The Big Money in Politics

The Big Money in Politics

Profound challenges face LAUSD candidates, but big donors still fight over charter schools

With all the drama over the charter school movement, candidates for Los Angeles Unified School District have plenty of opportunities to step into the middle of a battle between the power brokers of corporate America and their loyal supporters.

Of course, their greatest challenge may be trying to reconcile a district where the school board and superintendent are elected district officials, and yet are also the owners of a large property tax reserve.

To understand how big money interests in Los Angeles could possibly be aligned with support for charters, it is necessary to look at how the money in politics has changed since the days of Mayor Tom Bradley’s groundbreaking attempt at school reform.

The keystone of Bradley’s campaign was the successful effort to transform a school district into a charter school district.

A handful of school districts around the country have adopted charters in a way that will have a direct impact on Los Angeles’ tax reserve. Although the charter law is supposed to be a state-run program, in reality, the money flowing through the charter school system can be counted on the hand of a bank, which is why some district officials argue that charter schools are really just corporate entities with state funding.

Although the charter law has attracted major corporate donors, the L.A. school board also has a large financial reserve.

In a letter to the school board, L.A. Citizens for Charter Schools (LACC), which is run by David B. Allen, president of Bank of America-Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, wrote that Los Angeles’ reserve is the “largest in the state.”

Allen wrote that with a reserve of more than $300 million on its own, it has more than three percent of every $100,000 in taxes that the district raises.

Allen, a longtime friend of L.A. Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner, has used his position as a financial backer of the school system to lobby the Los Angeles School Board to increase the reserve from a paltry $50 million to approximately $300 million, a level that would place the property at the center of Los Angeles’ tax distribution.

The School Board voted unanimously to approve the new figure on March 9, after Allen met with Board President Steve Zimmer, former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Assemblyman Richard Roth.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the school district

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