Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gap Co-Founder Doris Fisher Is Bankrolling the Charter School Agenda – And Pouring Dark Money Into CA Politics – Capital & Main

Gap Co-Founder Doris Fisher Is Bankrolling the Charter School Agenda – And Pouring Dark Money Into CA Politics – Capital & Main:

Gap Co-Founder Doris Fisher Is Bankrolling the Charter School Agenda – And Pouring Dark Money Into CA Politics

Don & Doris Fisher at the opening of a new Cartier store in San Francisco, September 2007. WENN Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
As co-founder of the Gap, San Francisco-based business leader and philanthropist Doris Fisher boasts a net worth of $2.6 billion, making her the country’s third richest self-made woman, according to Forbes. And she’s focused much of her wealth and resources on building charter schools. She and her late husband Donald donated more than$70 million to the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and helped to personally build the operation into the largest network of charter schools in the country, with 200 schools serving 80,000 students in 20 states. Doris’ son John serves as the chairman of KIPP’s board of directors, and she sits on the board herself.
Doris’ passion for charter schools also fuels her political donations. While not as well-known as other deep-pocketed charter school advocates like Eli Broad and the Walton family (heirs to the Walmart fortune), Fisher and her family have quietly become among the largest political funders of charter school efforts in the country. Having contributed $5.6 million to state political campaigns since 2013, Fisher was recently listed as the second largest political donor in California by the Sacramento Bee – and nearly all of her money now goes to promoting pro-charter school candidates and organizations. While often labelled a Republican, she gives to Democrats and Republicans alike, just as long as they’re supportive of the charter school movement. According to campaign finance reports, so far this election cycle she’s spent more than $3.3 million on the political action committees of charter school advocacy groups EdVoice and the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), as well as pro-charter candidates. (Christopher Nelson, managing director of the Fishers’ philanthropic organization, sits on the board of CCSA, which, along with EdVoice, declined to comment for this article.)
Fisher’s philanthropic and political efforts are not as straightforward as simply promoting education, however. Recent investigations have found that she’s used dark-money networks to funnel funds into California campaign initiatives that many say targeted teachers and undermined public education. It’s why many education activists worry about the impact her money is having on California politics – and on California schoolchildren.
Fisher’s decision to double down on charter school candidates and political action groups this election season comes at a time of increasing backlash against such schools, which operate largely independently of public school systems but still receive public funding. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Public Advocates reported that more than 250 California charter schools – more than one-fifth of the state’s total – violated state law by denying enrollment to low-performing and other potentially undesirable students (the report caused more than 50 of the schools to change or clarify admissions policies, leading the ACLU to remove them from its list). This came after a study of charter school discipline by the UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies in March that found that charters suspended African-American students and students with disabilities at higher rates than traditional schools. And last year, a report by the Center for Popular Democracy, the Alliance of Californians for Gap Co-Founder Doris Fisher Is Bankrolling the Charter School Agenda – And Pouring Dark Money Into CA Politics – Capital & Main:
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