Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is dumping huge political money into Oakland’s school board races to retain control of a school board that has largely failed to serve Oakland students. So why is that such a bad thing?
On Friday, we laid out how spending by Bloomberg and other billionaires has historically choked our local democratic process with hundreds of thousands of dollars that local candidates, even those with support from unions, cannot hope to match. Since 2012 when GO Public Schools first set up their Political Action Committee (“PAC”) Families and Educators for Public Education, $1.4 million in billionaire spending has completely swamped our school board elections, subverting our local democratic process and leaving our students without advocates invested in their success.
It seems like ages ago, but it was just this past March when this same Michael Bloomberg spent a billion dollars in 100 days in a failed attempt to buy the US Presidency. That was about twice as much as Hillary Clinton spent over two years of campaigning in 2016 and was appalling to most Americans who understand the corrupting influence of billionaire and corporate wealth in our elections. In short, as succinctly and accurately described by Teen Vogue political editor Lucy Diavolo, “it is bad for our democracy.”
The ability to drop unlimited funds into elections is basically anti-democratic. The fact that we are talking about Michael Bloomberg makes it that much worse.
If you watched the first debate that Mayor Bloomberg qualified for, you know that he was absolutely decimated by Senator Elizabeth Warren. After comparing him to Donald Trump for denigrating women with terms like “horse faced lesbian” and “fat broads” she went on:
And she wasn’t done there. Warren went on to eviscerate his record on his less-than-transparent tax returns; on harassing women; on the racist legacies of his stop-and-frisk policing program in New York; and on redlining poor neighborhoods… Warren returned to the topic of Bloomberg having requested female employees to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) relating to sexual harassment and gender discrimination in his company’s workplace.
If you didn’t see it live, do yourself a favor and watch it.
Thanks in good part to Senator Warren’s takedown of Bloomberg, he never gained traction in the Presidential primary and was forced to drop out. Parents United believes that we need to follow Senator Warren’s lead and reject Michael Bloomberg and his billions, call out his racist policies, sexist business practices and arrogant disdain for those furthest from opportunity — we must reject his attempt to buy our school board once again.
This is who GO and a former head of an Oakland charter school chain solicited money from for their Super PACs to ensure that Bloomberg approved candidates win a seat on the school board of a district that is 89% students of color, 72% low income, 33% English learners. The man who is effectively deciding who sits on the Oakland Unified School Board has a long history of racist housing, policing and workplace policies that harm Black and Brown Americans and women. Here is the record of the man who is buying continued control of the Oakland school board:
- Former Mayor Bloomberg blamed the 2008 housing crisis on the end of “redlining”, a racist policy intended to limit the ability of Black Americans to own homes.
- He continues to defend his implementation of the racist and unconstitutional “Stop and Frisk” policy which disproportionately targeted Black and Latino men.
- He referred to domestic violence and child abuse as “quality of life” crimes
- He vetoed a bill which required hospitals to make emergency contraception available to rape victims
- He dismissed claims of workplace sexual harassment as just women who “didn’t like a joke I told” and also forced employees to sign restrictive non-disclosure agreements
Bloomberg has a troubling history with education policy as well. As Mayor of New York City, he wrested control of the city’s public school system from the democratically elected board. Described as pushing policies virtually indistinguishable from the Trump/DeVos administration, Bloomberg is a “fervent backer of privatizing and dismantling public schools”, closing schools in low-income communities of color and entrenching segregation in New York City’s public schools.
It is with this frame that he decides where to spend his money: “If anything, the main difference between Bloomberg and Trump is that the former has spent far more of his immense personal fortune to boost corporate “education reform” and local candidates driving this agenda.” Michael Bloomberg’s decision to support GO Public Schools and their chosen candidates is not simply the kindly act of a billionaire that happens to like charter schools. It is, like with his failed presidential bid, the deliberate and intentional buying of legislators who will implement the policies he backs. So what are they?
- Closing public schools while expanding charter schools, destabilizing low-income communities of color, displacing families and accelerating gentrification in their neighborhoods
- Actively promoting an “excessive” high stakes testing routine, despite overwhelming evidence that it does not improve outcomes for students
- Tying teacher pay to those high stakes tests that do not improve outcomes for students
- Doubling class sizes by firing half of the teachers, a move he said would be “a good deal for students,” despite all evidence to the contrary
- Implementing an inequitable test-based admissions policy for gifted and talented programs that resulted in a huge disparity in the availability of those programs between schools serving white and affluent families versus those in lower income and communities of color
- Consolidating mayoral control over the public school system, limiting the democratically elected school boards and public participation so that Bloomberg became, in essence, accountable to no one.
Michael Bloomberg’s education policies and massive political contributions are not driven by a deep commitment to equity for low-income and students of color. They come from a deep disdain for democracy, educators and the innate right of students to learn. In Oakland, 6 of our 7 school board members were already elected by Bloomberg. He has shown us who he is, he knows who GO is, now we need to show him who we are: a community fighting for our students who are furthest from opportunity by supporting strong community schools and ending racist school closures that harm the majority of our students: Black, Brown, Low-Income and all Amazing!