Billionaires attempt to buy LA School Board seats. Shades of things to come?


by David Safier

I've watched TUSD school board candidates scramble to rub a nickel and a dime together to mount their campaigns, so when I read that the recent L.A. School Board primary generated more than $5 million in spending, it made me sit up. When 80% of that money came in the form of independent expenditure campaigns, it was evidence that school board elections are turning into a playing field for the Billionaire Boys' Club.

The largest amount of independent expenditure money — about $4 million — went for candidates who supported charter schools as well as teacher evaluations linked to student outcomes and sped-up firing procedures — in other words, supporters of the conservative "education reform" movement. The sources of funds show that the movement isn't purely right wing Republican.

Donations to the coalition included $1 million from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; $300,000 from the California Charter Schools Assn.; $250,000 from StudentsFirst, the advocacy group headed by former District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee; and $250,000 from a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

When you get Murdoch on the far right on the same side as swings-both-ways-politically Bloomberg, you know there's a strange-bedfellows coalition happening here. And knowing that L.A.'s Democratic mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is in that same bed makes the coalition even more unusual.

On the other side are the local and national teachers' unions that spent close to $1 million.

The primary results have one of the "education reform" coalition candidates and one of the union-backed candidates winning outright and a third election to be decided in May, so it's hard to know how much influence the outside money had.

Personal preferences aside, I see this as an ominous sign of things to come, where school board elections will turn into independent expenditure media circuses with the billionaires doing everything they can to determine local school policy. As usual, most of the money is on the more conservative, anti-union, pro-privatization side.


  1. An add-on to your comment, Jana. One of the main conservative reasons for the push toward high stakes testing in NCLB was to cement the label “failing schools” by being able to put a number next to it. It’s far easier to push privatization in its many forms if you have “proof” that schools are failing. The push succeeded, even though all it did was confirm what we already knew: that lower income students perform at a generally lower level than higher income students — and even though charter school and voucher alternatives haven’t proven to be any more successful in raising those test scores.

    The Common Core tests are supposed to be far more difficult than most current state tests. That will make the term “failing” even more severe, which will help push forward the conservative “education reform” agenda. Common Core by itself is a complex issue. It’s hard for me to figure out if the new standards are a net positive or negative. But when they’re coupled with higher stake, more rigorous exams, they’re definitely moving us in the wrong direction.

  2. Right and left come together most often where there is money to be made. High stakes standardized testing, which does not tell us whether a student is receiving a high quality education, is a vehicle to declare a crisis in public education and allow the privatizing saviors to swoop in. To illustrate how bogus these tests are, I recently received an email from the group Expect More Arizona urging me to write legislators to support HB 2047, which would replace the AIMS test with the new test aligned to Common Core Standards. The email referred to AIMS as “a low bar assessment that fails to indicate whether our students are actually prepared to succeed in college or a career.” They may be correct in this assessment, but it begs the question, why are AIMS scores relied upon for letter grades for schools and districts with drastic consequences under NCLB? Why will 3rd graders be retained based on AIMS? Why should we believe that a new standardized test is any more valid?

    High stakes testing is a train wreck and the only way to halt the train is if parents opt their children out of the test en masse. TUSD is ripe for the big money to come to “the rescue” and it looks like there is nothing it can do to stop it. The game is rigged.