by Max Brantley
This morning (Friday) the Los Angeles Times reported that “Outside spending for Melvoin (and against Zimmer) has surpassed $4.65 million.” Why? Because he doesn’t agree with the corporatization of our public schools. Some of their donations have gone directly to Melvoin’s campaign, but much of it has been funneled through a corporate front group called the California Charter School Association.The article details at length Zimmer's credentials and work, beginning as a Teach for America participant. Melvoin thinks the schools need a hostile takeover. Enter the plutocrats, among them:
To try to hoodwink voters, the billionaires invented another front group with the same initials as the well-respected Parent Teacher Association, but they are very different organizations. They called it the “Parent Teacher Alliance.” Pretty clever, huh? But this is notthe real PTA, which does not get involved with elections. In fact, the real PTA has demanded that this special interest PAC change their name and called the billionaires’ campaign Zimmer “misleading,” “deceptive practices,” and “false advertising.”
These out-of-town billionaire-funded groups can pay for everything from phone-banks, to mailers, to television ads. Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez described the billionaires’ campaign to defeat Zimmer, which includes sending mails filled with outrageous lies about Zimmer, as “gutter politics.”
Members of the Walton family (Alice Walton, Jim Walton, and Carrie Walton Penner) — heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune from Arkansas — have contributed $2.2 million to the PAC attacking Zimmer in the last two years. Alice Walton (net worth: $36.9 billion) lives in Texas and is one of the biggest funders behind Melvoin’s campaign. She and other members of her family also donated to the Super PAC that worked to elect Donald Trump, donated to Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, and to the Alliance for School Choice, an organization that Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos helped to lead.Local angle: Walton lobbyists were prowling the Arkansas Board of Education meeting room last week when a movement was underway to give an academically and financially troubled Little Rock charter school yet another extension for operation. The case was pled by a lawyer often employed to fight for Walton "school choice" preferences. This came hours before a Murphy Oil company employee who sits on the board said he was sick of hearing about the Little Rock School District. The state Board, Education Commissioner Johnny Key (an old ally of the Waltons) and the oligarchs mean no good for the Little Rock School District. The Waltons last month stepped in with financing for yet another charter school claiming the neighborhood around 24th and Battery has no options, despite a long list of achieving schools in the vicinity that outscore, among others, the charter school the Walton forces are trying to protect.
The corporate big-wigs are part of an effort that they and the media misleadingly call “school reform.” What they’re really after is not “reform” (improving our schools for the sake of students) but “privatization” (business control of public education). They think public schools should be run like corporations, with teachers as compliant workers, students as products, and the school budget as a source of profitable contracts and subsidies for textbook companies, consultants, and others engaged in the big business of education.Substitute Baker Kurrus for Zimmer in that passage and you have Arkansas and the Little Rock School District. Kurrus, a successful superintendent, was fired by Johnny Key because he PO'ed the Walton forces by saying unchecked, unaccountable charter school expansion in Little Rock was bad for the public schools. And don't forget 2015, when Key and the Waltons almost passed a law allowing corporate takeover of the entire school district.
Like most reasonable educators and education analysts, Zimmer has questioned the efficacy of charter schools as a panacea. When the billionaires unveiled their secret plan to put half of LAUSD students into charter schools within eight years, Zimmer led the opposition. Zimmer isn’t against all charter schools but he doesn’t want the board to rubber-stamp every charter proposal. He wants LAUSD to carefully review each charter proposal to see if its backers have a track record of success and inclusion. And he wants LAUSD to hold charters accountable. This kind of reasonable approach doesn’t sit well with the billionaires behind their front group, the California Charter School Association.