Charters Schools the Central Issue in OC Board of Education Area 1 Race

The central issue in the Orange County Board of Education Area 1 election is charter schools.

In 2014, Linda Lindholm’s defeat of Trustee Elizabeth Dorn Parker created a solid, pro-school choice conservative majority on the OCBE. The reason this is important is that when a local school district denies a charter school application, the denial can be appealed to the Orange County Board of Education. Parker was an entrenched member of the public education establishment, and her defeat by Lindholm decisively swung the balance on OCBE, guaranteeing charter school appeals would have a fair hearing.

Local school board elections tend to be dominated by the teachers unions, since they have significant resources and a vested interest in controlling education policy. The California Teachers Association has been generally hostile to the spread of charter schools, since they aren’t required to have a unionized teacher workforce.  The existence of a charter-friendly majority on the OCBE makes it much more difficult to impede the spread of charter schools in Orange County.

Defeating incumbent Robert Hammond and replacing him with Beckie Gomez would undo that gain and make the growth of charter schools in Orange County more problematic.

The flow of campaign money tells the story in Area 1.

In terms of Hammond’s re-election, much of the heavy lifting has been done by an independent expenditure committees, the Orange County Charter Advocates for Great Public Schools and the

Orange County Charter Advocates has spent $166,116 on mail in the OCBE races, more than half in support of Hammond; the funding comes from a variety of conservative groups and individuals who are long-time supporters of school choice, such as the Lincoln Club of Orange County, the Local Liberty PAC, education reform activist Mark Bucher and Scott Baugh, the former Republican Party of Orange County.

The California Charter Schools Association Advocates IE Committee has focused its Orange County efforts on supporting Jack Bedell in Area 4. The committee has spent $50,487 on his behalf. Bedell has been generally supportive of charter school applicant appeals; his two opponents – former Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby and Zonya Townsend – are also school choice supporters.

Lining up for Gomez is an array of teachers unions and denizens of the public education establishment. Area 1 voters have received mail supporting Gomez and attacking Hammond from a committee called “Taxpayers for Orange County Great Public Schools.” Funding comes from sources hostile to both the OCBE’s conservative majority and to conservative education reform: OC Board of Education member David Boyd; Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties; Elizabeth Dorn Parker and a number of current and former union-friendly local school board members.

Donors to the Gomez campaign are predominantly teachers unions and public education establishment types; virtually all “Taxpayers for Orange County Great Public Schools” have also given to Gomez. In terms of the political spectrum, they fall overwhelmingly on the Left. This is hostile territory when it comes to charter schools, which teacher union types and progressives excoriate for “making a profit.” Gomez herself was quoted using that language in the OC Register‘s topsy-turvy editorial endorsing her. They’ll come with a million excuses for the failures of our sclerotic, bureaucratic, rent-seeking public education system – but God forbid a charter school operator turn a profit while providing children with a superior education.

Among Gomez’s donors are the Orange County Employees Association and its long-time political consultant Carina Franck-Pantone. Legalized abortion advocates have taken an interest in electing Gomez: Planned Parenthood has given her $1,000 and another legalized abortion advocacy group, Women in Leadership, has donated $6,500.

The So Cal Pipe Trades District Council 16 PAC has given $8,750 to Gomez. It’s tough to what material interest this union has in the outcome, but one savvy politico observed it may be a donation swap with the California Teacher Association: the Pipe Trades donate to Gomez and the CTA donates an equivalent amount to Pipe Trades-endorsed candidates. That way, Gomez seems less dependent on the teachers union. It’s a plausible explanation.

Hammond and his allies have out-mailed Gomez and her allies. Hammond has the advantage of incumbency plus two opponents to divvy up the anti-incumbency vote. And all things being equal, most voters will return the incumbent absent a compelling reason to turn him or her out. The likely outcome is Hammond’s re-election – which will be a good thing for the charter school movement in Orange County.

We’ll find out in a few hours.


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