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Charter school advocates spend big in county Board of Education race

Charter school advocates are once again spending big bucks on the Sacramento County Office of Education election.

In recent years, the California Charter Schools Association has emerged as a major player in supporting candidates for the board. In 2016, charter advocates spent nearly $500,000 to support three candidates-- two won seats.

In addition to providing oversight for Sacramento County school districts, the seven-member education board reviews the charters of countywide charter school systems and hears appeals from charter schools whose applications have been rejected by local school districts.

This year, the board is focusing on Paul Keefer, 51, who is running for the Area 3 seat against Sacramento State professor Richard Launey, 73. Keefer is the executive director of Pacific Charter Institute, a charter school network with four charters serving 2,617 students in 16 counties, according to its web site.

By Thursday charter advocates had contributed $154,255 to Keefer's campaign, according to statements filed with the county.

Keefer said he is the best person for the job and he's glad the Charter Schools Association agrees. "I believe in empowering teachers to teach students, and charter schools do a great job of that," he said. "I hope to support them as a Sacramento County board member."

He pointed out that Launey garnered big contributions from a teachers union. Campaign contribution filings show that the Sacramento City Teachers Association contributed $16,165 to Launey's campaign.

"The teachers are supporting me and all the different associations around the area are supporting me," he said.

Launey, a government professor, says he often talks to his students about the impact of money on politics. "I just don't believe that statewide money should be the determining factor in local elections," he said.

The Area 3 seat represents parts of San Juan, Twin Rivers and Sacramento City Unified school districts. The seat is currently held by Jacquelyn Levy, who is not running for re-election.

"The fact they have put $154, 000 toward electing Paul Keefer comes as no surprise to educators in Sacramento," said Claudia Briggs, a spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association. "There has been an ongoing approval of charter schools at the Sacramento County Office of Education level, even though the local school board has denied petitions."

The charter schools association has been spending exorbitantly in races across the state including the gubernatorial race, superintendent of instruction and local races in order to expand privately run charter schools, she said.

“Paul Keefer is a passionate educator and school leader who has worked on behalf of Sacramento’s most at-risk students," said Brittany Parmley, spokeswoman for California Charter Schools Association Advocates. "He has the vision and experience needed to improve Sacramento’s public schools and erase the academic inequality that continues throughout the city.”

The Area 2 race for the county school board pits Nate Pelczar, 40, a management consultant against Ray Green, 29, an education program manager and Karina Talamantes, 29, a career counselor and business owner.

Bina Lefkovitz, who was appointed to fill the seat of Greg Getting in August, is running unopposed for District 1.