One candidate for LA Unified’s District 2 board seat (LAUSD2) is fond of asserting she is not “for charter schools” (CS). That is Maria Brenes, the candidate instead from the Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC).

Because there is no charter partisan in this race, it does appear superficially at least, that the race in LAUSD2 is not an electoral bloodbath as of yore, with the charter school industry and its infinite resources, amassed against the public school teacher’s union, UTLA.

However this simplistic reading of the money, and the candidate’s stated alignment, ignores the underlying values of all the entities in play: public school advocates, the charter school lobby, the “Education Reform” movement, and an array of entities aligned to secure public monies for private gain.

One of the problems is the fuzziness of the term “charter school”, used as an icon for various issues from pedagogy to segregation to privatization. Because it represents different ills and aims to different entities, it is possible to be simultaneously “for” and “against” different aspects of what these schools represent. For example one could be “against” how CS contribute to segregation, and “for” their iconic representation of a parent’s prerogative to search out the “best” possible school for one’s child. Even the converse is possible, where two different icons can ‘convergently’ represent an element of CS iconography. For example, consider that CS may be icons of privatization-ideology. But this element of school reform ideology is not the only way to privatize public schools, the Education Nonprofit Industrial Complex (ENPIC) is another way to set about this.

And this is why it is hardly reassuring to hear from candidate Brenes that she might be “not for” charter schools.

Because “charter schools” (among other things) are a tool whereby some of the vast cache of public dollars earmarked for education, can be funneled from that public sector, into spaces managed by private interests. That’s what “privatization” is about, the campaign to enable that redirection of public dollars. And that’s what the evidence of Brenes’ campaign contributions shows she is about, too.

Privatization of the public sector is happening across the political spectrum and has been an offensive of long-standing. Think:  the US Post Office and its Trump-appointed postmaster Louis de Joy’s dismantling of it (DeJoy’s private business empire competes directly with the USPS even while its budget has been tampered with for years). Think:  our much-admired, directly-paid medicare system for elders (and the infirm), which is being reformulated with a layer of middlemen incentivized to maximize their profit and not healthcare (providers are paid directly no more, but instead via direct “contract” with private, for-profit interests). Think:  our public schools whose very enrollment and (enrollment-based) funding is threatened by competing schools located so proximally as to sometimes be underneath the very same roof.

These are three examples of how public dollars from public coffers are funneled into private accounts. Within the education sector charter schools are one way to enable privatization. Another way is by growing an economy for an ecosystem of allied “education helper entities,” to which parsed-out jobs are outsourced. This is the middleman paradigm (eg, Medicare’s REACH program of above). Termed a “portfolio model” of business management, it is a way to hold costs down by taking employees off the books: personnel, with all their benefits and pensions and unions and other pesky external costs, are someone else’s problem. The portfolio model aided by ENPIC is another way to transfer money from the public sector that is managed (relatively) transparently by elected, accountable officials, and in the interests of the public, straight into the non-transparent, unaccountable, private pockets of the private sector.

So it is not CS but this outsource-able ENPIC that is the form of privatization Maria Brenes represents. Brenes is the “executive director” of a nonprofit (NP) entity, ICS, which has aggrandized itself by incestuously integrating thoroughly within the fabric of the community’s and school district’s stakeholders. The group spreads presence and influence by seeding members into spin-off and allied communities (eg, SEIU99’s Lester Garcia, who is the protégé of Brenes’ husband and ICS predecessor, one-time LAUSD2 schoolboard member Monica Garcia’s chief-of-staff, and fellow wanna-be schoolboard member in his own right, Luis Sanchez; or any of the numerous NP started by former ICS acolytes). Conversely the group incorporates board and taskforce members from all around the NP grantmaking, philanthropic and political-organizing community. The nonprofit sustains a deeply integrated network of self-supporting entities that exist ultimately in large part to support one another.

Ms. Brenes’ candidacy for school board therefore both seeks to, and serves to, sustain this network, which in turn sustains her.

And while Ms Brenes may not explicitly be associated with CS specifically, among her donors more than half are associated with the “education reform” ideology which manifests itself most visibly in charter schools. This network of donors from the ENPIC comprise more than half of all donations to her campaign prior to 5/21/22, listed in Table 1a categorized by the source-type of their wealth (donations). Half again of these donations are from individuals in the Education sector and its allied nonprofits, including social justice and education reform and “helper” agencies such as ABC, AdvancementProject, Alder GSE, AZ Regents, BarrioAction, CaliforniansForJustice, CitizenSchools, CityYear, CollegeTrack, CommunityCoalition, CommunityInSchools, Grace, ICS, PowerCalifornia, UnitedParentsAndStudents, UWGLA, YouthOrganizeCalifornia. And there is no shortage of money from the CS lobby or CS themselves, e.g.:  Alliance, CCSA, CWC, Ednovate, Gabriella, GALS, GPSN, KIPP, LACoalitionForEPS, Magnolia, NewVillage, ParaLosNinos, PLAS.


Table 1a:  Donors, and their donations submitted before 5/21/22, to Maria Brenes’ LAUSD2 campaign associated with the education reform ideology of the “Education Nonprofit Industrial Complex”, or “ENPIC.” Donations are categorized according to source-type of wealth.

Giving in this campaign reflects a roster of plutocrats and the ideologically committed, similar to past campaigns driven more overtly by EdReform and charter school bias:  Baxter, Pla, Bloomfield, Neuwirth, Munger, Biondi, Weissenbach, Patron, Preston, English, Landers, Ponce, Tuck, Casillas, Young, Buik, Chang, Landecker, Bajracharya, Zuniga, Sicat, Rose, Pastor, Fuller. Bloomfield even tossed a half million gratuitous dollars into an independent expenditure account for incumbent LAUSD4 board member Melvoin, who has no serious challenger. There are ways to port that money to LAUSD2 in solidarity, if need be. It is simply untrue that ideological partisans are missing from this campaign, but they align with a different facet of privatization.

Table 1b lists the donors not (discernably) associated with the ENPIC, categorized as in Table1a according to source-type of their wealth (donations). These contributors also come overwhelmingly from the “nonprofit industrial complex”, just less from the education-focused niche. The names are less reminiscent of past school board race donations, but ricochet between entities in the NPIC whose members have grown up through, or invested in, or otherwise supported, these same allied organizations.


Table 1b:  Donors, and their donations submitted before 5/21/22, to Maria Brenes’ LAUSD2 campaign expressly not-associated with the education reform ideology of the “Education Nonprofit Industrial Complex”, or “ENPIC.” Donations are categorized according to source-type of wealth.

Among these donors is a lot of organized union support (collective PAC and SSC money), especially from the trades. Most prominent are donations from the political and allied PR-consultant class, although donations are pretty evenly distributed between source-types among these non-ENPIC donors. There are far more moderate contributions from this less ideologically committed group (Figure 1); the extremes of high & low donations are more numerous among the ideological ENPIC donors.

Figure 1:  Comparison of how donation size differs between ENPIC and non-ENPIC donors

Not surprisingly the campaign donors to ICS’ Executive Director do not so much reflect the charter school mode of privatization, attracting donations from ideological investors, as they do the portfolio model of outsourcing, attracting distributed participants in this network. This is a campaign every bit as much about school privatization as the previous. What is different is UTLA’s response. While they are clear that candidate Rivas “really blew us all away,” the distributed network of her opponent’s supporters is not an existential threat to teachers in quite the same way as, say, corporate charter ideologues. To the school system and to citizens, the threat from ICS and ENPIC is absolutely profound. But not-so-much for UTLA’s constituent core where the major effect of the portfolio model would be to outsource ancillary support.

During the strike of 2019, UTLA was overbearing in its insistence that teacher’s needs tracked student’s and family’s, de facto. This may be true when it’s true, but it is not inherent. Importantly, they are not a surrogate advocate for democracy itself, the supreme “special interest” of (American) citizens. To sustain fully funded public education by, for and of the people, requires management to remain public. ICS’ ideology is not contrary to UTLA’s support of Community Schools with its reliance on Community Based Organizations. While UTLA may actively and full-throatedly prefer Rocio Rivas for school board, members of its community are torn between competing visions centered on public school advocacy and Community Schools. As a result the surrogate wars played out formerly in outsized, outsider spending on school board races, may be subdued today even while the underlying issues of privatization remain very, very much in play.

¡Keep Public Schools Public!


Still not convinced it’s the same-old plutocrats bankrolling this candidacy as for charter partisans? This Table 2 may show these same-old dollars a little more clearly:


Table 2: Occupation and employer of donors to Maria Brenes’ LAUSD2 campaign submitted before 5/21/22, by donation size and donor’s (known) association with ENPIC.