A political action committee that plans to spend up to $1 million on upcoming state school board races is trying to pack the board to aid the financial elite, an official of a rival group said Wednesday.
Don Whittinghill, who made the comments, works with the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education, which includes school board members, teacher unions and superintendents.
Whittinghill also is a consultant for the Louisiana School Boards Association.
His criticism was directed at the Alliance for Better Classrooms, called ABC, which was announced on Tuesday and is backed by Baton Rouge contractor Lane Grigsby and others.
The alliance is expected to clash with Whittinghill’s group.
In a statement, Whittinghill dubbed Grigsby a “millionaire” and said his fellow ABC officers are pushing to “turn public schools, built and operated with public tax dollars, into profit generators that mostly benefit a financial elite in the U.S.”
He also criticized ABC’s support for school choice through tax credits, deductions and “any approach” that the group says would result in quality education.
Whittinghill said the “financial elite” see choice as a way to move dollars out of traditional public schools that are often strapped for funds themselves.
BESE sets policies for an estimated 668,000 public school students statewide.
Eight of the panel’s 11 seats are on the Oct. 22 primary election ballot.
Three others are named by the governor.
Up to seven seats are expected to be heavily contested, including two in the Baton Rouge area.
The races are likely to pit candidates who favor sweeping changes in public schools — which ABC advocates — versus those who contend many of the proposed changes are misguided — which Whittinghill’s group believes.
Gov. Bobby Jindal also is expected to get involved in the races. The public education coalition has criticized the governor’s public school policies, and his influence over BESE.
The coalition will endorse select BESE candidates after qualifying on Tuesday through Sept.8, but has no plans to form a political action committee to offer financial aid, Whittinghill said.
He said the group plans to rely on grassroots efforts, social media and the news media to show “what is going on in the reform movement.”
Whittinghill criticized ABC’s call for major changes in school financing, which is called student-based budgeting and would give school principals most of the budget authority.
“There is no research anywhere in the country that this actually improves student performance,” he said.
Whittinghill also said that, while ABC says it favors “reform” candidates for BESE, 28 of Louisiana’s 50 schools with low school performance scores are state-operated “reform” schools.
Whittinghill said the ABC agenda mirrors that of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Washington, D.C., which calls itself an advocate for free markets and limited government.
ALEC’s website also features a wide range of school choice issues, including charter schools, tax credits and ways to overhaul troubled schools.
“ALEC is the signal caller,” Whittinghill said.
State Rep. Noble Ellington, R-Winnsboro and national chairman of ALEC, did not return a call for comment Wednesday.