News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

May 17, 2019

Who does assemblymember Buffy Wicks really serve?

Despite mass mobilizations against school privatization in her district, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) is balking at supporting modest reforms to charter school laws. The reason is clear: Taking a stand for public education would mean betraying the privatizing billionaires who bankrolled her campaign for state assembly.

By Alison Doyle

The California state legislature is considering a series of charter school reform bills, Assembly Bills 1505, 1506, and 1507. All three are necessary yet modest reforms, which would slow the growth of charter schools and empower local school boards to veto new charters. Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) could be a swing vote on the two bills, AB 1505 and AB 1506, that go the furthest to protect families and students against charter encroachment.

Even though neither bill is particularly complicated, and thousands of voters in her district were in the streets earlier this year during the OEA strike to protest charter schools in Oakland, Wicks has not come out in favor of the bills.

This raises the question: Who does Buffy Wicks serve?

Who Buffy Wicks Serves

The East Bay’s Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) co-authored AB 1505, and Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) sponsored AB 1505 and supports all three bills. The California Teachers Association endorsed the bills, as did the California NAACP and the Berkeley City Council. A moratorium on charter schools was a primary demand of the historic Oakland teachers’ strike (as well as of the recent Los Angeles teachers’ strike).

Policymakers, educators, and civil rights organizations across the East Bay and California understand the need to limit charter school power, but unfortunately Wicks does not represent the working people of her district. She represents the interests of billionaires who want to privatize public education, the same billionaires who spent big on her campaign for state assembly.

Why did proponents of school privatization spend so much money electing Buffy Wicks? Charter school advocates were making a strategic investment. They knew that Wicks would represent their interests in Sacramento much more effectively than would her opponent, Jovanka Beckles. Beckles, a democratic socialist and union member, called for a statewide moratorium on charter schools. Wicks refused to back a moratorium or to renounce her pro-charter backers when pressed.

Wicks’s indecision about the three current charter reform bills demonstrates why money in politics is so corrosive to democracy. It seems that charter school advocates were right to throw their weight behind Wicks, who is demurring at modest reforms to charter school laws even in the face of a popular backlash against charters.

Buffy’s Broad Connection

Billionaire Eli Broad is one of the leaders of the school privatization movement. He donates millions to charter school advocacy and literally wrote the book on how to charterize entire school districts. The Broad Academy trained superintendents from Los Angeles to New Orleans to Oakland on how to destroy public education. Broad and his fellow billionaires push for charter expansion because they want to destroy teachers’ unions, justify cuts to taxes and public spending, and create new opportunities for corporate profit. Their endgame is the complete privatization of public schools.

When Broad’s PAC gave $1.2 million to Buffy Wicks in her 2018 election campaign, it amounted to a ringing endorsement from the charter industry. Broad and his PAC recognized Wicks as a potential champion who would represent his interests. AB 1505 and AB 1506 are threats to charter schools, and Wicks’s refusal to support the bills seems to show that Broad’s investment was a wise one.

The ultrarich obtain their wealth by taking it from the rest of us. Every dollar that goes to charter schools, and into the pockets of their financial backers, is a dollar stolen from traditional public schools and the working class. The struggle between the haves and the have-nots is a zero-sum game, and most politicians choose to serve the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

Working people can win this zero-sum game, however, through collective action. The teachers’ strikes in Oakland and Los Angeles centered the destructive impact of charters and paved the way for these charter reform bills. Politicians across California learned that if they want schools to stay open, they have to appease militant teachers and regulate charter schools. As Bay Area teachers from Sacramento to Hayward prepare to strike, working people have more opportunities to demonstrate our power and win the reforms we need. Educators, parents, and community members from all over California are rallying in Sacramento on May 22 to remind our legislators that they serve the working majority, not the wealthy few.

If Wicks votes for the charter reform bills, it will be because of the mass action by the working class of Oakland and Los Angeles. Everyone involved in the strikes should feel proud that our collective power is stronger than the forces of the billionaire privatizers in public education.

If Wicks votes against the laws, we know that we need to build more power. Charter interests are powerful, but movements of the working class are growing stronger across California and the East Bay.

Buffy Wicks is supposed to represent Assembly District 15 and all of the working people within it. She represents every window with a “We Stand With Oakland Teachers” sign and every person who joined teachers on the picket line earlier this year. It’s time that we remind her of that.