Which Wealthy, Pro-Charter Donors are Funding L.A. School Board Candidates?

When I read it, I had to stop and ask myself, "Wait, what?" Earlier this year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a huge donation — $1 million — for the L.A. School Board elections, funneling the donation through the political action committee Coalition for School Reform. It seemed a little out of place.

Bloomberg wasn’t alone. (See Bloomberg Philanthropies). Several high-profile charter funders gave big to the coalition, including L.A.-based philanthropist Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, and the widow of Steve Jobs. In all, the group of donors gave more than $4 million in hopes of electing pro-charter school candidates.

The national interest in the L.A. elections and the list of high-profile donors might have been a surprise to some. But on the local level, many saw that the city’s school district, which is the second largest in the country, has become ground zero in the school reform debate. The hopes of many of these wealthy donors was simple: To develop L.A. Unified into an example of charter-enhanced public education.

In Los Angeles, a familiar name in the debate keeps popping up: The Broad Foundation. Education has always been a major focus of Broad, but last year, the foundation announced a major shift in their education advocacy efforts. The new initiative is specifically designed to train candidates for district superintendent positions, as well as form a national advocacy network of leading pro-charter groups. The Washington Post covered the change last year, stating:

The other major change for TBC is the creation of "a select, invitation-only group that will collaborate to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the education sector, help shape policy agendas, influence public opinion, coalesce political forces, and advance bold reform on the ground." The advocacy group appears to be a high-powered version of "Chiefs for Change,” a collection of state education chiefs pushing for significant changes to state education systems.”

During the election cycle, Broad donated $500,000 to Coalition for School Reform, and the foundation is a major contributor to a wide variety of national, state and local advocacy groups, including the California Charter Schools Association and StudentsFirst, a group founded by Michelle Rhee.

In addition, Broad's education program has also developed a Leadership Academy for School Superintendents. The goal is to train executives to run districts in urban areas, and they've found success in placing graduates in these positions. (It should be noted that Broad-trained supes aren't always successful, and there's been plenty of criticism of the program in the past.)

From a Broad memo: 

We have filled more superintendent positions than any other national training program, and remain the only organization recruiting management talent from outside of education. We have over 30 sitting superintendents in large urban systems, as well as state superintendents in four of the most reform-oriented states (Delaware, Rhode Island, Louisiana, and New Jersey). Broad graduates are in the number one or number two seats in the three largest districts in the country (New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago), and lead the newest turnaround systems in Michigan and Tennessee.