Education

Los Angeles School Privatizers Eye Run for Mayor's Office

Frustrated with the democratically elected school board, they see another path to power.

Photo Credit: www.facebook.com/greendotschools

Proponents of turning half of Los Angeles’ public schools into privately run charter schools in five years have a brazen new strategy. After running into obstacles last fall at the locally elected school board overseeing America’s second-largest school district, they’re looking at capturing the mayor's office in 2017.

Steve Barr, who helped create the Green Dot Charter Schools group and has been involved in numerous controversial efforts to privatize the L.A. school system, has told local newspapers he is exploring a mayoral run due to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s hands-off approach to education.

“I’ve talked to at least a half-dozen people who will tell you he won’t get involved because it’s too controversial,” Barr told the Los Angeles Times, which reported that Barr, “wants to enter the race but will only do so if he can see a path to building a campaign with adequate political and financial backing.”

Some of the nation’s wealthiest billionaires, such as Los Angeles’ Eli Broad and the Walton Family Foundation, have eyed Los Angeles as a major target for privatizing traditional public schools in the next five years. Broad has floated a $490 million plan to transform the district with 4.5 million students, and Walton—funded by Walmart profits—have pledged spending $1 billion from 2016 to 2020 to expand charter schools in 15 cities, including Los Angeles.

Other California technology entrepreneurs—such as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg—have also pledged multi-millions to expand charters. They are no longer political newcomers, having been involved in both successful and unsuccessful charter-related campaigns in recent years. In other words, it’s likely that Barr’s campaign would find no shortage of major donors or “independent” backers.

The push to privatize L.A. schools has become increasingly politicized in recent years, with local school board elections becoming proxy battles for pro- and anti-charter sides. When privatizers ran into obstacles at the L.A. school board, they focused on other high-ranking posts, such as trying to influence the choice of the next city superintendent of schools.

“The concept amazes and angers me,” board member Scott Schmerelson said last fall about Broad’s proposal. “Far from being in the best interest of children, it is an insult to teaching and administrative professionals, an attack on democratic, transparent and inclusive public school governance and negates accountability to taxpayers.”

Barr’s would-be candidacy comes after years of trying to pressure the city school board to take pro-charter positions, including trying to create a parallel board of parents from charter schools as competitor to the traditional PTA, or parent teachers association.

A mayoral campaign would be his—and the privatizers—most brazen move yet.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).