Dr. Mike DeGuire, a retired principal in the Denver Public Schools, has been keeping track of the money flowing into Denver’s mayoral race, which will be held tomorrow.

There are 17 candidates in the race. If no candidate wins a majority, there will be a runoff on June 6.

The two leading candidates are corporate education reformer Mike Johnston and Kelly Brough. Brough was CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and is supported by the business community. Johnston was endorsed by the Denver Post , which gives a tremendous boost to his campaign. He previously ran for Governor in 2018 but ran third behind Jared Polis. He ran for the Senate in 2020 but dropped out after former governor John Hickenlooper entered the race.

This is what Mike DeGuire discovered about the funding of Mike Johnston’s campaign:

Denver will select a new mayor for the first time in 12 years on April 4, 2023. Money has been pouring into the campaigns of Kelly Brough and Mike Johnston from rich developers, investors, and corporate executives. While Brough has received almost $1 million in independent expenditure money for her campaign, Mike Johnston has topped that amount by more than double, at $2.3 million as of April 2.

As reported in the Denverite on March 31, 2023, “The lion’s share of the reported contributions into Advancing Denver, the IE supporting Johnston, came from a group of out-of-state donors (between his campaign and his super PAC, 67% of his non-Fair Elections Fund contributions come from out of state): $779,804 from Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, who lives in California; $250,450 from Steve Mandel, a hedge fund billionaire who lives in Connecticut. Another $100,000 came from John Arnold, a former Enron trader from Texas known as the “King of Natural Gas,” who along with his wife gave to Advancing Denver. (Arnold was cleared of wrongdoing in the collapse of Enron.)”

The money from Hoffman, the Arnolds, and Mandel are only the beginning of outside support from rich donors. Yet why are the billionaires and millionaires giving so much to Johnston’s campaign? The article continues to state, “It’s unknown how they crossed paths, what issues exactly they worked on together in the past, and why they care specifically about Denver. Johnston “has a history of billionaire donors backing him through independent groups. Donors he likely met through his work on education reform issues, giving him a national profile.”

And there is the probable connection: Education Reform! Mike Johnston was the primary author of SB-191, Colorado’s controversial teacher evaluation bill, passed in 2010. He supported using testing to determine teacher evaluations and the closing of schools if students did not show improvements over time. His career has been heavily tied to the reform movement privatizers who have been working to promote increased expansion of charter schools. In addition to his work on the infamous teacher evaluation SB191 bill, he serves on the Board and co-founded New Leaders for New schools, an organization established to teach” a pro-privatization and business focused ideology to prospective school leaders.” He also participated in the Aspen-Pahara Institute fellowship training in 2012, which is designed to provide participants with strategies to spread the message of corporate reform in public schools.

While his role as Mayor would not directly enable him to impact the Denver Public schools, there is no question that he wants to be involved in the city’s school system. His responses to an Educate Denver survey indicate his desire to influence and possibly control how the district makes decisions on governance and other policies. In response to one of the questions from the Educate Denver survey, he stated, “As Mayor, my goal is to work closely with teachers, administrators, and parents to make sure the City is supporting DPS while using my position to push for better outcomes.”

Over the past decade, Johnston developed connections with a number of hedge fund investors and corporate executives who are committed to privatizing the public education system. WHO are they?

Reid Hoffman donated $904,678 to Johnston’s campaign. Hoffman is worth $2–3 billion. In 2011, he supported pro-charter candidates in Louisiana and he gave similar monetary support in 2018 in the same state.

Steve Mandel donated $250,000. He is worth $3.6 billion. For years, Mandel has given large amounts of money to candidates who support charter school expansion.

John and Laura Arnold donated $99,000.Their net worth is $3.3 billion. In the last decade, they have given millions to candidates across the country who support charter schools and who will push to privatize education.

Kent Thiry donated $300,000. His net worth is $44 million. Over the last ten years, he has given thousands of dollars to candidates who are committed to expanding charter schools and opposing teacher unions.

Reuben Monger donated $100,000. He is a former director of Stand for Children, an organization focused on spreading charter schools in cities across the U.S.

Lawrence Berger donated $100,000. He is the CEO of Amplify, a curriculum and assessment company worth millions which has been supporting charter schools as it sells its education technology systems to schools across the country.

Josh Bekenstein donated $50,000. He is worth over $6 billion. He is the co-chairman of Bain Capital, and has contributed to candidates and referendums supporting charter school expansion in several states.

Katherine Bradley donated $25,000. She is on the Board of Kipp Charter schools, the largest charter school chain in the country. She donated to candidates supporting charters for decades.

Emma Bloomberg and David Youngren each donated $10,000, and for years, they donated to candidates who want to expand the charter network schools.

Other investors who represent the hedge fund industry and who seem to be looking to make profits in the Denver mayoral race include: Art Reimer, a private wealth advisor with Raintree Solutions, donated $100,000, and Eric Resnick, CEO for KSL Capital Partners,another private equity firm, donated $50,000, and he was also part of the Vail Valley Foundation, where he knew Johnston. There are almost ten other investors who have contributed $5–10,000 to his Advancing Denver IE.

Denver citizens should think twice about this blatant monetary influence of wealthy investors who are trying to buy the mayoral election for Johnston.

Johnston is clearly the favorite in the race due to his Denver Post endorsement.

Mike Johnston began his career in Teach for America, then became a principal, then won a seat in the State Senate. He is a solid corporate reformer.

I was in Denver in 2010 and was scheduled to debate State Senator Mike Johnston before a room full of civic leaders. He had proposed a law to evaluate teachers based on the test scores of their students, with 50% of their evaluation based on test scores. The debate didn’t happen because Johnston was delayed. As I concluded my remarks, he arrived, jubilant that his legislation (SB191) had just passed. He then spoke about the dramatic transformation that his legislation would bring about. Bad teachers and bad principals would be exposed and fired.

In the future, Johnston claimed, all of Colorado would have great teachers, great principals, great schools, thanks to the law he put in place.

None of those bold promises came true. As his reform ally Van Schoales wrote in Education Week in 2017, the reformers were gravely disappointed to discover that most teachers in the state were not teaching tested subjects. Every single one of the state’s 268 charter schools waived out of the evaluation plan.

Educators were overwhelmingly against SB191. They knew something that the reformers didn’t know: student test scores measure not teacher quality, but the students in the classroom. Teachers in affluent districts got high scores; teachers teaching the most vulnerable students (SPED and ELL) tended not to see big test score gains or none at all.

The results were appalling:

Colorado Department of Education data released in February show that the distribution of teacher effectiveness in the state looks much as it did before passage of the bill. Eighty-eight percent of Colorado teachers were rated effective or highly effective, 4 percent were partially effective, 7.8 percent of teachers were not rated, and less than 1 percent were deemed ineffective. In other words, we leveraged everything we could and not only didn’t advance teacher effectiveness, we created a massive bureaucracy and alienated many in the field.

Broken promises. But no matter. The money is flowing in, and Mike Johnston—reformer extraordinaire—is likely to be the next mayor of Denver.