Charter school industry scores huge victory in Los Angeles
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Driven by record spending in a board of education election, two strongly pro-charter school board candidates swept to victory in the Los Angeles school board election of May 16, 2017.

Charter school advocate and political newcomer Nicholas Melvoin beat incumbent school board president Steve Zimmer, by a six point margin. Charter school teacher Kelly Fitzpatrick-Nonez beat Imelda Padilla, in a much closer race.

The victory is a significant accomplishment for the corporate education reform movement and means that the charter school industry and their allies will now have majority control of the board overseeing the Los Angeles school system.

Most importantly, that political control will lead to significantly more privatization in the nation’s second largest school system.

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Los Angeles is already a charter school bastion with about 24 percent of school students attending one of the city’s 279 charter schools. (About 156,000 L.A. students presently attend charter schools).

 

Serving as a harbinger for the future, L.A. billionaire Eli Broad has floated a plan to dramatically increase the number of charter schools in Los Angeles. 

The plan calls for adding at least 260 more charter schools, creating a situation in which half of all L.A. students would be attending privately owned, but publicly funded, educational institutions.

With more than $14 million spent by the school board candidates and their supporters, the school board race in L.A. broke all campaign finance records, becoming the most expensive school board race in U.S. history. 

The previous record, was also chalked up in Los Angeles. The school board election in 2013 attracted a total of $7.4 million. 

With the 2017 school board elections finalized, the pro-charter school forces picked up all three of the available seats this year, giving them a clear voting majority on the board.

The battle for control of the L.A. school board campaign centered on the race between school board president Steven Zimmer and his pro-charter school challenger, Nick Melvoin. 

Melvoin campaigned on a platform of unlimited growth of charter schools in the Los Angeles school system, while Steve Zimmer argued for a far more limit approach to charter school expansion.

Zimmer had the strong support of labor and teachers’ unions including that the UTLA, along with the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

On the other side, Melvoin’s campaign was funded by charter school advocates who collectively dumped more than $5.69 million into an independent campaign expenditure effort in support of Melvoin. 

Well in excess of 50 percent of Melvoin’s spending was in the form of negative ads against Zimmer.

The donor base behind Melvoin’s campaign effort included Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings, a longtime charter school advocate, who donated $5 million over the last nine months to the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, the charter school advocacy group that coordinated most of the spending on Melvoin’s behalf.

Other big donors to the pro-charter team of candidates include a plethora a pro-charter school billionaires including members of the Walton Family, Eli Broad, Doris Fisher, John Arnold, Michael Bloomberg, Bruce Karsh, Howard Marks, Lynn Schusterman and other wealthy charter school owners, advocates and donors. 

For example, according to published reports, billionaire Walton Family members donated $2.2 million to support Melvoin’s campaign, Doris Fisher gave the California Charter School Association $4.1 million and former Enron executive John Arnold donated at least $1 million to the CCSA.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan kicked in upwards toward $2 million to the effort to unseat Zimmer.

Melvoin’s financial backers also included nationally known education reform advocates closely aligned to Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s anti-public education Secretary of Education.

The national significance of the Los Angeles school board race became even more apparent when US Senator Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP touts FBI probe into Sanders’s wife New Alexandra Pelosi documentary brings together GOP, Dem members Sanders: FBI inquiry of wife is 'pathetic' attack MORE (I-VT) endorsed Zimmer, while Melvoin collected the support of former United States Secretary of Education Arne DuncanArne DuncanTop Education official resigned over dispute with DeVos: report Charter school industry scores huge victory in Los Angeles Los Angeles School Board race takes center stage in battle for public education MORE and other national education reform advocates.

With control of the L.A. School Board, the charter school industry is now poised to turn Los Angeles into one of the most privatized school systems in the nation.

Jonathan Pelto is a former state representative in Connecticut, and an education advocate. He is the founder and coordinator of the Education Bloggers Network, a confederation of more than 250 pro-public education bloggers from around the country. He was 2014 candidate for governor in Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @jonathanpelto.


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