Backed by billionaires with their own agenda for public education, a new industry around charter schools is growing in California. These taxpayer-funded public schools are frequently operated by for-profit corporations, and many do not follow the same laws and regulations that traditional public schools are required to follow. The lack of accountability has led to financial gains for corporate charter operators and their investors.
Money To Be Made
Public education is a $600 billion industry. Profiteers disguised as reformers advocate for school “choice,” but contribute huge sums to political action committees with an eye on the prize: privatizing public schools and running them as a business.
- Divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately managed charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
- Cherry-pick students, weeding out those with special needs.
- Spend millions to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.
In the 2016 election cycle, more than $27 million was spent by six political action committees (PACs) to influence legislative, school board and county office of education elections in California, where key decisions about charters are made.
Money from 10 wealthy donors was moved into the following PACs:
- The EdVoice Independent Expenditure Committee received more than $8 million.
- The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) received more than $9 million.
- The CCSA PAC also moved more than half its money into a separate PAC, misleadingly named the Parent Teacher Alliance, which has been confused with the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and has led to deception over candidate endorsements.
- Parents and Teachers for Student Success.
- Govern for California Action Committee.
- Students for Education Reform.
Top Funders of the Pro-charter Agenda
California’s privately managed for-profit charter schools are championed by a group of billionaires who want private corporations to be able to profit from public education.
John Arnold made a fortune at Enron and at his own hedge fund. He supported anti-public school candidates in 2014, and with his wife Laura has been a big donor to efforts to privatize public schools and cut secure retirements for working families.
Bill Bloomfield, Baron Real Estate, donated money through the Koch brothers’ political network to influence California elections in 2012. That same year he spent more than $7.5 million of his own money on a failed congressional bid.
Eli Broad, developer and entrepreneur, also donated money through the Koch political network to influence California campaigns. He has given more than $7 million to anti-public school candidates and causes.
Doris Fisher of The Gap and her family are major funders of the corporate charter movement, funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into PACs and lobbying efforts to weaken public schools.
Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO and former president of the State Board of Education, has given huge contributions to anti-public school candidates and offered $100 million to promote tech charters. He has said that elected school boards are obsolete, and wants to replace democratically elected school boards with nonprofit corporations and appointed members.
Arthur Rock, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, has supported school voucher campaigns and is a big supporter of privately managed charter schools and pro-charter candidates in California.
Wal-Mart heirs Jim Walton, Alice Walton and Carrie Walton Penner (not pictured) have spent millions supporting charter schools, private school voucher schemes and anti-public school candidates.
Public Education Should Be About Kids, Not Profits
Charter schools’ lack of accountability and transparency has led to financial gains for for-profit corporate charter operators and the billionaires who invest in them, but has too often been disastrous for thousands of California students and has cost taxpayers millions of dollars in waste, fraud and abuse.
Kids Not Profits (KidsNotProfits.com) is a coalition of educators, parents, and civil rights and community groups. Get the facts, figures and latest news about the impact current laws have on our students and communities.
Instead of subsidizing corporate charter schools run by for-profit companies with taxpayer dollars, we should be using the money to strengthen our local neighborhood public schools for all California children. Public education should be about kids, not profits. Take action at KidsNotProfits.com.
What $100 Million Could Have Paid For
The lack of accountability and transparency in the charter school industry has led to myriad cases of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement. Students have suffered, and taxpayers have been hit hard as well.
The Center for Popular Democracy estimated that California stood to lose more than $100 million to charter school fraud in 2015 alone. In that one-year period, $100 million could have been used for:
- The salaries of nearly 1,300 teachers.
- Additional funding of more than $166,000 per school district.
- Decreasing class size by 10 percent.
Follow the links below to see the other parts of this feature story.
Let’s Be Clear About Charter Schools
Helix Charter: Transparency Keeps Things Real
K12: Not Making the Grade
Alliance: Organizing to Have a Say
Rocketship: Failing Their Students, Educators
Livermore: A Cautionary Tale
Celerity: The Opposite of Austerity
Follow the Money
Advocating for Transparency, Accountability and Equal Access