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The Economist Discovers that Dark Money Funds School Board Elections… But Misses What is at Stake

November 16, 2017

Earlier this month the Economist featured an article on the massive sums of dark money being funneled into school board races across the country. The article offered some examples of the sums spent on local board races:

Chalkbeat, an education news organisation, reported that political committees on both sides of the dispute channelled at least $1.65m into the school-board races that took place on November 7th in Denver, nearby Aurora and Douglas County. Other areas have seen even more expensive contests. In Los Angeles, where three board seats came up for election earlier this year, outside groups poured nearly $15m into canvassing and advertisements on behalf of the candidates. Much of the money came from California Charter Schools Association, which supports charter schools and received nearly $7m from Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix, in the run-up to the election, and United Teachers Los Angeles, a union which opposes charters. According to Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, an advocacy organisation, outside money has also fuelled school-board fights in Louisiana, Minneapolis, and Perth Amboy, a town of just 52,500 in New Jersey.

The Economist’s reporting, though, makes one invalid point and misses a huge point.

The invalid point is that these board contest pit “reformers” who “…champion increasing access to charter schools and expanding educational options in general” against “unions” who “…oppose such an agenda on the grounds that it could attract students away from districts that bargain with teachers collectively” the Economist makes it sound as if the greedy teachers are trying to protect their wages at the expense of a group of concerned citizens who seek “…expanded educational opportunities in general“. This is completely invalid.

Indeed, the huge point the Economist missed is this: the “reformers” are the greedy party. They want to siphon the funds taxpayers provide to public schools and direct them to private schools who take the best students from public schools and are staffed by teachers who are more inexperienced and willing to work for substantially lower wages than those currently working in public education. If the motives of the “reformers” like Mr. Hastings was to “…expand educational options in general” the $7 million he spent to elect board members who favored privatization could have been used to provide more educational options for students like before and after school care that supplemented their educational programs… or memberships to local museums… or summer programs that effectively extended the school year. By casting the dark money contributors as “reformers” who “champion” the expansion of educational options the Economist casts them as high-minded philanthropists. They are not. If they DID champion public education they would not be seeking tax breaks at all levels of the government, they would be making donations to local programs that support children, and they would be working collaboratively with public schools to help make the kinds of changes they  are seeking. But those investing Dark Money in board elections are doing so for one purpose: They are doing so to elect board members who champion privatization in the hopes of earning back their donations many times over by cashing in on the money now being spent on public education.


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