Sarah Newell Usdin, a Democrat whose campaign for a seat on the school board in Orleans Parish drew attention for receiving large contributions from out-of-state education activists, has won the 3rd district seat. (Check out Lesli Maxwell's reporting on the race from last week's issue.) With 58 percent of the popular vote, Usdin defeated Republican incumbent Brett Bonin, a lawyer, and Independent Karran Harper Royal, a public school parent and advocate.
Usdin was previously the executive director of New Schools for New Orleans, which invests in charter school networks. She's been a vocal supporter of charter schools and of the state-run Recovery School District.
Her campaign raised more than $150,000, including donations from former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein and other proponents of school choice and market-based school reform. That sum is far more than her opponents raised, and more most school board candidates spend nationwide: The National School Boards Association reports that 87 percent of school board campaigners spend less than $5,000. That level of support was particularly noteworthy considering that the New Orleans School Board has jurisdiction over only eighteen schools. However, it could eventually oversee additional schools returning to local control from the Recovery School District.
The Times-Picayune reports that Usdin was able to use the funds to overcome competitor Bonin's attacks on New Schools for New Orleans' governance and finances. During the campaign, opponent Harper Royal also drew attention to the fact that many of the schools supported by New Schools for New Orleans have earned Ds and Fs on the state's school ranking scale. Some of the candidates' views are summed up in this chart from the Times-Picayune. Usdin does not send her children to public schools in New Orleans.
Usdin was on Democrats for Education Reform's "hot list" of candidates, 22 out of 30 of whom won their races. DFER supports school choice and charter schools.
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