Analysis: EdVoice with an IE for Dodd; Educational Reform Group Has Ties to Vergara Suit and Walmart

EdVoice-1 EdVoice-2

Had it been any other entity, the emergence of mailings on behalf of Bill Dodd on the environment and his overall record may not have even budged the needle.  But the fact that this is EdVoice is a different story.

Barely a month into the campaign, with most expenditures in the last two weeks of the filing deadline, EdVoice has already pumped in $240 thousand into the race.


There is a history here.  In 2008, the race between Mariko Yamada and Christopher Cabaldon for the State Assembly, where ultimately Mariko Yamada upset the West Sacramento mayor, saw a massive campaign by EdVoice, to the tune of nearly three-quarters of a million.

CTA (California Teachers Association) put in over half million of their own.  The Sacramento Bee in May 2008 wrote, “The California Teachers Association opposes Cabaldon because of his ties to EdVoice, a big supporter of charter schools. Cabaldon has butted heads with labor groups in years past on community college issues, by opposing a proposed West Sacramento casino, and by supporting a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Wal-Mart’s founding family has been a major EdVoice donor.”

So why is EdVoice getting involved again, this time on behalf of Bill Dodd?  It seems likely that they are extracting their revenge for Mariko Yamada’s win in 2008.

The first question is, who is EdVoice?  A 2006 article in the Capitol Weekly lays that out: “EdVoice a power player in Capitol’s political war over school funds.”  The Capitol Weekly wrote, “Its advisory board reads like a who’s who of California’s hyper-wealthy political players. There’s developer Eli Broad, Netflix founder and former president of the state board of education Reed Hastings, Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr, and Gap founder Don Fisher. While different in political philosophy and temperament, they are linked by their desire to change California’s educational system–and they put their money where their mouths are.”

A decade later, their expenditure list reads like a who’s who of educational reformists.  Arthur Rock, a Silicon Valley businessman and investor, gave them $1 million.  Carrie Walton Penner is the granddaughter of Sam Walton and an influencer in the charter school movement, and she gave over $850,000.  Bill Bloomfield gave $750,000 as well.

Bill Bowes is a San Francisco based venture capitalist, number 384 on the list of the 400 Richest Americans.   He gave half a million.  Then you have John H. Scully, a Mill Valley investor.   Doris F. Fisher, who co-founded the Gap.  And Eli Broad, the Netflix Founder and one of the originals on EdVoice.

In total, the donations add up to more than $5 million.  So far, a small portion has gone to the Senate Race between Bill Dodd and Mariko Yamada.

If history of 2008 is a guide, we can expect the mailings to quickly go negative.  Critics criticized EdVoice for the quantity of the ads and the viciousness of them.

An ad that angered advocates for people with disabilities argued that a program designed to help people with disabilities get jobs was turned into an attack line of “$91,000 for coffee service.”  Yolo County Supervisors voted 3-2 to commit $91,000 to the Turning Point agency for equipment and training. That money came from a 2005 tax on millionaires that can be spent only for mental-health services.

EdVoice was founded in 2001 by “Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix, Microsoft board member, Green Dot founding funder) and John Doerr (venture capitalist, investment banker), along with and former CA state Assembly members Ted Lempert and Steve Poizner. Eli Broad and Don Fisher (deceased CEO of The Gap and major KIPP supporter) once served on EdVoice’s board.”

In 1998, Mr. Hastings “also co-founded Californians for Public School Excellence with Don Shalvey. This is the organization that pushed for the Charter Schools Act of 1998, the law that lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the state.”

EdVoice was a co-plaintiff in the infamous Vergara suit in which nine Southern California children filed suit.

The suit, Vergara v. California, was filed by Students Matter, and backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch.  Students Matter is supported by Michelle Rhee and Students First, Parent Revolution Executive Director Ben Austin, billionaire and school privatizer Eli Broad, former lawmaker Gloria Romero, and other corporate education reformers.

Plaintiffs are nine California public school students “who challenge five statutes of the California Education Code, claiming said statutes violate the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.”

The ruling overturned five state statutes giving California teachers firing protections and rights to tenure and seniority.

In 2014, Former Senate President Gloria Romero wrote, “But the lawsuit was just the first punch, in a bold new reform plan. A second punch quickly followed, as reformers – led by the nonprofit EdVoice – drafted a ballot initiative. Initiatives are a tool citizens can use when their legislatures fail to enact laws representative of the people’s needs.”

The California Teachers Association (CTA) quickly put out a statement calling the ruling “deeply flawed” and vowing that CTA, CFT (California Federation of Teachers) and the state of California will appeal.

“We will appeal on behalf of students and educators. Circumventing the legislative process to strip teachers of their professional rights hurts our students and our schools,” the statement read. “This lawsuit has nothing to do with what’s best for kids, but was manufactured by a Silicon Valley millionaire and a corporate PR firm to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on our schools. Today’s ruling would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching.”

EdVoice is now in the heart of the educational reform fray that we saw two years ago bleed into the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Tom Torlakson was able to fend off a challenge from Marshall Tuck, but the battle still wages.

“The opposition is clear,” Mr. Torlakson said during a late campaign stop in Davis. “My opponent is a former Wall Street banker. I’m a teacher, he’s a banker. Different mindset, different goals.”

“He’s been funded by Walmart, one million bucks,” he continued. “(He’s a) Texas Enron trader who wants to end public pensions, Sort of take away what many of our hard working families have earned, paying into their public pension system.”

“We’re seeing that the Walmart folks are for vouchers.” Mr. Torlakson explained this as a way to take public dollars and put them toward private schools. He said this “weakens the schools that are remaining in the neighborhood and community.”

Mr. Torlakson cited a donation of $2.7 million against him, saying that “you’re seeing this trend of big corporate money coming in. My interpretation is clear: they want to take over public education. They want to privatize it. They see schools as profit centers, I see them as learning centers.”

Assemblymember Bill Dodd told the Vanguard this morning that CTA and other educational groups have stayed neutral in this race.

He said, while it is unfortunate that a rift between EdVoice and Mariko Yamada has bled into this race, he is grateful that thus far it has been a positive campaign on the part of EdVoice.

However, he said this points out the importance of the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court that makes unlimited independent expenditure campaigns perfectly legal.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. The Pugilist

    I thought Frankly would be all over this article.  Maybe he doesn’t realize what he’s got.  EdVoice a group of educational “reformers” back by the Silicon Valley and Walmart is taking advantage of Citizens United and trying to insert themselves into a local race with candidates that have no interest in their agenda.

  2. wdf1

    These interests, the wealthy donors mentioned, are generally for privately run charter schools, for regular standardized testing (including Common Core), against teachers’ unions, and even against local school board control of schools.  I will post some links on these issues a little later.

  3. wdf1

    Reed Hastings has called for abolishing elected school boards, and wants to see 90% of K-12 schools be charter schools in 20-30 years.  His model of charter school is one that is privately-run, and ultimately controlled by the funders.

    Eli Broad is connected with a plan to make 50% of Los Angeles schools charter schools by 2023.  The implication is that these would typically be privately-run charter chain schools, like Green Dot, Rocketship, Aspire, etc. Shortly after this story broke, I understand that Eli Broad bought a controlling share/maybe ownership of the LA Times.

    There is very much an oligarchic feel to this enterprise.

  4. Misanthrop

    Also the Walton family is so anti-union that they are willing to fight the existence of any union to prevent labor ever becoming strong enough to challenge the race to the bottom business model of Walmart.

    But left out of the discussion is the looming teacher shortage resulting from austerity budgets and the demonization of teachers by reformers. As a result enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down significantly in recent years.

  5. Marina Kalugin

    I was HOPING that someone would mention the name BILL DODD>

    I actually kinda liked the guy thought he is MILES behind Mariko Yamada on much sense of many issues.

    Truly though, what got ME riled up are these supposed ” election surveys’….which are SIMPLY push polls for DODD>

    I always answer the phone at election time, and was noticing that for some reason, I kept getting calls that were SUPPOSEDLY fair and impartial…only to find out that they were even LEAVING out the major candidate for District 3 Senate race…

    When I started questioning who they were, who was paying them and so forth, I got nowhere.

    Finally,  I was nearly yelling at them on why were they PURPOSELY ignoring the MAJOR candidate who is actually LEADING and they just said they had to stick to the script…

    I’ve been kinda busy at my university job, where fortunately for my faculty and staff and administrators, I am taking a day off….

    But, really.   The Davis ENTERPRISE>   run by my old pals Foy McNaughton and friends were not interested in THAT story either…

    After 22 years of public service in THIS area, and standing up for children, schools, elders, and so many others and actually having the Enterprise support HER for many of those years…

    Well, now that DODD – aka Mr. Moneybucks – must have greased THOSE wheels, the Enterprise not ONLY came out in HIS support and ALSO declined to even allow a few words of a comment from Mariko Yamada.

    And, if you don’t know what a PUSH POLL is…it is a paid advertising disguised as PUBLIC SERVICE impartial SURVEY>>

    The questions are designed as a rebuttal to whatever anyone brings up as a concern and to override the public impression of someone.

    Now I KNOW first hand that the DODD folks CANNOT be trusted.

    And, their ads on THIS site for the environment, give ME a break folks…

    If THAT is not illegal, it is only because not enough people know about it NOR care…

    VOTE MARIKO YAMADA>>>>>>>>she si STILL IN THE LEAD>>>>and she CAN and WILL win the vote and hearts of the grass root campaign….

    Marina Kalugin (Rumiansev)

    PS>   I first met Mariko when her older daughter was in THE Gate class with my older son.. Back in the days that MANY bright GATE children were not allowed the services THEY needed….  History has now repeated itself … this GATE issue is once again being railroaded against the wishes of Parents, Educators and Children….





  6. wdf1

    It is understandable that wealthy philanthropists are probably motivated by a sense of wanting to give back and maybe have a social legacy.  But I think there is a mismatch of culture and mindset in understanding what can make a business successful and what makes a public education system successful.  In attempting to impose certain kinds of business models (especially ones that made those philanthropists so successful) on a system where those models don’t fit, they’re actually making the education system worse.  For instance, schools tend to be a reflection of the surrounding community.  Changing pedagogical models alone is not going to make a school more successful in the long run unless there is recognition of what broader inputs are coming from surrounding community, and what potential interactions the school can have with the surrounding community.  It may in fact be hard to see what those broader inputs are for individuals who haven’t lived in or worked with that particular community before.  That can take years to understand.


  7. wdf1

    I have to wonder if Dodd is fully aware of the consequences of aligning himself with EdVoice.  I tend to doubt it.  There is a superficial attraction to the policies they’re promoting, but if you vet them more thoroughly, there are drawbacks.

  8. Marina Kalugin

    PS>   Wealthy donors are NOT for COMMON core, unless they have NO clue what COMMON CORE is…

    Common core is to teach to the LOWEST common denominator…… and, from what I’ve been hearing in town, those who are subjected to it…bright students who used to excel in math are being forced to do the nonsense under paid tutors……

    ONLY the GATE< and the INDEPENDENT Study and private schools in town are ways to escape that latest and most ridiculous of nonsense forced on the throats of our children by yet other corporations…

    The OBAMA girls do NOT get common core in their fancy wealthy private school…..


    1. wdf1

      GATE students don’t use Common Core curricula?  That’s news to me.  If they’re required to take the SBAC test, then I would think they’re accountable to the CC curriculum.

      MKalugin:  Common core is to teach to the LOWEST common denominator

      I’m not sure that I see much significant difference between CC versus the prior California State Standards that would actually support that statement.  I have criticisms of CC, but that actually isn’t a criticism that I can justify.

      You are correct that if you go to a private prep school, like the Obamas’ and Gates’ children, you don’t have to take the standardized tests, and you don’t have to use the CC curricula.

  9. Misanthrop

    What consequences? For Dodd the downside is small, a few news articles in opposition to half a million in advertising. Its the schools who suffer the consequences of these monied interests having the ear and support of those that brought them to the dance and ultimately the kids with the pool of people willing to go into teaching getting smaller while more seasoned professionals age out and retire.

    1. wdf1

      Most education reforms have most heavily impacted schools that serve high percentages of lower income families, because their schools are perceived as failing.  Lower income families often haven’t been as politically responsive.  If he votes for policies that negatively affect middle income families or higher, then there’s a greater chance for backlash.

  10. Dave Hart

    I think we all recall that Bill Dodd was elected to the Assembly in 2014 as a result of the three-way vote splitting because J. Krovoza and D. Wolk couldn’t come to terms with the reality of the new top two election rules so that both of them split the votes sufficiently to allow Dodd to waltz right on in.  Now,  his name recognition and a little help from his oligarchic friends will probably put him into the Senate where he will camp out as a DINO and vote with the Republicans on their designated “job-killer” bills for the next 8 years.  Meanwhile a really decent person like Mariko Yamada has to try and beat the increased odds against her that big money can buy.

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