(KPIX 5) — One of California’s ballot races is attracting money not normally seen on a statewide level. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent on the race to determine who will head the state’s public school system.

The two candidates for state Superintendent of Public Instruction are Tony Thurmond, an East Bay state assemblyman and former social worker; and Marshall Tuck, who left the world of finance for school administration.

Both Democrats who have some similar things to say.

“California needs to improve how we do our per-pupil spending,” said Thurmond.

“We can double graduation rates. We can get more kids prepared for college,” said Tuck.

But this race is anything but ordinary. Between them, these candidates have raised more than $43 million. And if that sounds like a spectacular number for a down-ballot race – it is.

The spending is on the level of the Ted Cruz – Beto O’Rourke Senate race in Texas, or the Bill Nelson – Rick Scott Senate race in Florida. The Thurmond-Tuck school superintendent race would actually rank among the year’s four most expensive races for the U.S. Senate.

And the source of that money is at the heart of the race. Thurmond’s campaign is funded largely by the state’s teachers unions, and what you might call the state Democratic establishment.

“This race is all about protecting public education, and there are many who would wish to derail it,” said Thurmond.

Marshall Tuck is funded in large part by pro-charter school PAC money from outside California.

“Well, I think charters are one difference in this race, and some of my supporters think charters have a role to play in public education,” said Tuck.

And that one issue – charter schools – is what has drawn a lot of focus and money; fueling a wave of independent ads, with each campaign decrying the other’s as non-factual.

So what should voters make of an ordinarily quiet superintendent race running up a $43 million price tag?

“To me, what that says is that we need publicly financed campaigns, we need campaign reform,” said Thurmond.

“Well, I think it tells you that California is finally starting to focus on our public schools,” said Tuck.