Follow the Money

Voucher proponents seek to buy top school post

California voters have several times rejected wealthy candidates’ attempts to buy statewide offices with their own personal fortunes. So why should they accept a candidate for state schools chief, Gloria Matta Tuchman, whose main claim to office is the support of a few multimillionaires who would use her office to push an agenda damaging to public education?

Hewlett-Packard heir David W. Packard’s $500,000 contribution to Tuchman, a Santa Ana first-grade teacher and co-author of the anti-bilingual education Proposition 227, will pay for a last-minute blitz of television ads against incumbent Superintendent Delaine Eastin. Packard also pledges to match, with a donation to Tuchman, every dollar contributed to Eastin from any source, up until the Nov. 3 election.

Tuchman blasts Eastin for support by “special interests” such as the state’s teachers, school employees and high-tech firms. But Packard’s contribution is twice as large as Eastin’s donations from the California Teachers Association, her biggest single supporter. It’s Tuchman who is now the handmaiden of the wealthy few.

Before Packard’s late-season bonanza, the bulk of Tuchman’s $1 million campaign war chest came from two other conservative contributors, savings and loan heir Howard Ahmanson and Wal-Mart heir John Walton.

Why are these wealthy men so interested in promoting for statewide office a candidate with virtually no political experience, who shows little evidence of being remotely qualified to be even an inspirational leader for the nation’s largest school system?

The linkage seems to lie in a far-right agenda to dismantle the public school system as it is now constituted by shifting up to half the money California spends per pupil to vouchers for private or religious school education. Ahmanson, Tuchman says, “shares my dreams.” And for the wealthy donors, the job of state schools chief apparently looks cheap to buy.

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