In recent years we’ve seen the rise of big money being poured into local school board races from well outside the district, or city or even state where the election is being held. Millions were spent, for example, in Los Angeles school board races earlier this year. In April I published a piece by a teacher in New Jersey who blogs under the name “Jersey Jazzman” about the financing of a local school board campaign, and here is a new one, about another election and the same pattern of outside funding.  A version of this appeared on the Jersey Jazzman blog.

By Jersey Jazzman

Last spring, I came across an unannounced, coordinated campaign finance machine, put together to support reform candidates in school board and state-level races across the country. This machine distributed more than one-quarter million dollars to small, obscure races that had never seen this level of campaign finance before:

It’s astonishing when you look at it: $63,200 for a school board race in little Perth Amboy, New Jersey —  all to save an unpopular but tenure-hating superintendent (who has since been booted by the current board).  Then there was the $54,000 spent for a state school board race in Nevada. Who throws around this kind of money for these kinds of races? More importantly: who has coordinated this giving?

Thanks to a tip from a reader, we now know the “Reform Campaign Finance Machine” has started up its engines once again: this time, in the Atlanta school board race.

Here are the numbers so far, with links to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission:

Arthur Rock (San Francisco, CA):

  • Courtney Dean English: $2,500
  • Matt Westmoreland: $2,500

Dave Goldberg (Atherton, CA):

  • Jason Esteves: $500

Greg Penner (Atherton, CA):

  • Jason Esteves: $1,000
  • Courtney Dean English: $2,000

Kent Thiry (Cherry Hills, CO):

  • Eshe’ Collins: $500

(Dean English also brought in $2,500 from Joel Klein, and $500 from Whitney Tilson. Just thought you’d like to know.)

So why are the reformers backing these four candidates? What do they have in common? According to this story in the Atlanta Progress News, the four candidates for the Board of Education in Atlanta are all Teach For America (TFA) alumni. Three of the four are running for the board for the first time and the fourth is a relatively new incumbent.  Incumbent Courtney English (at-large Seat 7) is a TFA alum.  So is Matt Westmoreland, who is running unopposed for the District 3 seat being vacated by Cecily Harsch-Kinnane.

Could someone explain why Arthur Rock, a California venture capitalist, is giving $2,500 to a TFAer running for a school board seat thousands of miles away  in an unopposed race? According to the Atlanta Progressive News story:

So is Eshe Collins, who is running for the District 6 seat being vacated by Yolanda Johnson; as well as Jason Esteves, who is running for the at-large Seat 9 being vacated by Emmett Johnson.  However, neither Collins nor Esteves mention TFA in their extensive campaign biographies which appear on their respective websites. [emphasis mine].

The story notes that TFA started an organization called Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) in 2008 to help its alumni run for elected offices around the country as part of its overall mission to get more like-minded people into policy-making positions at every level of government.  If you want to learn about LEE, you can go to its website, here, but it’s not very transparent; most of it restricted to members.

TFA is perceived as a major player in the education wars over the future of public schools, and a key ally of those who disparage teacher unions and schools of education, and who are enamored of entrepreneurial reforms that bolster the privatization of a once-sacred public responsibility.

Does anyone think it’s happy coincidence that these four TFA candidates just happen to be financed by this same group who have  dropped money into school board races all over the country?

Someone is bundling a lot of money, gathered from a select group of wealthy political donors, and passing it out to reform candidates in obscure races across the nation. Who?

Teach For America — America’s fastest growing political organization.