Victoria’s State Board of Education Candidates Backed by Billionaire-Funded PACs | New

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The two Texas candidates from Victoria State Board of Education race have received significant amounts of campaign finance from political action committees funded by out-of-state billionaires, according to campaign finance reports.

PACs funded by Jim Walton, an Arkansas heir to the Walmart fortune, and Reed Hastings, the California CEO of Netflix, spent more than $206,000 on the District 2 race, funding both LJ Francis, the Republican, and Victor Perez, the Democrat.

Charter Schools Now, a pro-PAC charter school, donated to both candidates, spending $22,050 on Perez’s campaign in May and $3,904 on Francis’s in February.

Texans for Freedom Education spent more than $99,000 on Francis’ campaign, while the Legacy 44 PAC spent over $80,000 on Perez.

The newly redesigned District Two stretches along the Gulf Coast from northern El Campo to the US-Mexico border, including virtually every junction.

The 15-member State Board of Education is responsible for setting rules and setting standards for Texas public schools, including setting curriculum standards and approving educational materials like textbooks. Republicans currently hold a three-member majority.

After a push by conservative state lawmakers earlier in September, it in a hurry to a planned overhaul of social studies standards through 2025, when winners of ongoing races would likely still be on the board.

Members serve four-year terms, and the 15 seats are up for election in 2022 after the post-census redistribution, which Texas Tribune analysis found would likely keep Republican seats in the majority.

francis ran a campaign, which got a approval by Governor Greg Abbott in August, targeting “woke liberals” and so-called critical race theory, as well as touting his history as an immigrant from Jamaica.

PerezThe campaign focused on his background in education and pro-teacher messaging.

Neither campaign responded to repeated requests for interviews from the Victoria Advocate in September, although Francis previously responded to questions about his campaign funding by saying PAC contributions went directly to voter contact efforts. .

This year’s race is significantly better funded than the 2018 contest, which was won by incumbent Democrat Ruben Cortez. About $80,000 has been spent on this race, while the 2022 competition has already raised more than $314,000 in funding, according to Transparency USA. database.

Victoria’s State Board district race is not unique in its high spending, and PACs like Texans for Freedom of Education and Charter Schools have also spent large sums on races in other districts. , following the statewide trend increased focus on education policy.

The vast majority of PACs spending that money are funded by a handful of people, according to their own financial information filed with the office of the Texas secretary of state.

Charter Schools Now, for example, secured most of its funding for 2021 through a $450,000 donation from Walton, the self-proclaimed philanthropist, who is the 16th richest nobody in the world.

He is affiliated with the association Texas Association of Public Charter Schoolswhich promotes itself as the “leading voice for Texas charter school leaders, parents, and students.”

Charter Schools Now spokesperson Brian Whitley said the PAC’s goal was to support applicants who “would treat charter schools fairly,” including Francis and Garcia.

The state board plays a crucial role in the charter school world by reviewing the Texas Education Agency commissioner’s recommendations for new charter schools, with the ability to veto said applicants.

In 2022, the bulk of Charter Schools Now’s funding came from four donations earlier in the year totaling $820,000 made by another PAC, named Educational Equity PAC.

PAC’s only funding for educational equity in 2022 came from a $1,511,000 donation from Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, who also donated $480,000 to PAC in 2020.

That same year, he also received $180,000 from John Arnold, a billionaire former hedge fund investor who cut his teeth as a trader at Enron. These donations from Arnold and Hastings are his only reported funding in Texas in the past three years.

The Educational Equity PAC donated $460,000 to Legacy 44 PAC, which funds much of Perez’s campaign and also received $100,000 from Walton this year.

Legacy 44 claims to be “inspired by Obama’s legacy” and works to elect Texas Democrats while focusing on education.

Unlike other PACs, most of the funding for Texans for Educational Freedom, which has been a strong supporter of Francis’ campaign, comes from inside Texas. The top donors reported are James Leininger, a San Antonio physician and GOP donor, and Richard Weekly, a Houston real estate developer.

Despite his heavy campaign spending, his website articulates the goal of “getting politics out of the classroom” and states that “liberal politics has taken root in our classrooms, and our children are subjected to radical indoctrination, anti-American agenda and sexual practices”. explicit materials. Critical race theory and other Marxist teachings pose an immediate risk to our schools, our children, and our future.

Christopher Zook Jr., who leads Texans for Educational Freedom, said in a statement that they support Francis because he is “in a unique position to be a strong voice and advocate for parents and students, and suppress agendas.” classroom policies and getting back to basics. ”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct that Christopher Zook Jr. leads Texans for Educational Freedom. Earlier references to this PAC confused its name with Freedom Foundation of Texas. Texans for Educational Freedom was previously known as the FFOT PAC.

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