Billionaires at Netflix and Walmart attempt to buy State Board of Education seats to pave the way for charter schools

Two out-of-state billionaires—Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and an heir of the Walton family of Walmart fame—are trying to buy Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) seats to clear the way for a wave of new charter schools. The two donors gave $2 million to the Charter Schools Now PAC, which in turn has donated to SBOE candidates who are charter-school backers. 

The donations were revealed with the release of campaign contribution reports on Wednesday. Charter Schools Now gave a whopping $206,908 to one candidate alone—Omar Yanar, a charter school operator in El Paso running for SBOE District 1 in the March 1 Primary. (Our endorsed candidate is Laura Márquez, who opposes charter expansion.) 

Marquz on beige background flier. Text: Proudly NOT endorsed by Charter Schools Now
Candidate Laura Márquez makes it clear she is NOT endorsed by Charter Schools Now.

To give some context on that $206,908, the average SBOE campaign for primaries and the general elections in the past decade averaged about $22,000. (The highest donation ever also came from Charter Schools Now at $228,602 to Inga Cotton, a charter backer who lost in the 2020 Republican Primary.)

“Candidates who accept these outrageous charter-school PAC donations are marking themselves as bought, ready to grease the wheels and pave the way for massive charter-chain expansion—all at the expense of our true public schools,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo.

The Legislature has given Education Commissioner Mike Morath the power to rubber stamp charter applications. The only protection against unqualified charter applicants and those seeking to profit off of our public schools is a veto of the applications by the State Board of Education. 

“It’s pretty clear that buying off candidates who will vote to allow new charter schools is the name of the game for these PACs,” Capo said. “Profiteers are circumventing the democratic process with their money to buy what they couldn’t win in the Legislature—unbridled expansion of unaccountable schools run by for-profit corporate shells.”

Hastings is known for his continuing role in bankrolling charter-school efforts and calling for the abolition of public school boards. The Walmart Family Foundation has donated hundreds of millions of dollars for charter-school startups and private-school voucher initiatives. 

Charter schools cost Texas taxpayers $3.6 billion each year. What that money buys is a publicly-funded, privately-administered, unaccountable second school system that siphons funds from our public schools. “That billion-dollar industry is now trying to flex its muscles in elections,” Capo said. “Texans need to realize they are being scammed.”