $500,000 to an Orange County schoolteacher who is challenging incumbent Delaine Eastin for the job of state superintendent of public instruction.
Packard's gift, the largest single donation from an individual this year to a statewide candidate, instantly put challenger Gloria Matta Tuchman on equal financial footing with Eastin with less than two weeks left in what had been a quiet contest.
The donation was a stunning blow to Eastin, who has held a consistent though modest lead over Matta Tuchman in statewide polls.
"I believe that Gloria Matta Tuchman can do a much better job" than Eastin, Packard said in a news release.
Son of the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Co., Packard said he seeks to promote "systematic and explicit instruction in reading and math skills, and English-language instruction for all students."
Packard added that he supports experimenting with tax-funded vouchers to help parents pay for private school tuition. If vouchers are shown to be effective, he said, "the public can debate adopting them more widely."
Matta Tuchman, a Republican and first-grade teacher in a Santa Ana public school, supports a program that would offer vouchers to parents with children in troubled public schools.
Eastin, a Democrat, opposes vouchers. She has been on the defensive this year over test scores that show most California students below the national average in basic skills. But Eastin argues that the state has shortchanged its school system by spending far less per pupil than other big states.
Matta Tuchman had trailed Eastin badly in fund-raising. The incumbent reported a war chest of more than $500,000 as of Sept. 30, enough to pay for some television advertising. That was more than 10 times Matta Tuchman's total of less than $40,000.
Jon Fleischman, a spokesman for Matta Tuchman, said the challenger would begin airing advertisements on radio and television as early as today. Eastin consultant Cliff Staton said her campaign plans to begin TV ads next week.
Matta Tuchman also has received substantial contributions from a group linked to Howard Ahmanson, who is a major donor to conservative Christian causes and a supporter of vouchers.
Eastin's largest donor this year has been the California Teachers Assn., which gave her $100,000, Staton said.