Why California's next election will be a tug-of-war on education

Sandra Lowe reminisced about the good old days as she addressed a roomful of Democratic activists at the California party’s annual convention last week in Sacramento. It used to be, the teachers union leader told the crowd, that it didn’t take much to win a school board race: a short statement in the election handbook, a little money for some mail and the shoe-leather to knock on doors and talk to voters.

Now, Lowe said, things are different. Wealthy donors have put big money into shaking up public education by backing candidates willing to challenge union orthodoxy. And the impact they had this month on the school board race in Los Angeles — ousting a union-backed incumbent and electing a new majority that favors charter schools — is likely to reverberate across California.

“It’s not just an L.A. situation,” said Lowe, a California Teachers Association consultant. “This is going to happen everywhere.”

The future of public education in California has become a tug-of-war between different camps within the Democratic Party. Democrats aligned with organized labor – who dominated local and legislative races for many years — are now facing formidable challenges from Democrats who see overhauling some union rules as a key to improving education.

The Democrat vs. Democrat split that played out in the Los Angeles school board election also emerged in several legislative races last year. Now, as California looks toward the election of a new…

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