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Media: What's Really "New" About The LAUSD School Board Race?

image from hechingered.orgI'm happy to see more media outlets paying attention to what's going on in Los Angeles -- it's a good story! -- and so it was nice to see this new Hechinger Report story (Local school districts are new target of education reformers).  

Written by Sarah Garland, the story has some interesting quotes and observations (including the strange path that school reform advocacy has followed starting from state and national efforts rather than from the ground up).  The possibility of a voter backlash against the reform advocacy fundraising is a good point and a real possibility (despite the reality that most of the funding is local).

Knowing that other outlets will likely (hopefully) follow up with coverage of the LAUSD story, however, I have to take issue with three of the story's main narrative points:  

* Outside funding coming into local races isn't really new unless you ignore labor unions.  State and national teacher unions have been helping out local affiliates -- giving and loaning each other funds to help out with political races and ballot initiatives -- for decades.   

*State and national reform advocates have been getting involved in local races for the last two or three election cycles. The Hechinger story acknowledges this further down in the piece but overplays the "newness" angle here, too.

* Campaign-focused reform advocacy at the local level isn't really all that new, either.  There aren't that many big city school systems with elected boards anymore, but in LA reform allies have been recruiting school board candidates and gathering up resources to make the races competitive going back roughly a decade. 

What's really new (or at least newish) is reformers out-raising and out-spending the other side  in a local race -- no longer just trying to level the playing field -- which has previously only happened once to my knowledge, last year in New orleans.  

What's also new is that reformers there are trying to emulate the vaunted union ground game with improved field operations (hiring an Obama field operative, etc).  

What's possibly new is that the AFT isn't riding to the rescue with a big infusion of cash -- either because it doesn't think LAUSD is that important, or winnable, or because it lacks the resources.  In 2010, the AFT reportedly gave the DC teachers $1 million to help defeat Adrien Fenty.  Three years later, all UTLA gets is a visit from Weingarten and a $75,000 check.  

Previous posts: What's *Really* Happening In LAReformers Try To Match Union "Ground Game"


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Labor union involvement is not comparable "outsider" involvement. State and national unions are providing support to the local unions on the ground in the districts, as their umbrella organizations. That's an entirely different kind of involvement from total outsiders coming in and pouring money into local races. It's inappropriate and misleading to represent them as comparable (especially in an attempt to defend the outsider involvement and disparage the union involvement).

Here in San Francisco, it would be the kiss of death to have that kind of outsider money pouring into a local race -- the outside support would actually damage the candidate or issue, quite seriously. San Franciscans would recoil and have a very negative reaction. It remains to be seen whether L.A. voters have the same reaction.

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