Los Angeles has become the latest battleground in the contested war over school "reform" as a group of billionaire school-privatization advocates have turned Tuesday's school board election into a national, multi-million dollar "test case" in the fight over the future of education.
According to reports, last month New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $1 million to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Coalition for School Reform. The group is backing candidates who will support current superintendent John Deasey, formerly of the Gates Foundation, who has been pushing such policy changes as expanding charter schools, limiting the power of teachers unions and using student standardized test scores as a means of evaluating teachers.
National school privatization advocate Michelle Rhee's group Students First, donated $250,000 to the same cause, in addition to a host of other titans—which include Walmart heirs and real estate and insurance magnate, Eli Broad.
As the nation's second largest school system, the Los Angeles school system represents a "good investment" for the billionaires who aim to reshape the US education system, writes professor Peter Dreier. He continues:
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.
“School board races are a way to take the temperature of whether people like the direction schools are going in,” said President Warren Fletcher of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, which has spent nearly $450,000 in opposing campaigns. “This is a race for Los Angeles, not the school board race of America. It would be really tragic if the voices are drowned out by folks who have no sense of what is going on here to begin with.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Villaraigosa's group has raised more than $3 million for the upcoming election and the city's ethics commission estimates that total race spending from outside groups, including the teachers’ union, has reached $4.4 million as of Friday.
The candidates receiving the big money backing include current school board President Monica Garcia as well as Kate Anderson (District 4) and Antonio Sanchez (District 6). In the most expensive of the races, Anderson, an attorney, is taking on incumbent and former teacher Steve Zimmer, who is being specifically targeted because of a proposal he made last year to put a hold on creating new charter schools.