Larry Buhl of Capitol & Main explains the LAUSD school board elections. They are shaping up as the nastiest and most expensive in school board history.

As usual, the combatants are charter school billionaires, who want more charters, versus the United Teachers of Los Angeles, who are fighting for public schools and to protect the gains they made in the strikes of 2019.

The charter side has far outspent the UTLA and their allies. The charter lobby has been entirely responsible for the vicious attack ads, especially those against incumbent Scott Schmerelson, a veteran educator. Early charter flyers against him were anti-Semitic. He was falsely accused of inflating his salary as a board member (an independent commission sets the board’s pay). Schmerelson was targeted with a barrage of lies. He was endorsed by every Democratic Club and labor union in his district, as well as the Los Angeles Times.

The biggest edge of the pro-charter forces is money. With the support of billionaires, their candidates are amply funded.

A pricey proxy war between rival factions — charter school advocates and L.A.’s main teachers union — is playing out in two runoff races that could determine control of the Los Angeles Unified School District board. On one side is United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). On the other are California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and charter allies Alice and Jim Walton; philanthropist and major charter backer Eli Broad; and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Because the two races could tip the balance of power on the board toward teachers unions and traditional schools, or to charter schools, both sides are spending an unprecedented amount of money on their candidates – and, in the case of the charter-friendly candidates, to attack their opponents.

Both sides have been spending increasingly larger amounts to influence the outcomes of LAUSD races, and this year’s race has now eclipsed 2017 as the most expensive in L.A. history. Most of the ads are created with money from independent expenditure groups, called IEs or just outside spenders. These groups face no fundraising limits, and the candidates, whose campaign money is dwarfed by the influx of IE cash, aren’t allowed to influence the IE ads or approve their content. Legally they can’t coordinate with IE groups at all.

In 2020, IEs have spent more than $13 million on just these two board races. That’s $10 million more than IE money spent on all 2020 Los Angeles City Council races combined. And charter school advocates have enjoyed a lopsided financial advantage. Pro-charter forces have already spent far more than they did in 2017. The total spent on negative ads by pro-charter IEs on all LA school board races this year tops $5 million, about ten times more than money spent by UTLA and allies. And the L.A. City Ethics Commission site shows that a new mailer has gone out nearly every day in October.