Eyes on reshaping charter school oversight, advocates become top spenders in state races
Californians are used to seeing outside groups — from oil and business interests to environmental and labor groups — spend millions of dollars in hopes of swaying state legislative races.
But in 2016, another sector came on the scene and surpassed them all: charter school advocates.
With a week before election day, no organization in the state has spent more outside money in the 2016 election cycle than either EdVoice or the Parent Teacher Alliance, two pro-charter committees.
Combined, they've made around $17 million in "independent expenditures" on state legislative races this year, a KPCC analysis shows.
Backed by donors like L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad, Netflix founder Reed Hastings, and Gap founder Doris Fisher, these pro-charter groups' outside spending has even surpassed traditional heavyweights in California politics: groups backed by the energy industry, real estate developers or organized labor.
Independent expenditures aren't contributions to candidates; rather, they're outside spending meant to boost one candidate — or oppose another — but made separately from the candidates' campaigns.
A RESPONSE TO 'BACKLASH'
The increased spending in state-level politics comes as charter school advocates say they're facing stiffer political headwinds a tougher time winning political battles at the local level — particularly in the state's largest school districts, like Los Angeles Unified.
Changing the statewide statutory and regulatory environment for charter schools could help them in these local fights, said Carlos Marquez, head of government relations at the California Charter Schools Association. (Technically speaking, CCSA's companion organization, CCSA Advocates, actually spends on campaigns.)
“The way in which we have to at least attempt to do that is through the legislature," said Marquez. "Why now? The local efforts we’re seeing, the backlash against charter schools is at a fever pitch – [it] is probably worse today than it’s ever been.”
For instance, in Los Angeles, charter advocates have grown increasingly frustrated with the L.A. Unified School Board's performance as a charter "authorizer" — the entity that determines which charter schools can open, which can remain open and which must close.
Last month, L.A. Unified's board voted against renewing five charter schools' operating authority, meaning the schools will need to appeal to a county or state board in order to remain open. In recent years, the board has routinely approved almost all of these renewal requests.
L.A. Unified officials and district defenders point out these schools faced troubling questions about governance, transparency and financial oversight — and that the Infographic: Eyes on reshaping charter school oversight, advocates become top spenders in state races | 89.3 KPCC: