The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why are out-of-state billionaires pouring big money into Louisiana board of education elections?


For years now we’ve watched school board races around the country attract a lot of money from donors who don’t actually live in the state where the elections are taking place. For example, in 2012, outsiders poured money into a New Orleans school board race; in 2013, millions of dollars were spent on school board races in Los Angeles, with much of the money coming from people who lived outside California; and in 2014, non-Minnesotans plowed cash into a school board race in that state.

Why? It’s part of an effort by school reformers and their financial backers to elect like-minded public officials to help spur corporate school reform around the country.

And now we have the latest example: A California businessman and a pair of Arkansas billionaires are dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into races for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in Louisiana in an effort to help keep its majority friendly to corporate school reform. The election is Oct. 24.

[How a billionaire is trying to control Los Angeles public schools]

The billionaires are Eli Broad, the California-based housing and insurance magnate who is now leading an attempt to send half of Los Angeles’s public school students to charter schools, and Alice and Jim Walton, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, who have collectively poured a total of $650,000 into Baton Rouge business magnate Lane Grigsby’s PAC, called Empower Louisiana. According to this post on Louisiana teacher Mercedes Schneider’s Edublog, Jim and Alice Walton each donated $200,000 on Aug. 20, and Broad contributed $250,000 on Sept. 10. The post says:

The total on the above report is $763,710, which means that as of September 14, 2015, money from two billionaires from Arkansas and one billionaire from California constitutes the principal funding for Grigsby’s efforts to preserve a BESE majority known for supporting charters and vouchers without equally supporting adequate oversight; supporting high-stakes testing without supporting timely, clear, comprehensive reporting of testing results, and for allying with a state superintendent known for hiding and manipulating data, refusing to honor public records requests, and refusing to consistently audit the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).
Grigsby considers the above to be the desired course for Louisiana’s state board of education. According to the October 01, 2015, Advocate, he plans to spend his PAC’s predominately Walton and Broad money on 3 of the 11 BESE seats…

Alice Walton of Arkansas, incidentally, gave about $1.7 million in 2012 to support charter school initiative 1240 in Washington state, which was narrowly passed by voters (who had voted against opening charters three times earlier) but recently ruled unconstitutional by the Washington Supreme Court. Broad is busy leading a proposal to raise $490 million to build 260 charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to enroll about half of the district’s students.

It’s interesting to note how conservatives like to scream about local control of public education — except when they want to take control themselves.