Arthur Rock, billionaire donor to SF School Board Recall, has been pouring money into charter schools and school board elections for decades

Billionaire Arthur Rock, 95, is the largest individual donor to the San Francisco school board recall – having donated more than half a million dollars to the effort.

But this isn’t the first school board election in which Rock has invested some of his fortune. Over the past decade, Rock’s money has been invested in elections for more than 30 school boards across the country.

Many were concentrated in California. He has donated to races in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Redlands, Santa Clara and several other local towns. But his money – and his influence – also found its way to races in New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Minnesota, Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, Washington, New Mexico, Louisiana, DC and Colorado.

Seeking his donations, it’s not uncommon to make headlines in places like Albuquerque, New Mexico, Perth Amboy, New Jersey and Minneapolis, all asking who Arthur Rock is and where the money is coming from.

Rock, a venture capitalist, was a leading and early investor in tech companies such as Apple and Intel. He then co-founded the venture capital firm Davis & Rock. His net worth sits at around $1.1 billion.

According to reports, he was a good friend of the late Warren Hellman, a San Francisco investor and philanthropist widely known for starting and funding the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. The two funded the Hall of Infamy, an online gallery of white-collar criminals from 2009 that appears to no longer be operational.

According to public records, Rock primarily donated to Republicans in the 1980s and 1990s, but has mostly donated to Democrats for the past two decades. Outside of educational contributions, he is a major donor to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and ActBlue.

His money was especially important during the recall election in San Francisco of three school board members – board president Gabriela López and commissioners Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga. Since this week, he has donated $399,500 directly to the two main recall committees and an additional $100,000 to the recall-aligned PAC campaign for better San Francisco public schools. He also donated $50,000 to Neighbors For a Better San Francisco, another PAC in support of the recall.

Including Rock’s payments to these committees and CCPs, his total contribution amounts to more than half a million dollars. For context, the second backer to the race is David Sacks, who donated $74,500 directly to the recall.

What began as a trickle of donations for education-related California elections and ballot measures in the early 2000s – a donation to a school voucher proposal in 2000 and another to fund after-school programs in 2002 – turned into a flood about 10 years ago.

In addition to Rock’s contributions to school board elections across the country, we found more than $12 million donated to pro-charter school organizations such as the California Charter Schools Association and StudentsFirst in election races.

Scroll through the timeline below to see Rock’s political contributions to education-focused causes over the past two decades. We contacted Rock for comment via email but received no response.

Data for this timeline comes from local and state public records, follow the moneyand ante. It may not be comprehensive and only captures political donations related to education, not donations to private organizations outside of ballot measures or elections. Click here for full screen.

Charter Schools and Teach for America

In addition to these political donations, Rock has made significant private donations to actual charter schools. These are harder to track, but we can see some numbers in the school impact reports.

The 2021 impact report from the Northern California branch of KIPP, the largest charter school network in the United States, credits Rock and his wife, Toni Rembe Rock, with donating more than $20 million. . Rocketship Education, a network with several charter schools in San Jose, lists the pair as having donated more than $1 million in 2018 (later reports are less specific on dollar amounts).

Another interesting thread in Rock’s giving history is his support for Teach for America, a nonprofit that sends students from top universities to teach in low-income communities. After two years in the schools, teachers, known as ‘corps members’, receive support for their future careers, often outside of teaching.

Most of the candidates Rock has backed over the years are corporate alumni, and he’s donated millions to Leadership For Educational Equity and the Leaders in Education Fund — two groups that help alumni move into roles. of civic leadership. Rock is also an ex-officio board member for Teach for America in the Bay Area.

At first, Rock’s support for the teaching staff seems unrelated to his support for charter schools — but they may be two sides of the same coin.

In 2019, a ProPublica investigation found that Teach for America was increasingly sending its teachers to charter schools, in part because billionaire supporters (like the Walton family) had given the organization more money to place them there. In 2018, 40% of teachers in the corps were sent to charter schools, even though only 7% of students attended them, according to the ProPublica article.


Thus, Rock has a long history of donating to charter schools and charter school adjacent entities. But what does this have to do with the February 15 recall in San Francisco?

“There are charter schools all over California,” said Alison Collins, the school board’s former vice president. “Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles. San Francisco is a resister.

“We managed to avoid charter schools in our district, but we would be a trophy for the charter management community.”

According to Collins, charter schools in San Francisco could displace traditional public schools and reduce school accountability. She thinks stepping down, López and Moliga could lead to charter school members being appointed to replace them with Mayor London Breed.

Charter school advocates certainly have no reason to like the San Francisco school board or its current members. Before Collins served on the board, she helped establish a Charter Oversight Committee. In 2018, the board voted against opening the new KIPP Malcolm X Academy (although its decision was overruled by the California state board). And in June 2020, the San Francisco Board of Education dismissed a consultant on reopening schools on the grounds that the person had previously worked for a charter school.

And it is true that the school boards To do sometimes have the power to impede the expansion of charter schools. For example, in 2018 the California State Board of Education and two local school boards blocked the opening of a Rocketship school in San Pablo.

However, Todd David, head of one of the recall committees, isn’t convinced charter schools are a major factor in the recall one way or another. He said Mayor Breed is unlikely to appoint someone to the current school board with a radically different view of charter schools.

“Charter schools are incredibly unpopular politically in San Francisco,” David said. “Whatever the outcome of this election, I doubt that will change.”

With the election just a week away, we may soon find out.

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