June 10, 2012

Corporate Execs Spend Big And Hand Charter School Executive Strong Showing In California

Corporate Execs Spend Big And Hand Charter School Executive Strong Showing In California
Brian Johnson

The eyes of many concerned with the nation’s schools were on Wisconsin this week, as school voucher advocate Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) handily defeated his Democratic proponent, further paving the way for school privatization in his state.

But on the West Coast, yet another struggle over the nation’s schools was being fought. In two pivotal state assembly races, teacher’s unions and financial executives spent big on their respective sides, hoping to either constrict or expand charter schools and school choice.

In both races, the candidates backed by the financial sector — charter school executive Brian Johnson in Assembly District 46 and Democrat Ian Calderon in Assembly District 57 — beat out the candidates backed by the unions.

The StudentsFirst group — led by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and which keeps its donors secret but has been found to be taking money from for-profit charter schools and News Corp. executive Rupert Murdoch,  whose mega-corporation is expanding into education profiteering — was a huge spender in both races, spending $370,000 on Calderon and $400,000 to back Johnson. Meanwhile, Johnson amassed a huge campaign warchest of over $1.4 million.

Many of the donors to Johnson had a direct interest in the expansion of charter schools, which he backs. For example, Marcia Aaron, director of KIPP Los Angeles schools, gave him a last-minute $1,000 donation. Greg Penner has two $3,900 donations listed. He both runs an investment management firm and sits on the board of Wal-Mart and the Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF), a venture capital fund that invests in charter schools nationwide. CSGF teases investors by noting that “philanthropic contribution is temporary, however, because management fees come out of public revenues — an income stream that should sustain network operations at full scale.” He also received a $3,900 donation from Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix. The donation came roughly a year after Hastings acquired a major educational software company that is expanding in California.

Thanks to California’s new electoral system, the top two candidates in various primaries will go on to the general election, meaning that Calderon will face a Republican in November and Johnson will face a fellow Democrat. It is likely that both can expect a steady stream of cash from those who are seeking to expand charter schools, sometimes for their own profit.