School Choice & Charters

Charter Network Founder Steve Barr Plans Bid for Los Angeles Mayor

By Arianna Prothero — June 27, 2016 2 min read
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The founder of a major national charter school network has announced plans to run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2017, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Steve Barr, a Democrat, has long been involved in K-12 education initiatives both within Los Angeles and nationally, launching Green Dot Public Schools in the early 2000s.

The network has since grown to 21 schools in California, Tennessee, and Washington state.

One of Barr’s most high-profile efforts during his time at the helm of Green Dot was his 2007 takeover of a long-struggling Los Angeles high school, Locke Senior High, a move that was hotly contested by both the Los Angeles Unified School District and the city’s teachers’ union.

After stepping down from leading Green Dot in 2009, Barr also tried his hand at school turnarounds in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and a complete overhaul of the city’s education system. But his attempt to revive the long struggling John McDonough Senior High School ultimately failed—the school closed in 2014. He’s since been the chair of California Democrats for Education Reform.

Green Dot is unique among charter networks as being one of the few to have unionized teachers. Barr even partnered with then-president of the United Teachers Federation in New York City, Randi Weingarten, to open a charter school there in 2008. Weingarten, who is often a critic of the mostly non-unionized charter school sector, is now the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Barr’s political announcement comes at a time when the role of charter schools and the influence of philanthropic money in the city’s K-12 system has come under increased scrutiny. That was triggered last fall when a plan crafted by the Broad Foundation to more than double the number of charter school seats in the city was leaked to the Los Angeles Times. The plan has since been revamped to include other types of public schools.

Barr is challenging incumbent mayor Eric Garcetti. Barr told the L.A. Times his campaign will focus on improving Los Angeles schools, an issue that has proven tricky for earlier city leaders. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attempted to gain authority over the city’s sprawling school district, only to be blocked by a court.

This is not the first time a former Green Dot official has sought public office— Marshall Tuck, who used to be Green Dot’s president, unsuccessfully ran for California Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2014.

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Photo: Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, pictured in 2006. —Ringo H.W. Chiu for Education Week-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.