Cashing in on Kids

Dallas business interests stacked the school board. Now, a rule change could open the door for wholesale school privatization.

Dallas school board elections are generally lackadaisical affairs. In 2011, the school board elections were cancelled for lack of interest, as all three candidates ran unopposed. But since the beginning of 2012, hundreds of thousands of Super PAC dollars from Dallas’ richest neighborhoods began flowing into nearly all of the district’s school board elections.

Since 2011, Educate Dallas, a PAC backed by the Dallas Regional Chamber (the local Chamber of Commerce), has raised $661,953 in cash on hand for its school board war chest, and the Dallas-based education reform PAC Kids First, led by millionaire tech CEO Ken Barth, has raised $661,616. The majority of their donations come from Dallas’ famous aristocrats, including Barth, Ross Perot, Ray Hunt—an oil heir with a net worth of $5.8 billion—and Harlan Crow, a real estate heir and buddy of Clarence Thomas.

What made white businessmen from Dallas’ segregated northern enclaves, who typically donate to their children’s private academies, start caring about the plight of a low-income district? In Dallas Independent School District, 89 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch and 95.4 percent are students of color.

One hint may come from trips that the Chamber funded for school board and city council members. District records show that since at least 2011, the Chamber spent thousands on its so-called “best practices” tour—trips for city council and school board members to Denver, Houston and Los Angeles to better understand charter schools, publicly funded but privately operated institutions. Charters have been expanding in Dallas over the past 15 years, especially in the wake of the closure of 11 public schools in early 2012. And the Chamber boasts a number of charter-school operators among its members, including longtime affiliates Uplift Education and Texans CAN Academies, two of the city’s largest charter chains.

On the surface, however, stacking the school board in order to promote charter expansion wouldn’t make much sense. In Texas, open-enrollment charter schools can only be approved by the state, not the district or the school board. However, a new initiative to change district governance could open the door for Dallas to greenlight charter schools without going through the state..


via Big Dallas Plunder - In These Times.