California’s top education official helped an exclusive private boarding school in China aimed at getting the children of elite families into American universities

Steve Ma with the Pegasus California School emblem and school and California and China flags next to him on a pale yellow background
  • An Insider investigation has found that some of California’s highest-ranking education officials and leading public universities worked closely with a swaggering entrepreneur who launched a private boarding school for elite families in China.
  • Pegasus California School, in Qingdao, billed itself as part of the Val Verde Unified School District in Riverside County, California, and bestowed Val Verde diplomas on graduates to help them get into the University of California system.
  • Val Verde’s superintendent said at a school board meeting that the University of California at Riverside had guaranteed admission to every Pegasus graduate, a charge the school denies.
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An Insider investigation has found that some of California’s highest-ranking education officials and leading public universities worked closely with a businessman named Steven Ma to help set up an exclusive private boarding school in Qingdao, China, called Pegasus California School. The school, which cost roughly $34,ooo per year, purported to be a replica of a public high school in California, and was nominally a part of the Val Verde Unified School District in Riverside County, California.

California’s former top education official and a former state secretary of education were involved in the effort, as were senior Val Verde officials and a retired senior staffer within the University of California Office of the President, the headquarters of the UC system, who continued to work as as a contractor for the University of California at Irvine even as Pegasus was paying him to help its students gain admission.

The public servants, records show, gave Ma and his associates official state appointments and helped grease the skids to give Pegasus students a leg up in the increasingly cutthroat University of California admissions process. Not only did UC Irvine offer summer-school programs specially arranged for Pegasus students, it dispatched admissions staffers to the school’s China campus to talk to students and their parents, and specifically monitored Pegasus students’ progress through the admissions cycle. At UC Riverside, the ties were even closer: The university pledged to work with Pegasus students to help them become competitive applicants and offered them special permission to submit applications after the deadline had passed.

Val Verde’s superintendent publicly proclaimed that UC Riverside guaranteed admission to all Pegasus graduates, according to the minutes of a public-school board meeting. One former California education official described the arrangement, if it exists, as “appalling.”

In an interview, Ma said Pegasus students never received preferential treatment from California education officials, and said the notion that any Pegasus students were guaranteed admission to UC schools was “ridiculous and false.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the University of California Office of the President said that UC admissions staffers do not “guarantee, nor would our campuses honor, any promise of admission. Applicants are evaluated based on a comprehensive review of their record…. It is concerning that an individual not affiliated with the UC system may have misrepresented those discussions without our knowledge or authorization.”

In response to Insider’s inquiries about Pegasus, a California Department of Education spokesman said the department has referred the matter to the state attorney general for investigation.

“State Superintendent [of Public Instruction Tony] Thurmond was not aware of these allegations before they surfaced in . . . Insider’s reporting, and asked the California Department of Education on May 6 to refer this matter to the state Attorney General’s office and the Fair Political Practices Commission for further review.

“It is imperative that these serious allegations of misuse of state funds and conflict of interest during or after the former Superintendent’s term, or whether the relationship between the school district and the Chinese school are legal, be reviewed by the appropriate outside agencies with authority to investigate this matter.”

READ OUR FULL STORY: Insider investigation reveals officials helped sell access to California public schools to Chinese elite

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GOP politicians lost tens of thousands of followers after Twitter purged QAnon accounts. Here’s who lost the most.

Silhouetted figures stand before large Twitter logo
GOP officials lost thousands of followers after Twitter’s purge of QAnon-related accounts.

  • GOP elected officials lost thousands of Twitter followers over the weekend, as the company cracked down on QAnon accounts in the aftermath of the Capitol Hill riots.
  • Insider analyzed the Twitter followings of the entire GOP congressional caucus and every Republican governor tracked by Social Blade. 94% have lost followers since January 6th.
  • More than 100,000 of Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rand Paul’s followers were purged or defected. Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s Twitter following dropped by more than 80,000, and Sen. Mitch McConnell’s dropped by more than 70,000.
  • Reps. Clay Higgins and Devin Nunes lost the largest share of their followers, with each shedding more than 15%.
  • Congress Democrats did not experience comparable declines, Insider found. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Nearly every major GOP elected official has hemorrhaged Twitter followers since the company cracked down on QAnon accounts following last Wednesday’s riots in the Capitol, according to Insider’s analysis of the lawmakers’ public profiles. Republican congressmen lost nearly 6,000 followers on average over the weekend, with some legislators’ follower counts dropping by more than 100,000. 

Twitter announced on Tuesday that it had permanently suspended more than 70,000 accounts from its platform. “Given the violent events in Washington, DC, and increased risk of harm, we began permanently suspending thousands of accounts that were primarily dedicated to sharing QAnon content on Friday afternoon,” the company said. 

The announcement came days after Twitter permanently banned President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, his former attorney Sidney Powell, and 8chan founder Ron Watkins-all of whom have played a prominent role in amplifying QAnon content. They and other banned accounts, Twitter explained, were “engaged in sharing harmful QAnon-associated content at scale and were primarily dedicated to the propagation of this conspiracy theory across the service.”

Twitter took action shortly after banning President Trump himself over a pair of tweets, published during the Capitol riots, that it said were “likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021.”

The large scale of lesser-known removals did not go unnoticed. Prominent conservative figures, from Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Dave Rubin and Bari Weiss, publicly complained about losing followers. 

The vast majority of Republican officials lost followers after Twitter began purging QAnon-related accounts

Insider analyzed the Twitter followers of 248 GOP congressmen and state governors, using data collected from Social Blade. Our analysis, which does not include newly-elected congressmen who took office on January 3, 2021 or less influential officials not tracked by Social Blade, found that 94% of major GOP elected officials lost followers in the aftermath of the Capitol Hill riots.

Democrats, meanwhile, did not experience the same declines. Business Insider performed the same analysis on the Democratic caucus’ Twitter accounts and found that 93% lost no followers over the weekend. Those who did lost no more than 0.15% of their followings.

Dozens of Republican congressmen lost more than 10% of their entire Twitter base, including outgoing Senator Kelly Loeffler, who enthusiastically accepted an endorsement from QAnon supporter and House freshman Marjorie Taylor Greene ahead of Georgia’s runoff Senate races. Reps. Clay Higgins and Devin Nunes lost the greatest share of followers, each shedding more than 15%.

By sheer number, Rep. Jim Jordan, Sen. Rand Paul, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy topped the list of legislators who lost the most, dropping by 149,564, 115,770, and 88,627 followers respectively between Thursday and Monday afternoon.

Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota – who reportedly greeted Trump with a replica of Mount Rushmore bearing his likeness in August – lost more than any other state governor. Twitter’s clampdown cost Noem nearly 48,000 followers, about 12% of her total following on the platform.

A small minority of Republican politicians emerged unscathed from Twitter’s crackdown. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah attracted 24,100 followers over the weekend, while Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois picked up more than 50,000  – a 41% gain.

Twitter’s wave of suspensions only partially explains why Republican officials lost so many followers

The figures cited above are significantly higher than Twitter’s stated number of removed QAnon accounts, suggesting additional factors at play, such as the routine removal of spam bots, or a loss of public favor brought on by the attack on the Capitol.

“It is against the Twitter Rules to engage in spamming behavior, including bulk, aggressive, or deceptive activity. That’s why we routinely deploy anti-spam challenges to accounts to fight this behavior and protect the public conversation,” Twitter said. Such removals are temporary, and accounts are restored once the owners verify their authenticity.

Despite outcry from conservatives online, some of whom referred to the measures as the largest online purge in history, Twitter has reacted with greater severity and less transparency in the past. In 2018, the company revealed that it had suspended more than 1.2 million accounts associated with publishing terrorist content since 2015.

Twitter declined to comment. Most officials highly impacted by Twitter’s recent action did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Rep. Clay Higgins told Insider, “This purge is just Twitter’s latest abuse of power. It’s a suppression of free speech. Twitter wants to completely silence Conservative voices. It’s part of the Left’s ongoing effort to cancel anyone they deem unworthy.”

We will update this article if we receive additional responses.

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