This post is a profile of Doris Fisher, the California billionaire who wants to privatize public schools and open corporate-run charters with no ties to the local community.
“As co-founder of the Gap, San Francisco-based business leader and philanthropist Doris Fisher boasts a net worth of $2.6 billion, making her the country’s third richest self-made woman, according to Forbes. And she’s focused much of her wealth and resources on building charter schools. She and her late husband Donald donated more than $70 million to the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and helped to personally build the operation into the largest network of charter schools in the country, with 200 schools serving 80,000 students in 20 states. Doris’ son John serves as the chairman of KIPP’s board of directors, and she sits on the board herself.
“Doris’ passion for charter schools also fuels her political donations. While not as well-known as other deep-pocketed charter school advocates like Eli Broad and the Walton family (heirs to the Walmart fortune), Fisher and her family have quietly become among the largest political funders of charter school efforts in the country. Having contributed $5.6 million to state political campaigns since 2013, Fisher was recently listed as the second largest political donor in California by the Sacramento Bee – and nearly all of her money now goes to promoting pro-charter school candidates and organizations. While often labelled a Republican, she gives to Democrats and Republicans alike, just as long as they’re supportive of the charter school movement. According to campaign finance reports, so far this election cycle she’s spent more than $3.3 million on the political action committees of charter school advocacy groups EdVoice and the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), as well as pro-charter candidates. (Christopher Nelson, managing director of the Fishers’ philanthropic organization, sits on the board of CCSA, which, along with EdVoice, declined to comment for this article.)
“Fisher’s philanthropic and political efforts are not as straightforward as simply promoting education, however. Recent investigations have found that she’s used dark-money networks to funnel funds into California campaign initiatives that many say targeted teachers and undermined public education. It’s why many education activists worry about the impact her money is having on California politics – and on California schoolchildren.”
What is less well known than her passion for privatization is that spends millions in “dark money” to harm the state’s public schools.
“Even if some of the charter schools Fisher champions have been a success, she’s secretly supported efforts that critics regard as undermining the success of the public school system and teachers. A recent investigation by California Hedge Clippers, a coalition of community groups and unions, found that Fisher was one of a number of wealthy Californians who in 2012 used a dark money network involving out-of-state organizations linked to the conservative Koch brothers to shield their donations to controversial campaign efforts that year. The money was used to oppose Proposition 30, a tax on high-income Californians to fund public schools and public safety, and support Proposition 32, which, among other things, would have severely limited the ability of organized labor, including teachers unions, to raise money for state and local races.
“At the time of the campaign, none of these donations were public. In fact, fellow charter-school advocate Eli Broad publically endorsed Proposition 30 while secretly donating $500,000 to the dark money fund dedicated to defeating it. And Fisher herself had close ties to Governor Jerry Brown, a key proponent of Proposition 30. Brown’s wife Anne Gust Brown worked as chief administrative officer at the Gap until 2005 and is credited with helping to improve the company’s labor standards, and the Fishers were major financial supporters of Brown’s 2014 campaign to pass Proposition 1, the water bond, and Proposition 2, the “rainy day budget” stabilization act.
“I would imagine that it caused some domestic strife,” says Karen Wolfe, a California parent and founder of PSconnect, a community group that advocates for traditional public schools. “[Anne likely] thought she had the Fishers’ support on her husband’s crowning achievement, a tax to finally balance California’s budget and bring the state out of functional bankruptcy. This was absolutely his highest priority.”
“In total, according to the Hedge Clippers investigation, Fisher and her sons donated more than $18 million to the dark money group. It wasn’t the only time the Fisher family has worked with political organizations known for concealing their financial supporters. In 2006, current KIPP chairman John Fisher gave $85,000 to All Children Matter, a school-privatization political action group in Ohio that was slapped with a record-setting $5.2 million fine for illegally funneling contributions through out-of-state dark money networks. Instead of paying the fine, All Children Matter shut down and one of its conservative founders launched a new group: the Alliance for School Choice, which in 2011 listed John Fisher as its secretary. And last year, Doris Fisher contributed $750,000 to California Charter School Association Advocates, which funneled such donations to a local committee. The names of individual donors wouldn’t be disclosed until after the election.”
How sad that a woman worth more than $2 billion would secretly fund campaigns to block funding of the public schools that enroll 90% of children in California. What is she thinking?