California Charter School Advocates Spend Millions on Primary Candidates

Published July 22, 2016

Groups supporting charter schools were responsible for nearly one-third of the record $27.9 million of independent expenditures spent on California’s primary races this year.

The groups—including the Parent Teacher Alliance, sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates and EdVoice—spent millions of dollars on more than 40 candidates pursuing seats in the California Senate and State Assembly. They also backed numerous candidates for local school boards and city positions, many of whom were victorious in the June primaries and will advance to the general election in November.

California uses a “top-two” primary system, meaning the two candidates who receive the most votes advance, and candidates from the same party can face off against each other in the general election.

Diane Ravitch, a well-known, outspoken critic of school choice, wrote on her blog following the California primary, “Public education in California is under siege by people and organizations who want to privatize the schools, remove them from democratic control, and hand them over to the charter industry.

Giving Voters a Choice

Lance Izumi, a senior fellow and the senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute, says the state’s top-two electoral system makes the primary victories even more significant.

“I think a lot of Republicans thought you would basically just have two liberals running against each other for a lot of these legislative seats, but it’s actually become a little bit more complex than that,” Izumi said. “What’s happened is a number of pro-education reform organizations here in California have gotten into a lot of these primary races and have decided to support moderate Democrats who support education reform, and they’ve put in quite a bit of money into these targeted races.

“In some of these districts where you have two Democrats facing each other in the general election, one will be a pro-union, pro-California Teachers Association candidate, and another will be a pro-education reform candidate who supports charter schools,” Izumi said. “So, at least on education issues, voters will have a choice on the two candidates. They won’t just be carbon-copy sycophants of the teachers unions.”

Seeking Balance

Richard Garcia, director of elections for the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, says his organization is trying to level the legislative playing field. 

“We are looking to have a balance in the state legislature and across the state on education boards,” Garcia said. “Our goal is to have candidates and leaders who have that reasonable approach to issues and can filter through some of the nuances of education. We’re looking to have them put into seats at the state level and at the local level so there can be a fair approach to whether or not charter schools have an ability to petition for an opening or renewal, instead of having the more biased approach we’ve seen in recent years.”

Garcia says the California Charter Schools Association Advocates carefully selected the candidates it endorsed in the primary season and will continue to support them through the November general election.

“We’re looking at their background, community service, their professional careers as either sitting on boards or city councils, their track record for elevating student needs as a priority, and what they’ve done to help parents along the way as well,” Garcia said.

Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.