Outside donors having big impact on local school races
(Mich.) Millions of dollars from out-of-state donors is changing the landscape of school board elections, though not always in ways that reflect the desires of local communities, according to new research.
More than 16,000 contributions to candidates and organizations were made by distant billionaires during election cycles between 2008 and 2013 in California, Connecticut, Colorado and Louisiana according to a study from Michigan State University.
In some cases, large amounts were donated to candidates in favor of policies that were at conflict with the opinion of the general public, such as increased charter school spending, explained Sarah Reckhow, assistant professor of political science at MSU and lead author on the study.
“Yet, new research also suggests that attitudes toward education policy among the very wealthy differ from most Americans,” she wrote. “Outside donors’ policy preferences for education may differ from the preferences of voters in school districts that attract outside donor interest.”
Historically, school board elections have had low voter turnout, with small organized groups or local teachers unions regularly dominating the discussion to block proposals on charter schools and teacher accountability. In recent years, however, large donations have been made in elections in Austin, Minneapolis and Indianapolis, where campaign contributions were made from prominent California Democrats including Reid Hoffman, Sheryl Sandberg and Arthur Rock–who have swayed outcomes even in Republican-leaning Indianapolis.
According to Reckhow’s analysis, in the 2012 and 2013 election cycles alone, large national individual donors gave a total of $2.7 million to candidates and committees in the four focus cities, comprising 44 percent of all funds contributed by individuals. Bridgeport’s 2011-12 school board elections saw 66 percent of all contributions from large national donors.
Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York from 2002 to 2013 and sixth richest man in the world, donated $1 million to influence Los Angeles school board elections. Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’ widow and a California resident, contributed to school board candidates in Los Angeles as well as Denver and New Orleans, while Texas hedge fund manager John Arnold helped fund candidates in those same three cities.
Often, donors’ education policy preferences may differ from those of voters within school districts, the study found. Where wealthy individuals are more supportive of market-oriented reforms, such as charter schools and merit pay for teachers, they are less supportive of paying more taxes for early childhood education and federal spending to improve schools–positions typically favored by lower-Outside donors having big impact on local school races :: SI&A Cabinet Report :: The Essential Resource for Superintendents and the Cabinet: