Tag Archives: Doris Fisher

Why Tax Billionaires Out of Existence

22 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/22/2021

Twenty years of studying education policy, politics and practices has been awakening. Seeing billionaires inflict their often misguided and unpopular beliefs on our nation’s public schools has made it clear how undemocratic and dangerous extreme wealth is. They have established voucher programs routinely sending taxpayer money to religious schools even though these programs have lost decisively whenever submitted to voters. In her book Slaying Goliath, Diane Ravitch labeled these 0.1% of Americans as disrupters. She asked and answered the question “what do disrupters want?” They want:

  • Inexperienced teachers with little or no training from organizations like Teach For America.
  • To replace teachers with machine teaching (“blended learning” – “personalized learning”).
  • To move fast and break things including school systems, historic schools and communities.
  • To eliminate local democratic control over schools.
  • To eliminate teacher tenure and seniority rights.
  • To eliminate teacher defined benefit pensions.
  • To eliminate teachers unions.
  • To evaluate teachers and schools with standardized test scores.
  • To lower taxes and reduce spending on education.

Controlling the Political Process

In 2018, the Network for Public Education (NPE) produced a masterful report detailing how school board elections are being stolen from local residents. In the introduction to Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools,” the authors state, “This report provides some insight into how the very wealthy insert themselves into local elections through direct contributions, Independent Expenditure Committees and even non-profit organizations.”

The Billionaires Cited in “Hijacked by Billionaires”

In my post-election analysis of three elections, School Board Elections 2020: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” I show that billionaires Alice Walton of Bentonville, Arkasas, Michael Bloomberg of New York, New York and Stacy Schusterman of Tulsa, Oklahoma poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the school board races in Oakland, California and Indianapolis, Indiana.

In that same election, the spending in Los Angeles and for California state offices was enormous. Through a combination of direct contributions and political action committees, seven billionaires put more than $14,000,000 into the 2020 election. The bulk of it went into the Los Angeles school board election with over $1,000,000 going to state assembly and senate races plus more than $1,000,000 went into five county board of education elections.

The Path of Billionaire Spending in California’s 2020 General Election

Similar election spending went on in New Orleans, Camden and many other jurisdictions mainly through Public School Allies the political arm of the City Fund founded by billionaires John Arnold and Reed Hastings.

In 2014, SFGATE reported, “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who suggests that democratically elected school boards are the problem with public education, says they should be replaced by privately held corporations.” Hastings said out loud a belief held among many of his anti-democracy peers.

Creating an Alternate Teacher Training Path

In their effort to privatize public education, billionaires have created alternate paths for teacher credentialing and professional development.

Mercedes Schneider writes in her book Chronicle of Echoes, “Wendy Kopp declared that she had a force of young, predominantly-Ivy League idealists for sale, and Big Money arrived on the scene to make the purchase.” Wendy Kopp is the founder of Teach For America (TFA) and the young idealists for sale were her “temp teachers” who have no intention of staying in the classroom. In 2011, the Walton Family Foundation donated $49.5 million to TFA. Many corporate donors also sent TFA $100,000 to $999,000: “Anheuser-Busch, ATT, Bank of America, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Boeing, Cargill Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Emerson, Entergy, ExxonMobil, Fedex, Fidelity Investment, GE, Marathon Oil, Monsanto, Peabody, Prudential, State Farm, Symantec, Travelers, Wells Fargo.”

These unqualified “temp teachers” have not studied teaching and they have no experience. A new teacher coming through a traditional program has taken many education courses and spent a year working with a master teacher as a supervised student teacher. TFA teachers typically have no education courses in college and get just five-weeks of classroom training in the summer.

TNTP is one of several organizations that only exist because billionaires have financed them. Wendy Kopp founded TNTP (originally called The New Teachers Project) in 1997. She assigned Michelle Rhee, who had completed a two year TFA tour, to lead it. Along with TNTP and TFA there are also the Broad Superintendents Academy and the fake school for professional educators called Relay Graduate School instilling the billionaire inspired privatization mindset.

Selling Technology and School Choice

With their enormous wealth, billionaires have poured more than $200,000,000 into organizations like New School Venture Fund to sell edtech and school choice; also funding think tanks (CREDO and CRPE) to provide a veneer of academic credibility.

To advance these sales they have created their own education media empire with The Education Post and The-74 as their flagships. Bill Gates has spent lavishly on publications like EdWeek turning them from a teacher resource into an edtech promoting outlet.

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” —Plutarch (c. 46–120 ce)

In 2017, Bill Moyers wrote,

“The top 1 percent owns more than 30 percent of America’s wealth. The poorest half owns just 2.5 percent. Wall Street bonuses alone are twice the amount of all the combined earnings of minimum-wage workers in this country. We are grotesquely, bizarrely, grossly unequal — unequal in cash, health care, schooling and access to clean air and water. Unequal in our access to power. And we are becoming more unequal by the year: Since Ronald Reagan became president, the income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans has doubled.”

As Louis Brandeis famously stated, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

School Board Elections 2020: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

12 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/12/2020

Los Angeles, Oakland and Indianapolis are routinely targeted by pro-public school privatization billionaires. Local school board races that a decade ago required less than $10,000 in order to mount a credible campaign now require ten times that amount. Billionaires again spent lavishly to take control of school boards in these three cities.

The Good

For two decades Oakland has been California’s petri dish for school privatization. Eli Broad has placed four superintendents in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). Mayor Jerry Brown between terms in the Governor’s mansion helped establish the first charter schools in Oakland. Reed Hastings and “Doowop” Don Shalvey created one of the first ever charter management organizations (Aspire Charter Schools) in Oakland. The billionaire funded and pro-school privatization organizations New Schools Venture Fund, Educate78 and GO Public education are all headquartered in Oakland.

The general election on November 3 had four odd numbered district director positions on the ballot. The Oakland school board has seven seats. In an attempt to place school privatization friendly directors on the board, three out of town billionaires poured $625,000 into the Power2Families independent expenditure committee.

The former New York Mayor and Presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg, also sent $300,000 to the GO Public School’s independent expenditure committee Families and Educators for Public Education in addition to the $400,000 he gave Power2Families.

For this board of education election there were six independent expenditure committees (IEC) operating.

  • Four pro-charter schools IECs:
    • Families and Educators for Public Education (GO Public Schools)
    • Charter Public Schools PAC (California Charter Schools Association)
    • Power2Families (founded by charter chain founder, Hae-Sin Thomas)
    • Committee for California (founded by Jerry and Anne Gust Brown) 
  • Two pro-public schools IECs:
    • Oakland Education Association Political Action Committee (Teacher Union)
    • Oakland Rising Committee sponsored by (Movement Strategy Center Action Fund a Local Grassroots Political Organizing Group )  

Jan Malvin, a retired UCSF researcher, created the following election spending graphic.

The chart shows that in terms of spending from direct contributions which have maximum contributions limits, the pro-public school candidates had a $48,000 advantage. In the unregulated independent expenditure spending, the pro-charter school PACs had a $580,000 spending advantage.

Campaign Flyer from the OEA

It turned out that the Oakland community was ready to fight back and win. In fact, “Mike ‘The Students Voice’ Hutchinson” achieved a clear victory over “Michael ‘The Billionaire” Bloomberg.”

The vote counting appears close to being done. However, Oakland employs Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) instead of a primary system. Voters rank candidates in their order of preference. When the votes are counted, if no one gains 50% of the vote, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. Their votes are distributed based on rankings. This process continues until the winner passes 50% of the vote.

An unofficial RCV run shows that the leaders in the following vote count will be elected.

The Oakland community fought back against the billionaires’ spending advantage. They raised money, contacted neighbors and won a decisive victory by taking the seats in districts 1, 3 and 5. In district-7, they lost but achieved more votes, but were divided on who to support. When the new board is seated, it will have a clear pro-public school supporting majority.

The Bad

In March of 2017, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board election became the most expensive of its kind in history. Billionaire financed pro-school privatization organizations poured in almost $10 million to capture a majority on the board; which they did.

A special election was held in 2019 to replace the criminally malfeasant district-5 board member, Ref Rodriguez. Jackie Goldberg’s election swung the four person majority on the board back to the pro-public school side.

Rodriquez had hung onto his seat long enough to be the deciding vote making billionaire Eli Broad’s business partner, investment banker Austin Beutner, Superintendent of Schools. It was a curious hire because Beutner had no education training or experience.

Since superintendents work for the elected board, it is surprising if a superintendent of a public school district takes a position in a school board race. This year Beutner ignored that norm. He forwarded tweets supporting the campaigns of Marilyn Koziatek in district-3 and Tanya Ortiz Franklin in district-7. Beutner claims the tweets were not sent by him.

For the 2020 election cycle, the four odd numbered seats of the board were on the ballot. The three even numbered seats will be on the ballot in 2022. The seats up for election this year was comprised of the four vote majority on the board supporting public schools.

It was an opportunity for the billionaires to swing the board majority back in their favor and they did not let the chance slip away.

This LittleSis Map Documents Billionaire Education Spending in 2020

The three PACs mapped in yellow appear to be the main conduit for billionaire money going to independent expenditures this year. The wealthy real estate developer from Manhattan Beach, California, William E. Bloomfield, is pouring his money directly into private campaign companies normally hired by the PACs to produce their media and campaign mailings. The Campaign Company Group shown above is a fictitious company showing the total funding Bloomfield has spent with seven different companies to produce campaign materials for candidates he supports or opposes.

During the March primary election both District-1 Board Member George McKenna and District-5 Board Member Jackie Goldberg ended their campaigns for reelection by receiving more than 50% of the vote thus winning the seat. That left just districts 3 and 7 to be determined in the general election.

In district-7, incumbent Richard Vladovic was term limited from running. Teacher’s union favorite Patricia Castellanos faced off against the charter industry supported Tanya Ortiz Franklin. The district-3 race was between incumbent Scott Schmerelson and Granada Hills Charter High School employee Marilyn Koziatek.

There were four main independent expenditure groups active in the school board general election:

Pro-School Privatization

  • Families and Teachers United, Sponsored by California Charter School Association
  • Kids First, Established by Benjamin B. Austin
  • William E. Bloomfield, Is an Independent Expenditures Committee of One

Pro-Public Schools

  • Students, Parents and Educators, Sponsored by Teacher’s Unions

The table above shows almost $12 million dollars in independent expenditures spent to sway the election with nearly $10 million promoting school privatization. In the district-3 race, $3,586,443.03 was spent to defeat Scott Schmerelson and in the district-7 race, a whopping $6,387,455.15 went to ensure Franklin topped Castellanos.

The big spending Kids First PAC was established by Benjamin B. Austin who has a long history as a public school “destructor.” He worked as a Deputy Mayor to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, he was appointed to the California State Board of Education by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, he founded the Parent Revolution and wrote the Parent Trigger Law. Now he is bundling money to undermine democratic elections.

In district-3, Schmerelson who has 40 years of experience as a board member, teacher and school administrator had to fight hard and endure horrible slanders to defeat a charter school employee who has never taught and whose only school related work is in public relations.  In district-7, the massive spending to elect Tanya Ortiz Franklin worked. It gave billionaires a district majority for at least the next two years.

The Ugly

The local Indianapolis PBS station WFYI reported, “Reform Candidates Sweep IPS School Board Race In Expensive, Contentious Campaign.” They continued, “The four winners in the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners election will tilt the board firmly into support for the charter-friendly reforms ongoing at the state’s largest school district.”

When putative Democrat Bart Peterson was Mayor of Indianapolis, he led the beginnings of privatizing public schools there. He and his administrations school advisor, David Harris, founded The Mind Trust with major funding from local philanthropies including the Lilly Endowment. Lilly has gifted the organization more than $22 million in the last seven years and given lavishly to local charter schools. Indianapolis is now the second most privatized school system in America; second only to the New Orleans 100% privatized system.

The election results makes it certain that the privatization trend will continue. Bart Peterson is back with a new political action group dedicated to advancing his school privatization cause. Peterson’s new group is Hoosiers for Great Public Schools. This year there were five political action committees operating in Indianapolis.

Pro-Public Education

  • I-Pace – The Indiana Teachers Union PAC

Pro-School Privatization

  • Stand for Children Indy
  • Rise Indy
  • Hoosiers for Great Public Schools
  • Indy Chamber

The pro-privatization groups got a big assist from Billionaires Alice Walton ($200,000) and Michael Bloomberg ($100,000). They ended up with a ten to one spending advantage.

With their great financial advantage and a raging virus limiting door to door campaigning, the election was not close.

It truly is an ugly day for Indianapolis. Already more than 60% of the publicly financed schools are either charter schools or innovation schools. In either case, the elected school board has no control over their operations. They are run by private entities. This election insured that Indianapolis will continue on the course toward ending public education.

California Plutocrat Education Election Spending

20 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/20/2020

Unlike 2018, fewer of the wealthy class appear to be spending so freely to control California school policy, but their spending still dominates campaign spending. Large amounts of money are being spent in an attempt to regain political control of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and there appears to be a concentration of money directed at key county school boards. They are also spending liberally on California state senate and assembly races.

Little Sis Map of Plutocrat Spending for Independent Expenditures

In this election cycle, the three PACs mapped in yellow appear to be the main conduit for billionaire money going to independent expenditures. These expenditures are unlimited as long as no coordination can be shown with a candidate’s campaign. The wealthy real estate developer from Manhattan Beach, California, William E. Bloomfield is pouring his money directly into private campaign companies normally hired by the PACs to produce their media and campaign mailings. The Campaign Company Group shown above is a fictitious company showing the total funding Bloomfield has spent with seven different companies to produce campaign materials for candidates he supports or opposes.

The Battle for LA

LAUSD is by far the largest school district in California and nationally it is second in size only to the New York City School District. Since the introduction of charter schools in the 1990s, LAUSD has become approximately 20% privatized. There are more charter schools in Los Angeles than any other city in the country. Political control of the LAUSD is seen as key to either slowing the privatization train or accelerating it.

In 2020, the four odd numbered LAUSD board seats were up for election. Since the charter school industry already has three board members not up for reelection, they only need to flip one seat to regain control of the board. In 2019, they lost control of the board when Jackie Goldberg received 71.6% of the vote in a special election to replace district 5 board member Ref Rodriquez who pled guilty to conspiracy charges.

During the March primary election both District 1 Board Member George McKenna and District 5 Board Member Jackie Goldberg ended their campaigns for reelection by receiving more than 50% of the vote thus winning the seat. In district 7, incumbent Richard Vladovic was term limited from running. Teacher’s union favorite Patricia Castellanos and the charter industry supported Tanya Ortiz Franklin were the two top vote getters in the primary. They will face off in the general election for the district 7 seat.

The most contentious school board race is between district 3 incumbent Scott Schmerelson and Granada Hills Charter High School employee Marilyn Koziatek. During the primary race, LA Times reporter Howard Blume opened an article writing, A million-dollar attack campaign is underway portraying Los Angeles school board member Scott Schmerelson as greedy, corrupt and determined to score fast cash by exposing children to deadly vaping and McDonald’s French fries.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, Teachers Union President, said the ads were an “attempt to eviscerate Scott, a lifelong educator and champion of our public schools…. Scott’s likeness is literally made into a caricature, with clear anti-Semitic overtones.” Scott Schmerelson would hardly be the first Jew in Los Angeles to face anti-Semitism. 

Schmerelson finished his educator career as principal for 10-years at Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Middle School in South Los Angeles. He is also a former leader in the Association of California School Administrators.

Schmerelson probably became a more important target for the forces working to privatize public education when he vocally opposed investment banker Austin Beutner as the next Superintendent of LAUSD. He said he wanted a school chief with education experience.

Marilyn Koziatek’s campaign web address says,

“Marilyn is the only candidate who currently works in a public school. She leads the community outreach department for Granada Hills Charter, one of the highest-performing public schools in California.”

First of all, charter schools are not public schools. They are private businesses with a contract to provide services to the government. The public has no democratic influence over them. Secondly, Koziatek has never taught. She does PR for a private company selling education services which pales in comparison to her opponents almost 4 decades working in classrooms and leading schools.

The LA times reported in 2003, “The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to convert Granada Hills High School, which has among the best academic records in the school district, into an independent charter school.” (Emphasis added) The article also noted, “Board President Caprice Young hailed the vote as a victory for the charter movement.”

There is a rumor that Koziatek was forced into running by the highly paid Executive Director of Granada Hills Charter, Brian Bauer. The charter’s last tax form 990 (EIN 05-0570400) listed Bauer’s 2017 salary as $271,287. He is also on the board of the California Charter Schools Association.

The independent expenditures for Marilyn Koziatek and opposing Scott Schmerelson by the organization Families and Teachers United is sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association. The Students, Parents and Teachers group supporting Scott Schmerelson and Patricia Castellanos is sponsored by the LA Unified Teachers Union.

In District 7, two Latinas are facing off, Patricia Castellanos and Tanya Ortiz Franklin. Neither candidate appears to have deep experience in education. Franklin taught elementary school for five years and worked part time at Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools while she attended law school. Castellanos was a community organizer and works as the Workforce and Economic Development Deputy for LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

In direct campaign contributions, as of 9/14/2020 Castellanos had almost a two to one advantage in contributors 581 to 347 and a money advantage of $206,562 to $95,146. Franklin has a large advantage from independent expenditures with Bill Bloomfield’s $3,327,483 to Castellanos $767,551 from the teachers union founded Student, Parents and Teachers.

In a way, the contest for school board seat 7 is between 27,000 LAUSD teachers and an extremely rich man from Manhattan Beach.

Last month, former assistant US Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch posted, Los Angeles: Vote for Scott Schmerelson and Patricia Castellanos for LAUSD School Board.” She asks if LAUSD will be controlled “by cabal of billionaires who favor privatization by charter schools,” or by parents of the 80% of students who attend public schools?

Spending Directed at the California State Legislature

Campaign data was accessed from the California Secretary of State between September 14 and 17. Total spending for the California State Assembly and State Senate candidates was tabulated for the three PACs and seven plutocrats in the map above. The data is presented in Tables 2 and 3. All 80 Assembly seats are up for election as are the twenty odd numbered Senate seats.

A reasonable analysis of the spending pattern indicates that candidates for State Assembly receiving $5,000 or more are being supported to drive the school privatization agenda. Candidates receiving more than $10,000 probably fall into the category of being heavily influenced and those receiving more than $20,000 are owned.

The candidates receiving less than $5,000 are likely getting those donations to insure they answer the phone and listen.

The spending in the Senate mirrors the spending in the Assembly and the analysis is similar with the exception of the even number candidates. Those candidates who are not on the ballot must be supporting the plutocrat agenda as equally as the candidates receiving more than $10,000.

Kevin Kiley ran for senate seat 1 and lost in the primary. His $30,200 dollars came from 6 plutocrats and EdVoice for the Kids. For the general election EdVoice has sent Brian Dahle, the incumbent who beat Kiley, $1500. Maybe Dahle will not be inclined to answer the phone.

Jim Walton skewed a little from the public school privatization agenda to make 24 direct contributions to republicans running for the California state legislature.

Billionaires Spending on Key County School Board Races

A significant amount of the spending by the three PACs shown in the Little Sis map above was concentrated into the race for five county school boards. The largest amounts were directed toward Alameda, Orange and Riverside counties. Table 4 details the spending.

Some Conclusions

Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

On the other hand Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Obviously, democracy is compromised when seven plutocrats have the resources to skew election results in their direction. In this election two of the seven identified plutocrats are from Bentonville, Arkansas not California. However, it is becoming harder and harder to convince people to continue privatizing their public schools, to continue wasting money on standardized testing and to continue cutting taxes for plutocrats.

There is some good news. Fewer plutocrats are supporting the privatization agenda than in 2017 and 2018.  In 2017, billionaires spent more than $10,000,000 dollars to swing the LAUSD election and the following year they spent more the $40,000,000 dollars trying to elect Marshall Tuck as Superintendent of Public Instruction. This year the spending is not as intense or as widely distributed.

Residents of Alameda, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties can use Table 4 to identify who to vote against. Residents in the Los Angeles Unified School District can follow Diane Ravitch’s advice and vote for Scott Schmerelson in district 3 and Patricia Castellanos in district 7.  

Reforming California’s Dysfunctional Charter School Law

18 Jul

By T. Ultican 7/17/2019

Members of the California legislature have engaged in an internecine battle over charter schools. Even the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) has expressed concern over lawless cyber charters and filed the first known complaint with the California Department of Education over A3 Education and Valiant Prep which were recently charged with stealing a stunning $50 million. California State Sen. John Moorlach (R) is warning that 85% of school districts in California are running deficits. Governor Gavin Newsom has statedrising charter school enrollments in some urban districts are having real impacts on those districts’ ability to provide essential support and services for their students.”

The drive to privatize schools in Oakland, San Diego and Los Angeles has been fueled by enormous sums of money spent on elections. Billionaires led by Eli Broad and Richard Riordan have successfully installed a former investment banker – a proponent of school privatization with no education experience – as Superintendent of Schools for Los Angeles. In Oakland, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated to pro-privatization independent expenditure committees and a similar amount has been donated directly to charter friendly candidates running for that city’s school board. Very few of the donations come from Oakland. The story is similar in San Diego.

With so many extremely wealthy individuals like Michael Bloomberg from New York City, Stacy Schusterman from Tulsa, Oklahoma and Alice Walton from Bentonville, Arkansas continually making six and seven figure donations to privatize public schools in California, the defenders of public education are fighting with all they have against what they see as an undemocratic attack by oligarchs. At the same time, many charter school leaders are feeling insecure and under attack.

It is this Gordian Knot that legislators are addressing. As Upton Sinclair observed, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.

California’s new Democratic governor does not seem as mindlessly pro-charter school as the outgoing Democrat but his long time backers and chief of staff have public school advocates concerned. The Sacramento Bee reportedGavin Newsom turns to top Hillary Clinton adviser to launch administration.” That would be his Chief of Staff, Ann O’Leary, whose Fortune magazine biography says she was a key voice in creating the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. She defends NCLB stating, “We were committed to high standards and helping states get there.

For those of us working in classrooms in 2001, it became clear that O’Leary’s education ideology harmed students and facilitated privatizing public schools. Her theory comes from the neoliberal business mindset that venerates market based solutions and competition. The writer Anand Giridharadas recently labeled this philosophy “MarketWorld.”

Leading up to the 2018 general election, the Los Angeles Times ran an in-depth article about the eight elite San Francisco families that have funded Newsom’s political success. Although his own family was not particularly wealthy, they did provide him with connections to the wealthy elite. The Times story included,

“He has said he was primarily raised by his mother, who at times struggled to make ends meet. But Gordon and Ann Getty viewed him as a son, according to interviews the couple gave to the San Francisco Chronicle and W Magazine, and they provided him with experiences his parents could not afford, including an African safari when he was a teen, Newsom said in an earlier interview with The Times.

‘“It all goes back to the Gettys as far as Gavin is concerned,’ said Jerry Roberts, former managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and an expert on Bay Area politics.”

The Getty’s are the heirs of John Paul Getty. However, of the eight families described in the Time’s article it is the Fishers and Pritzkers that most concern public school advocates. Doris Fisher and her late husband Don founded The Gap. They were the first major contributors to KIPP charter schools and Don was a cofounder of the Charter School Growth fund. Doris continuously contributes to efforts for privatizing public education. The Fisher family has provided more than $300,000 in contributions to Newsom since 1998.

The Pritzker family are heirs to the Hyatt Hotel empire. Penny Pritzker was Barack Obama’s campaign treasure and his Commerce Secretary. As Secretary of Commerce, she used the Malcolm Baldrige award to promote charter schools in the mall. In Chicago, the family financed a charter school called Pritzker College Prep which is part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Since 1998, the Pritzker family has donated more than $600,000 to Newsom.

Newsom and the SF Billionaires

Newsom Hob Knobbing with San Francisco Elites (from the LA Times)

Legislature Takes on the Issue

Four bills were introduced in February aimed at reforming the charter law. Newly elected Senator María Elena Durazo from Los Angeles submitted SB 756 for a moratorium on new charters. Over at the assembly education committee three reform bills were presented AB 1505, 1506 and 1507. AB 1506 would have introduced a new meaningful cap on new charter schools. In May, both SB 756 and AB 1506 were pulled by their respective authors. The Los Angeles School Report said,

“On Wednesday, Sen. Maria Elena Durazo sidelined the Senate moratorium bill, which she authored. The bill would have placed a two-year halt on new charter schools in the state unless the Senate passed further regulations. The measure could return for consideration next January, according to Senate rules.

“The next day, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty opted to hold his bill on the last day it was eligible for a vote in the chamber. AB 1506 would have mandated a statewide cap on charter schools…”

Now the battle is centered on AB 1505 and AB 1507. 1505 increases local control over chartering and reduces rights of appeal and 1507 bans charters not authorized by the district in which they operate.

On July 9th, EdSource reported,Governor’s team jumps into fray over contested charter school bill.” It said,

“On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on Assembly Bill 1505, which included a substantial number of amendments that Newsom’s office submitted after numerous discussions between his advisers and representatives of charter schools, organized labor and the bill’s author, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

“With the final vote expected at day’s end, Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Connie Leyva, D-Chino, characterized the amended bill as ‘the makings of a deal with the governor’s office’ and said she is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that remaining issues can be resolved over the summer for passage in the fall.”

Scholar and former US assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, reacted to this news with a post on her blog titled, “California: Is Governor Gavin Newsom Selling Out to the Charter Industry?” Diane points out that the one thing the charter Industry has going for it is money. She noted that politicians are always in search of money for their next campaign and says, “Big donors always find open doors.

Back in the Education Committees

The Assembly Education Committee chairman is Patrick O’Donnell a 20-year classroom teacher who worked mostly in middle school. He is leading AB 1505 through the difficult legislative process. The authors of the bill are San Jose Assembly member Ash Karla and East Bay Senator Nancy Skinner who are both representing areas suffering at the hands of the charter industry.

The other bill still alive is AB 1507 which blocks districts from authorizing charter schools out of their own boundaries. Assembly members Patrick O’Donnell, Kevin McCarty and Christy Smith authored this bill.

The Assembly Education Committee has seven members; five Democrats and two Republicans.  One of the first big hurdles for these two bills came at an April 10th hearing. It was the first opportunity to keep these bills alive or kill them. Charter school supporters came out in droves to talk the bills down. It was during this hearing that Assembly member Shirley Weber from San Diego said “since the four coauthors are here this is a done deal.” Weber also said she did not think these bills addressed the right issues and announced she would not be supporting them. Interestingly, Weber did not vote against the bill, she just didn’t vote. The bills passed out of committee by a vote of 4 to 1 with the lone descent coming from the only Republican in attendance Kevin Kiley.

There was a similar dynamic when these bills finally arrived at the Senate Education Committee this July. The Senate Committee is also a seven member committee with five Democrats and Two Republicans. Democratic Senator Steven Glazer said “781 public schools in the state have poor performance” and “We have failures all across the state.” Like Weber he was not satisfied with the content of the bills and said we need to worry about too many students in failing schools. Glazer did not make clear what he based his failing schools charges on. However, the charges by the Contra Costa Senator are similar to the charges made by leaders of the school privatization movement like the current US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Both AB 1505 with the Governor’s amendments and AB 1507 were voted out of the Senate committee by identical 4 to 3 votes. The two Republicans and Glazer were the no votes.

Possibly Weber and Glazer agree with DeVos and her choice advocacy and that is why privatizing money is going to them or did they take this anti-public school position to attract that money? In any case, privatization money is flowing their way.

Glazer and Webber

Data from California Secretary of State Glazer ID #1377665 and Weber ID #1393376

When these two bills went to the Assembly for a floor vote, every Republican voted no or didn’t vote. Weber didn’t vote and Glazer joined two other Democrats voting no. The final tallies were AB 1505 44 yes 19 no with 17 not voting and AB 1507 54 yes 18 no with 8 not voting.

As a child growing up in a Republican community in Idaho, I remember Republicans as being very pro-public education and suspicious of big business and big centralized government. What happened to my grandfather’s Republican Party? How can it be that not one Republican during any of the votes taken supported protecting our public schools from plunder by large charter management organizations or stood against the demise of Democratic local control of schools?

If we consider the development of political action committees (PAC) for privatizing public school, the anti-democratic nature becomes stark. If your holdings are $2 or $3 billion, then you are generating at least $100 million income every year. So, donating $1 million to four PACs is not a strain. That means besides creating a huge pot for independent expenditures, the 4 PACs will also send 4 more max donations to your favored candidates. No matter how bad the idea being pushed, this kind of spending gives it consideration and drowns out opposition.

The Bills and Amendments

Former State Sen. Gary Hart, a Democrat who represented Santa Barbara in the Assembly and Senate for 20 years, authored the original 1992 California charter school law. Sue Burr, a current member of the State Board of Education, played a major role in drafting it. EdSource interviewed Sen. Hart last year. Reporter John Fensterwald noted that the financial impact on a district was not part of the law and asked, “Was it brought up at the time?” Hart replied,

“I don’t think so. The law didn’t have large-scale financial ramifications. We were talking about 100 charters statewide.”

The original law capped charter schools at 100 statewide. In 1998, the cap was raised to 250 with a 100 schools a year escalator thereafter. Today, there are 1310 active charter schools in California and the current cap statewide is 2,250 for the 2018-19 school-year. Neither this uncontrolled growth with essentially no cap nor its financial implications were addressed in the original law.

As originally proposed, AB 1505 would have given all school districts broad authority to reject a charter school’s application and renewal after considering the financial impact on neighborhood schools and the district. That provision has been restricted to just school districts already certified as being in financial crisis.

The amended version also sides with charter schools in changing the language back to “shall” issue a charter to a petitioner who met the state requirements from the less demanding “may” issue the charter.

None of Governor Newsom’s amendments are more demanding on the charter industry and most make things easier on the industry.

While Mayor of Oakland; Jerry Brown created a military charter school with the National Guard. Language added to the education funding bill AB 75 in December was automatically added to the charter law. That mysterious language seems written solely for the benefit of Brown’s school.

“Notwithstanding any other law, a charter school in operation as of July 1, 2019, that operates in partnership with the California National Guard may dismiss a pupil from the charter school for failing to maintain the minimum standards of conduct required by the Military Department.”

The Oakland Military Institute had tried during its reauthorization to be allowed to dismiss students who had too many demerits. The Chartering Authorities rejected the request. They felt that demerits were given for such minor offenses as not having a badge sewn on correctly and that a student should only be dismissed from a public school in extreme circumstances. Now the charter school’s questionable request is written into law.

Conclusions

Money is still ruling but even the watered down bills as amended are better than what we have now, so it is important to keep pushing for their passage.

A parent and fellow Bay Area resident named Jane Nylund wrote a letter to Newsom expressing her disappointment at his amendments. Diane Ravitch posted the letter. I encourage you to read the whole letter. It makes many strong points. Jane personalized the letter noting,

“You and I have something in common-we both attended well-resourced public high schools. You went to Redwood High School in Marin, and I attended Miramonte High School in Orinda, located in what is now one of the wealthiest suburbs in the East Bay. Lucky us.

“The irony regarding your potential alliance with privatization groups like CCSA is that, because of your severe dyslexia, you would have been rejected by the same schools that are now being touted as “high quality seats”, aggressively marketed as superior to real public schools because of test scores. According to the bio I read, you were rejected from a private prep school and enrolled in your local public high school instead. So you have first-hand experience with the idea that real public schools enroll all children, not just the easy ones.”