EAST PALO ALTO -- A day after announcing he is running for governor, Republican candidate Neel Kashkari took his campaign to East Palo Alto to speak with students at a private secondary school that serves low-income families.

For about half an hour, government class juniors at Eastside College Preparatory School hit Kashkari with questions that touched on education, affirmative action, the environment, jobs and immigration.

"How about some tough questions, like 'Why do I shave my head?'" Kashkari jokingly countered.

The one tough question students didn't ask the candidate was why he missed voting in so many elections over the years. But he later defended his voting record to reporters.

The 40-year-old former fund manager, Wall Street investment banker and U.S. Treasury Department official stuck with his jobs-and-education campaign message when he told the students why he's running for the state's top job.

"A lot of families are worried about keeping their jobs, or maybe they only have a part-time job and they want a full-time job," the multimillionaire told them. "And they want to make sure their kids are going to good schools."

Kashkari said he chose to visit Eastside because "this is a great school," then added: "A great school is the key to getting a great education and to getting a better future. ... A lot of California kids are not in a great school."

Eastside College Preparatory School opened in 1996 and now serves about 300 students in grades 6 through 12. Almost 90 percent of students graduate and all of them go on to attend four-year colleges. All students attend Eastside tuition-free because endowments and donations cover the annual $17,000-per-pupil costs, according to Eastside's website.

Asked how he would improve academic performance, Kashkari said he'd fight to give schools and districts more "flexibility" to shape the education they provide, pointing to Eastside's extended school year as a positive initiative.

"I've met some great teachers and some great principals and some great kids who are all frustrated that their hands are tied," he said. "So what I want to do is take those handcuffs off and let the schools really change the way we educate kids, meet the needs of students."

Asked whether he supports affirmative action, he said: "I don't like the idea of just coming up with a quota and saying, 'This many of this race, this many of that race.'"

Instead, he wants to "expand the accessibility" of college, noting that putting high-caliber college classes online could be one way to achieve that goal.

People coming to the United States to live and work is good for the economy, Kashkari said in response to a question about his stance on immigration.

"We should reform our immigration policies so we're focused on those workers that we need. ... We need workers for the farms and we need high-tech workers, so let's prioritize those," said Kashkari, whose parents emigrated from India.

After the 30-minute talk with students, Kashkari was asked by reporters about his spotty voting record. According to a report this week in the San Francisco Chronicle, Kashkari voted in less than half of elections since 1998. He acknowledged missing some elections, mostly because of work travel, and noted that his record improved after he started voting by absentee ballot.

"I voted I believe in eight out of nine presidential and gubernatorial general elections, and I think voting is very important," he said. "I did miss a few, but I had a job where I was traveling a lot at the last second.

"True story, in the early 2000s, I missed a lot of elections, and I asked my colleagues, 'What do you do? You have to travel at the last second too,' and they said, 'Oh, we vote absentee.' And I said, 'I didn't even know you could vote absentee. I thought that's what soldiers would do who were stationed in Germany or stationed in South Korea.'"

He said he began voting absentee in "2002-2003. I can't remember, maybe 2003-2004."

A campaign spokeswoman said later that Kashkari actually began voting absentee in 2006.