Home > Uncategorized > Who Paid to Support Pro-Charter Board Candidates in LA? The Usual Suspects

Who Paid to Support Pro-Charter Board Candidates in LA? The Usual Suspects

Two news stories dominate the education blogs today: the fallout of the LA Board election that gave a majority of seats to pro-privatization candidates (covered in this post) and the DeVos-Trump budget (covered in the later post).

Diane Ravitch had two posts yesterday that had links to articles that dealt with the dark money funding “school reform”. Peter Dreier’s Huffpost article, “Big Money Wins in LA” delineates the huge amounts spent on that election which pitted pro-privatization candidate Nick Melvoin and incumbent Steve Zimmer, specifically identifies the donors to the pro-privatization candidate’s campaign, and briefly describes their backgrounds and home towns:

Among the big donors behind Melvoin and the CCSA were members of the Walton family (Alice Walton, Jim Walton, and Carrie Walton Penner) ― heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune from Arkansas, who’ve donated over $2 million to CCSA. Alice Walton (net worth: $36.9 billion), who lives in Texas, was one of the biggest funders behind Melvoin’s campaign. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflicks (net worth: $1.9 billion), who lives in Santa Cruz, donated close to $5 million since last September to the CCSA’s political action committee, including $1 million a week before the election.

Other moguls behind Melvoin and the CCSA include Doris Fisher (net worth: $2.7 billion), co-founder of The Gap, who lives in San Francisco: Texas resident John Arnold (net worth: $2.9 billion), who made a fortune at Enron before the company collapsed, leaving its employees and stockholders in the lurch, then made another fortune as a hedge fund manager; Jeff Yass, who lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, and runs the Susquahanna group, a hedge fund; Frank Baxter, former CEO of the global investment bank Jefferies and Company that specialized in “junk” bonds; and Michael Bloomberg (net worth: $48.5 billion), the former New York City mayor and charter champion. Eli Broad (net worth: $7.7 billion), who hatched a plan to put half of all LAUSD students in charter schools by 2023 — an idea that Zimmer fought — donated $400,000 to CCSA last Friday, on top of $50,000 he gave in November. He made his money in real estate and life insurance.

Not surprisingly, most of these billionaires are big backers of conservative Republican candidates and right-wing causes. Several are on the boards of charter school chains.

After providing this rundown, Dreier poses the 6.6 million dollar question and offers an insightful answer, one that makes the distinction between “reform” and “privatization”:

What do the corporate moguls and billionaires want? 

They want to turn public schools into educational Wal-marts run on the same corporate model. They want to expand charter schools that compete with each other and with public schools in an educational “market place.” (LA already has more charter schools than any other district in the country). They want to evaluate teachers and students like they evaluate new products — in this case, using the bottom-line of standardized test scores. Most teachers will tell you that over-emphasis on standardized testing turns the classroom into an assembly line, where teachers are pressured to “teach to the test,” and students are taught, robot-like, to define success as answering multiple-choice tests…

The corporate big-wigs are part of an effort that they and the media misleadingly call “school reform.” What they’re really after is not “reform” (improving our schools for the sake of students) but “privatization” (business control of public education). They think public schools should be run like corporations, with teachers as compliant workers, students as products, and the school budget as a source of profitable contracts and subsidies for textbook companies, consultants, and others engaged in the big business of education.

And Dreier emphasizes that one thing the “reformers” did NOT want was someone like Melvin’s opponent, Steve Zimmer, to be on the school board. Why?

Like most reasonable educators and education analysts, Zimmer has questioned the efficacy of charter schools as a panacea. When the billionaires unveiled their secret plan to put half of LAUSD students into charter schools within eight years, Zimmer led the opposition….

Now the billionaires and their charter school operators will have a majority on the school board. LA will become the epicenter of a major experiment in expanding charter schools – with the school children as the guinea pigs.

In the coming weeks it will be interesting to see who turned out to vote for Mr. Melvoin and why the voters decided to put Mr. Zimmer out of office. As noted in a post yesterday, what is most telling is that Arne Duncan came out several weeks ago in support of Mr. Melvoin, advocating a need for a reformer to be elected to the board to allow a change to the status quo. If the likes of Mr. Duncan really sought a change to the status quo they would abandon the reliance on standardized test scores based on groupings of students by age cohorts… the reliance of which results in classrooms that are turned into “…an assembly line, where teachers are pressured to “teach to the test,” and students are taught, robot-like, to define success as answering multiple-choice tests.” That is hardly a change to the status quo: it reinforces the factory model that is failing children and creating failure where success might be possible.

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