In Partnership with The 74

Education reform candidates score gains in California’s Democratic caucus

Sarah Favot | November 11, 2016



Parents in the Bay Area organized a candidates forum for parents. (Courtesy: Rocketship Education)

Parents in the Bay Area organized a candidates forum for parents. (Courtesy: Rocketship Education)

Groups that support charter schools and education reform spent millions in the 2016 election cycle, and it seems it paid off as several candidates they backed appear poised to be heading to Sacramento in December.

Education reform independent expenditure committees, like EdVoice and the California Charter Schools Association, spent 10 times more in the general election than the powerful California Teachers Association in advertising, mailers, phone banking, polling and research for candidates they supported and opposed. The CTA spent most of its war chest, about $16 million, to push education-related ballot measures, which overwhelmingly passed.

Two closely watched legislative races in the Los Angeles area were two Assembly seats: one left vacant by state Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, due to term limits, and a northeast San Fernando Valley seat held by state Assemblywoman Patty López, D-San Fernando.

In both races, the candidates supported by education reformers won.

• See how much outside groups spent in the general election. 

A unique candidate forum was organized by parents for parents in the Bay Area. Read about it in English and Spanish.

Glendale City Councilwoman Laura Friedman, a former film and television executive, defeated Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian, a fellow Democrat, earning 65.2 percent of the votes, compared to Kassakhian’s 34.8 percent, according to unofficial election results. Kassakhian was endorsed by the California Teachers Association and LA Unified board President Steve Zimmer.

Laura Friedman (courtesy via Twitter.com)

Laura Friedman (via Twitter.com)

The CCSA poured millions into this race and was criticized by some for negative campaign mailers sent in the primary. Campaign finance records on the secretary of state’s website show that an independent expenditure committee sponsored by CCSA Advocates, the CCSA’s political arm, spent $2 million supporting Friedman as of Oct. 22, with about half spent in the primary. The CCSA spent at least $355,000 on mailers opposing Kassakhian in the primary.

The CTA spent about $50,000 on mailers in the primary opposing Friedman and supporting Kassakhian.

Independent expenditure committees are not bound by limits in contributions like candidate committees and are not allowed to coordinate with candidates they support.

López, who was endorsed by the CTA, lost her seat to fellow Democrat Raul Bocanegra, a reversal of a stunning upset two years ago when López defeated Bocanegra, who was then the incumbent. Bocanegra, who has taught at Cal State Northridge, was endorsed by the CCSA. He earned 61.1 percent of the votes. López received 38.9 percent, according to unofficial election results. López was endorsed by LA Unified school board member Scott Schmerelson, according to her website.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome in that we’re able to support two candidates who have student outcomes in mind as a priority and who will be champions for all students,” said CCSA Advocates spokesman Richard Garcia, of the Friedman and Bocanegra races. “We feel this is a big win for parents who value choice in education.”

This election was seen as pivotal to education reformers especially in the state Assembly because there will not be any open seats due to term limits until 2024. After losing high-profile court battles that challenged the state’s education codes, those pushing for reforms have poured millions into backing candidates viewed as friendly to charter schools and school choice.

Spending from the education reform supporters in California ramped up in 2014 when Marshall Tuck ran for state superintendent. Tuck lost to Tom Torlakson, who was seeking re-election. Spending in that race was three times higher than in the gubernatorial race.

In the primary election in June, one-third of all outside money spent by independent expenditure committees came from education reform groups. In the general election, EdVoice, CCSA Advocates’ Parent Teacher Alliance committee and Parents and Teachers for Student Success accounted for more than $9 million of the $41 million spent by outside groups during the general election, according to Rob Pyers, of Target Book, a non-partisan organization that crunches campaign finance data. 

During this election, there were 17 open seats in the Assembly and nine open seats in the Senate. In many key races, Democrats were going head-to-head.

In closely watched races where money was spent by education reformers and/or teachers’ unions, eight candidates who were endorsed by the CCSA appear poised to be elected, four candidates who were endorsed by the CTA are likely to be elected, three candidates who were endorsed by both the CTA and CCSA were elected and four candidates who were not endorsed by either the CTA or CCSA are poised to win their respective races.

The election results are not yet final as 4 million vote-by-mail ballots statewide are still being counted.

CTA President Eric Heins railed against the billionaires who are donating to education reform groups like the CCSA and EdVoice. Donors include Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix, and Doris Fisher, co-founder of The Gap. He said the money that CTA spends during elections comes from teachers.

“I think we’ll see a change in the Legislature,” Heins said. “I think the polling shows, though, that the California voters and Californians don’t necessarily support this agenda. Part of their issue with that agenda is the lack of transparency and accountability in these schools.

“The one thing these billionaires do is they don’t spend money and try not to get a return for it. So we’ll see,” he said. “Certainly, they’re backing these candidates for a reason.”

The true amount spent on the general election will not be known until after Jan. 31 when the final reports will be publicly available on the secretary of state’s website.

Through its independent expenditure committee, the CTA spent more than $1 million in this election cycle; $860,000 was spent in the general election to support or oppose candidates, according to campaign finance data on the secretary of state’s website. The CTA also gave more than $16 million to campaigns that support Prop. 55 and Prop. 58, campaign finance data show.

EdVoice, a nonprofit organization that supports education reform but not solely charter schools, spent about $10 million, as of Oct. 22, supporting candidates, mainly in Northern California races, campaign finance records show. In the general election, it spent $3.7 million.

The Parent Teacher Alliance sponsored by the CCSA Advocates spent about $9 million this election cycle, as of Oct. 22. About $5 million was spent in the general election.

Two other groups associated with education reform are Govern for California, whose two committees spent about $2.3 million, and Parents and Teachers for Student Success, which spent about $500,000, as of Oct. 22.

See Target Book’s compilation of independent expenditure committee spending in the general election.

Here is how CCSA- and CTA- endorsed candidates fared in other key legislative races:

Southern California

45th Assembly – Los Angeles

Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Encino, who was endorsed by both the CCSA and CTA, was re-elected receiving 65.8 percent of the votes over Jerry Kowal, a Republican, who earned 34.2 percent of the votes.

38th Assembly – Santa Clarita

Dante Acosta, a Republican, received 53.1 percent of the votes over Chirsty Smith, a Democrat, who was endorsed by the CTA and received 46.9 percent of the votes. The CCSA didn’t endorse in the race, an open seat.

47th Assembly – Fontana

Challenger Eloise Reyes, a Democrat, defeated state Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-Rialto, who was endorsed by the CCSA. Reyes received 53.3 percent of the votes. Brown received 46.7 percent. The CTA did not endorse in the race.

29th Senate – Anaheim

Ling Ling Chang, a Republican and outgoing state Assemblywoman, appears to have defeated John Newman, a Democrat, garnering 50.9 percent of the votes to Newman’s 49.1 percent. Chang was endorsed by the CCSA, while the CTA endorsed Newman. The LA Times has not called the race.

21st Senate – Santa Clarita

Republican Assemblyman Scott Wilk defeated Johnathon Ervin, a CTA-endorsed Democrat, earning 54.8 percent of the votes to Ervin’s 45.2 percent. The CCSA did not endorse in this race.

27th Senate – Los Angeles

Henry Stern, a Democrat and advisor to outgoing state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, won with 55 percent of the votes over Republican candidate Steve Fazio. Stern was endorsed by the CTA. The CCSA did not endorse in the race.

60th Assembly – Riverside

Challenger Sabrina Cervantes, a Democrat, appears to have delivered an upset to incumbent state Assemblyman Eric Linder, a Republican, who was endorsed by the CTA. Cervantes earned 52.2 percent of the votes to Linder’s 47.8 percent. The CCSA did not endorse in the race. The LA Times has not yet called the race

65th Assembly – Anaheim

Sharon Quirk-Silva, a Democrat, endorsed by the CTA,  appears poised to defeat incumbent state Assemblywoman Young Kim, a Republican, who was endorsed by the CCSA. Quirk-Silva received 50.8 percent of the votes to Kim’s 49.2 percent. The LA Times has not called the race.

66th Assembly – Torrance

Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat endorsed by the CTA, defeated incumbent state Assemblyman David Hadley, a Republican, who was endorsed by the CCSA, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Central California

31st Assembly – Fresno

Incumbent state Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, who was endorsed by both the CCSA and CTA, won re-election with 61.8 percent of the votes. Challenger Clint Olivier, a Republican, received 38.2 percent of the votes.

30th Assembly – Salinas

Anna Caballero, a Democrat endorsed by the CCSA, defeated Karina Cervantez Alejo, a Democrat and wife of outgoing incumbent state Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas. Caballero received 63.5 percent of the votes. Alejo received 36.5 percent. The CTA remained neutral in the race.

Northern California

11th Senate – San Francisco

Scott Wiener, a Democrat endorsed by the CCSA, won with 52.5 percent of the votes defeating CTA-endorsed Jane Kim, a Democrat, who received 47.5 percent of the votes.

27th Assembly – Alum Rock

In an expensive and hard-fought race, Ash Kalra, a Democrat endorsed by the CTA, is ahead of Madison Nguyen, a fellow Democrat, who was endorsed by the CCSA. Kalra received 52.4 percent of the votes. Nguyen received 47.6 percent. The LA Times has not yet called the race.

4th Assembly- Napa

Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry, a Democrat, who was endorsed by the CCSA and CTA, won the open seat defeating Republican Charlie Schaupp. Aguiar-Curry received 63.6 percent of the votes. Schaupp received 36.4 percent.

24th Assembly – Sunnyvale

Marc Berman, a Democrat, who was endorsed by the CCSA, won the open seat with 54 percent of the votes. Vicki Veenker, a fellow Democrat, who was endorsed by the CTA, received 46 percent of the votes.

14th Assembly – Concord

Tim Grayson, a Democrat who was endorsed by the CCSA, won with 62.1 percent of the votes, defeating Mae Torlakson, wife of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and a Democrat, who was endorsed by the CTA and received 37.9 percent of the votes.

3rd Senate – Fairfeld

Bill Dodd, a Democrat endorsed by the CCSA, won the open seat earning 59.4 percent of the votes defeating Mariko Yamada, a fellow Democrat, who received 40.6 percent of the votes. The CTA remained neutral during the race.


The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation funds Spanish translation on LA School Report en Español. The Doris & Donald Fisher Fund supports The 74, parent of LA School Report.   

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