Rich siblings spend big bucks to affect California education funding


Molly Munger    ( Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

 The Munger siblings vs. California Gov. Jerry Brown: Here is this week’s case study in our continuing look at how billionaires (and millionaires) are throwing around their money to drive education reform.

Last week I wrote about a bunch of billionaires (Bill Gates, for one) using their fabulous wealth in support of an initiative in Washington state that would allow charter schools to open there for the first time. Voters in the state have turned down the idea three times, but some people can’t take no for an answer.

Now in California, the daughter and son of billionaire Charles Munger (who is the business partner of the fabulously wealthy Warren Buffet) are spending  millions of dollars to defeat  Brown’s public education funding proposition on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Molly Munger, a civil rights attorney, has spent more than $30 million to push her very own Proposition 38, which would raise $10 billion a year for public schools by raising income tax.

There’s no question that California public education has sustained damaging budget cuts and needs more resources. But Brown, the elected governor, has his own ballot initiative, Proposition 30, which calls for a $6 billion a year tax hike to fund a number of things in California, including local law enforcement and education. He has said that if it doesn’t pass, nearly $5.5 billion will have to be cut for public education in next year’s budget. Munger, however, has been quoted as saying she doesn’t believe the cuts will be made.

The dueling propositions don’t raise money in the same way; Munger’s would raise income tax on California’s on a rising scale, starting at earnings above $7,316. Brown’s proposition includes a sales tax of one-quarter of a cent for four years and would boost income taxes on earnings over $250,000 for individuals for seven years.

Munger’s brother, Charles Munger Jr., has given more than $20 million to defeat Brown’s initiative and pass another one that would prevent unions and corporations from using funds deducted from payrolls for political purposes.

 How twisted has the politics of this saga become? The L.A. Times reported in this story that the man who helped Munger develop her initiative, John Mockler, described as ” the architect of California’s school funding law,” has now sided with Brown. He says Munger’s proposal won’t work the way she says it will.

What people who care about public education worry that the fight will sink both education funding initiatives.

The San Jose Mercury News ran an editorial that said: “No wonder Molly Munger is so empathetic with school kids. She’s acting like one.”

Dan Morain, senior editor of the Sacramento Bee, wrote in this piece, “As weird as California politics are, there’s never been a drama quite like the one playing out now. It would be amusing, except that the stakes are so high.”

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · October 14, 2012