Los Angeles Just Had the Most Expensive School Board Race Ever—and Betsy DeVos Couldn’t Be Happier

Charter school supporters were the night’s big winners.

Evan Vucci/AP


Charter school advocates landed a major victory Tuesday night, winning two seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education in the most expensive school board race in US history. Now, with charter supporters making up a majority of the board for the first time since 2010, the country’s second-largest school district could see a charter school expansion—just as it confronts a looming budget deficit and declining enrollment.

Charter-backed Nick Melvoin unseated board president Steve Zimmer, who was running for his third and final term, according to unofficial results. Kelly Gonez, a pro-reform candidate, declared victory late Tuesday night over Imelda Padilla.

The board election capped a long-standing battle between teachers’ unions and wealthy charter school proponents like former mayor Richard Riordan, Walmart heirs Alice and Jim Walton, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, philanthropist and major charter backer Eli Broad, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who gave $5 million to the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, a pro-charter PAC. Both sides attacked candidates in brutal advertisements—as of Wednesday, outside spending on the school board races reached more than $14 million, twice the amount spent in 2013, according to Los Angeles Ethics Commission campaign finance data.

The Los Angeles Unified School District already has more charter schools than any other district in the country, serving 16 percent of enrolled students. One of the first questions before the new school board could be whether to keep Superintendent Michelle King, an outspoken school choice proponent, who has been in office for 14 months.