Editor’s note: While the bulk of media attention has been devoted to tomorrow’s race for governor, there are other races to be decided. Not the least of these are the races for eight seats on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. As in the past, a lot of out-of-state-money is being poured into the campaigns of certain board members. Baton Rouge resident Mark Joyce gives us his take on the BESE elections.
Guest Column by Mark A. Joyce
(Special to LouisianaVoice)
In the last month, I have been bombarded by political ads everywhere – radio, television, mailbox, phone. There is plenty of trash talk but not much substance. It would be funny if it not for the fact that this concerns our children’s education – 720,000 students statewide in Louisiana.
There is a tremendous amount of money being spent by outside interests on the BESE election. The question is who and why.
On October 8 it was reported in the Arkansas Times:
As of September 14, 2015, money from two billionaires from Arkansas and one billionaire from California constitutes the principal funding for Lane Grigsby’s efforts to preserve a BESE majority known for supporting charters and vouchers without equally supporting adequate oversight; supporting high-stakes testing without supporting timely, clear, comprehensive reporting of testing results, and for allying with a state superintendent known for hiding and manipulating data, refusing to honor public records requests, and refusing to consistently audit the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).
On Oct 15, The Baton Rouge Advocate confirmed that this local political-wanna-be had formed a PAC—Empower Louisiana – and was reportedly “spending about $818,000 and has $1.2 million in the bank” and acknowledged that it was funded almost entirely by out-of-state operatives:
- Alice and Jim Walton, both of Bentonville, Arkansas contributed $400,000
- Eli Broad, of Los Angeles, donated another $250,000
- Louisiana Association of Business and Industry donated $40,000
Out-of-state funded PACs are mostly limited to television, radio advertisements and direct mail and that explains all the trash talk on the media.
In the same article, the Advocate mentions the four candidates that are “acceptable” to the PAC: James Garvey, Holly Boffy, Sandy Holloway and Tony Davis. Let’s look at their reported campaign contributions (spent and on-hand) as reported in The Advocate:
- Garvey – $230,459
- Boffy – $107,145
- Holloway – $87,606
- Davis – $37,581
Almost a $500,000 is being spent for these four candidates to be elected to a school board! Remember, these are unpaid positions.
Let’s look at the locally supported candidates:
- Lee Barrios – $7,141
- Mike Kreamer – $15,317
- Lottie Beebe – $14,209
- Mary Johnson Harris – $8,810
- Glynis Johnston – $3,246
That’s not quite $50,000 in funding for the locally supported candidates. That’s a huge difference! The out-of-state money is outspending you and me to the tune of a 10 to 1 advantage. No wonder we are being bombarded!
So, why is an out-of-state funded, political action committee spending over $1 million to buy a school board election in Louisiana and bragging about it in the press. Why do private interests want to control seats on a local school board?
As Tom Aswell would say, “follow the money.” Remember in 2010 when LDOE was sending student data to the politically active Hoover-Institute-run Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). Our own New Orleans based, Research on Reforms (ROR) filed a lawsuit to discover just what data LDOE had released to CREDO. We learned that detailed, personally identifiable school information was being provided to CREDO by LDOE. This impacted not only public school children since It turns out that LDOE was also sending quite a bit of detailed data on non-public students, their DOB’s, their teachers, their special education conditions, schools, etc.
Who funds CREDO? The funders are acknowledged on the Hoover Institution’s website:
In partnership with the Walton Family Foundation and Pearson Learning Systems, Raymond is leading a national study of the effectiveness of public charter schools. (Emphasis mine)
The people behind the PAC are the same people (and money) that wanted our kid’s school data. We fought them successfully then. They got their wrists slapped for attempting to gain access to this data for their personal benefit. We told then “NO” once; that should be enough. They could not get our children’s data though LDOE, so instead this time around they are buying candidates and attempting to buy our school board. I do not want these same people on our state school board nor do I want people who are beholden to them.
Even before the CREDO scandal, the Walton’s have tried to press their influence on Louisiana. Greg Penner, married to one of the Walton daughters, is on the National Board of Directors for Teach for America (TFA), and is a director of the Charter Growth Fund, a “non-profit venture capital fund” investing in charter schools. Turns out that Penner, who live in California, donated $10,000 to Kira Orange Jones another BESE member. She is said to have “[run] as the embodiment of post-Katrina reform efforts in New Orleans” reform efforts that have been focused on charter schools and school privatization. TFA still has a piece on its website how they do not endorse or support candidates (specifically naming Kira Jones) but the money trail between TFA and Jones has been well documented.
Who funds TFA? As reported in the Los Angeles Times, on July 31, 2013:
Walton is TFA’s largest donor, but the group has a diverse funding base. The Walton donation will cover about 20% of TFA’s expenses this year in the L.A. region.
To me it could not be more clear – our children’s future is more important that political partisanship. Everyone agrees – we need local control without undue influence from out-of-state political operatives. These people have agendas that are NOT in the best interests of our children. They can go back to California and Arkansas.
What does make sense?
I speak from the perspective of a Louisianan and a proud single father whose son received an excellent public education. I can support two candidates because they are local, have local support, and they have established records of working for us: Jason France and Carolyn Hill. Dedicated to our kids and not outside interests. Jason is the only candidate in District 6 with kids in the public school system. There are no PACs supporting these two, no corporations, no out-of-state billionaires, no unions, no businesses, no real-estate firms or technology vendors – no one but folks like you and me.
It’s time we all reached across the pew and the aisle and joined together to fight for our kid’s interest. The only way to beat big money and outside influences is through grass root operations. People talking with their neighbors – neighborhood by neighborhood. Let’s win our schools back.
You have to vote on Saturday. Your kids are counting on you.