As the 2018 election cycle picks up steam, the Network for Public Education report, “Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools,” is essential reading and should be widely distributed. In nine case studies, the report documents contributions from 2011 to 2017 by the super-rich in local and state school board races, mayoral and gubernatorial elections, in their campaign to undermine public education. In Washington state they financed a ballot initiative that created the state's charter school law. In elections from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California, they contributed to candidates that support their privatization agenda. In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who faces a serious primary challenge this Thursday, masks himself as a progressive while financing his campaign through donations from charter school billionaires.
According to the NPE report, to circumvent state campaign contribution limits, school privatization allies channel millions of dollars though pro-charter, pro-privatization PACs and Super PACs that aid favored candidates. “Dark money” often flows into PACs that are not legally required to reveal their donors. This permits the super rich to keep their role in the charter school movement hidden from public scrutiny.
The anti-public education Billionaires Gang is worth an estimated combined $350 billion. It includes California billionaires Reed Hastings ($3.6), Eli Broad ($6.7), Carrie Walton Penner ($5), and Doris Fisher ($3), New York Billionaire Michael Bloomberg ($52), Washington state billionaires Paul Allen ($20) and Bill and Melinda Gates ($165), Texas billionaires Alice Walton ($45) and John and Laura Arnold ($3.5), and Arkansas billionaire Jim Walton ($45).
In 2012, Washington state voters passed the Charter School Ballot Initiative, which provided for the establishment of up to 40 charter schools within five years. The two largest contributors to the pro-charter campaign were Paul Allen and Bill Gates. Jackie and Mike Bezos, parents of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos were also major contributors. In 2014, Michael Bloomberg spent $400,000 trying to get a pro-charter candidate elected mayor of Newark, New Jersey.
The Los Angles Unified School District is the largest in California and the second largest in the United States. El Broad, Doris Fisher, Reed Hastings, and Carrie Walton Penner spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect pro-charter candidates to the school board. In New York, pro-charter hedge fund money bets heavily on Andrew Cuomo. Success Academy Charter School Network CEO Eva Moskowitz runs her own PAC supporting Cuomo and other pro-charter candidates. Former Success Academy Chairman, Daniel Loeb, and his wife contributed close to $100,000 directly to Cuomo’s 2014 reelection campaign. Other Success board members or their spouses also contributed large amounts either directly to Andrew Cuomo, or to a PAC that supported Cuomo.
The NPE Action used a database developed by LittleSis that details “the connections between powerful people and organizations.” Maps, available on their website, provide a deeper understanding of how the anti-public education billionaires influence elections.
The NPE's fifth annual conference is scheduled for Indianapolis, October 20 and 21 in Mike Pence’s home state. Its unofficial hostess is Phyllis Bush, who left behind a career as a classroom teacher to become that state's most visible organizer in defense of public schools. Since founding Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education in 2011, Bush has helped elect an educator as state superintendent of schools, and lobbied effectively for better candidates and policies. In a Saturday, September 15 webinar she will talk about the state of education politics in the Midwest, and the challenges and opportunities we have this fall. The webinar will also present highlights from the upcoming conference.
Sign up for the webinar. Register for the conference.
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