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Charter Advocates Win Majority on Los Angeles School Board

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In a major upset, two pro-charter school candidates won seats on the school board in Los Angeles, guaranteeing a majority of support on the panel for expanding the city's charter school sector.

Two-term incumbent Steve Zimmer, president of the board, lost his seat to Nick Melvoin, whose candidacy was heavily bankrolled by pro-charter forces including billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad.

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Tuesday's runoff election—which pitted union and charter-backed candidates against one another—drew in over $14.5 million in independent spending from groups and individuals, such as Broad, the state's charter schools association, and the city's teachers' union. The election is the most expensive in the school board's history, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Union-backed candidate Imelda Padilla lost to Kelly Gonez, who was supported by the charter school establishment. 

As I wrote previously, with wealthy pro-charter school backers, like Broad, and the powerful United Teachers Los Angeles in its backyard, the district—the second largest in the country and the largest to be overseen by an elected board—has become well-trod turf in the proxy wars between charter supporters and unions.

Los Angeles, in many ways, embodies the rapid evolution of the charter concept nationally and the direction in which philanthropy has pushed it. The city is a major beneficiary—or target, depending upon whom you ask—of foundation dollars.

Potentially at stake in this election was the future of an initiative spearhead by the Broad Foundation to expand the number of charter schools in the city. Initially the plan, which was leaked to the Los Angeles Times in 2015, called for doubling the number of charter schools in the city. The plan was subsequently revamped to include district schools after rousing strong pushback.

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