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Democrats fight over future of public education in San Fernando Valley Assembly race (updated)

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A candidate running for the state Assembly in the San Fernando Valley has asked the California Teachers Association to back off of claims that he wants to hand out school vouchers and privatize public schools.

Brian Johnson, who was the executive director of the Larchmont Charter Schools until he decided to run for office, is supported by more than $916,000 in independent expenditures from groups like EdVoice and Parents and Teachers for Putting Students First, which is operated by the former head of Washington, D.C. public schools, Michelle Rhee. Johnson has remained on staff at Larchmont Charter Schools as a senior academic officer.

The California Teachers Association has spent $151,000 on mailers, robo calls and Internet ads in opposition to Johnson. The union has backed Andrew Lachman in the race.

The race in the state Assembly’s 46th District highlights the Democratic party’s differences over the future of public education. Earlier this month, the chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party sent a cease and desist letter to Democrats for Education Reform, which demanded the national group remove “democrats” from its name. In a recent piece for the Los Angeles Times, writer Jim Newton wrote that this fight shows “a deep division within the Democratic Party, especially in California, about how best to approach the question of improving schools.”

In a letter to the president of the California Teachers Association, Johnson wrote, “I am completely against vouchers, turning all public schools into charters, or any privatization of public schools. As I have said many times before to you, we actually agree on 90 percent of the issues.”

“I’m sorry that our points of disagreement have you so concerned that you are willing to misrepresent the facts to voters in my community.”

A spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association said this state race, "is definitely a race about the real values that we hold in public education."

"Mr. Johnson is backed by a lot of big money interests," said Becky Zoglman. "They are people who certainly have agendas that don't align with what we think is best for public education and students."

"We believe that every child deserves a quality public education," she said.

The Michelle Rhee group, Parents and Teachers for Putting Students First, made news earlier this week when it moved $2 million into a fund to influence the June 5 state primaries. The first $400,000 was spent on television ads in support of Johnson.

A statement from the campaign of one of Johnson’s opponents, Adrin Nazarian, called that “an attempt to buy an Assembly seat.”

This post has been updated.

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