A dark money school privatization group also shares something in common with Tennessee’s payday lending political interests. Tennessee First, a political action committee (PAC) is funded largely by contributions from the payday and title loan industry.
Just before the 2020 legislative session, a political action committee (PAC) called Tennessee First doled out some $38,000 in cash to various Tennessee lawmakers. Where does Tennessee First get money? $20,000 came from Advance Financial. Another $7500 came from Community Choice Financial. To top it off, the Tennessee Title Pledge PAC emptied its coffers – $5661.60 – to Tennessee First. So, $33,161.60 of the $38,750 distributed came directly from payday and title lenders.
So, it’s pretty clear Tennessee First is the vehicle of choice used by payday predators to distribute campaign cash. Who else funds the debt trap lending PAC? Well, $5000 came from a group called Tennesseans for Student Success. That’s the same group involved in at least one Nashville School Board race as well as a primary challenge to incumbent House member and public school advocate Mike Stewart.
You may recall Tennesseans for Student Success for their online attacks against Republicans who opposed Gov. Bill Lee’s school privatization agenda.
It really should come as no surprise that TSS chose to use a pro-payday lending PAC as its vehicle for distributing campaign cash. It’s a group that’s no stranger to shady tactics. It’s worth noting, though, that on June 29th of this year, a group called TEAM KID PAC filed papers with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. Who funds TEAM KID PAC? The initial $10,000+ contribution came from Tennesseans for Student Success. So, now when you see candidates boasting of support from TEAM KID, you’ll know that really means the same dark money group that likes to associate with legalized loan sharks.
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Delight Ejiaka, a student at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, tells the story of an interesting internship made possible through her school and the Global Innovators Academy.
1) How did you discover Global Innovators Academy? I was looking for an internship that would allow me to build my communications skills and expand my network, so I decided to utilize my professional social media accounts. Kevin Anselmo connected on social media, exchanged emails and had a couple of conversations. He explained to me the Interview an Innovator course concept: students doing an interview with a professional and writing an article based on that discussion which would then be published online. I was excited to come aboard with the program.
2) What made you interested in this project?I am currently an international student studying Digital Media and Creative Writing. I plan to use my degree to work in marketing communications and write for film and TV. Because of my status as a newbie in the US (I am from Nigeria), I didn’t know a lot of people in any of the fields I wanted to go into. I wanted to reach out to people in related fields, but I had never done this in a deliberate and strategic way. As part of the Interview an Innovator course experience, I connected to Casey Adams, the Communications Director of the American Heart Association in Philadelphia. I connected to her and published a great article about her journey. In the process of learning important communications skills and connecting with Casey, I also was introduced to some people in her network as well.
3) How did the work with Global Innovators compare to your other college work?In the classroom, a lot of the work I did was preparing for theoretical events. You learn how to write proposals and a host of other things. This experience actually just helped me apply my learning to achieve my goal of building an organic connection with professionals in my prospective career path. For example: the program provides video lectures that guide students through the experience. It doesn’t just stop there, it provides the opportunity to put the writing and communication skills students gather from the videos into immediate practice. This is something that traditional schools sometimes forget. Learning must be put to practical use to have an impact.
4) Describe your project, the outcome, and what you learned?I reached out to a lot of communication and marketing professionals via email and LinkedIn. Some of them did not reply the first time. I decided to be persistent and try again. I reached out to Casey Adams, a couple times before she could get back to me because of her busy schedule. We set up a time and had a great conversation that absolutely challenged me and gave me material for my article. I have learned a great deal about persistence through this program. It is terrific that I have an article that is published online and that is featured on my LinkedIn profile. I think this makes me appear more marketable, as opposed to the LinkedIn profiles many students have that don’t really show any type of substantive work.
5) Would you recommend Global Innovators to your fellow students at Lee and elsewhere? Absolutely. Every college student is currently thinking about how to grow their network so that they can secure opportunities that will drive their future. This program exposes you to a variety of people who could potentially become pilots in your career journey which makes it very applicable for all students.
6) Do you see applications for this type of learning in a k-12 environment. Building a mutually beneficial and strong network of supportive individuals that inform and direct your career journey takes time and it’s important to start as soon as possible. Studies have shown that students who have a strong network – social capital – are predisposed to higher chances of career success and fulfillment. On the other hand, most schools are currently moving to virtual instruction and this can be a great opportunity to provide students with practical real life experiences.
A few days ago, I shared a Tennessee Education Report piece about mailers sent out in the District 3 school board race on behalf of candidate Brian Hubert. It garnered a really interesting response.
The mailers came from a group called the “Nashville Parents Committee,” and the address listed on the mailers was the same as that of the Tennessee Charter School Center. After TN Ed Report put out its blog post suggesting that the TN Charter Center was responsible for the mailers (a logical assumption), both Brian Hubert and his wife responded that they were unaware of these mailers and did not coordinate with the “Nashville Parents Committee.” Then, a couple of days later, the Tennessee Charter School Center issued a response disavowing the mailers.
As it turns out, the registered agent for the “Nashville Parents Committee” is Todd Ervin, a tax attorney at the well-heeled Bass, Berry & Sims law firm. (I’m going to hazard a guess here that Mr. Ervin has not formed this committee to advocate for his children’s local public schools.) Mr. Ervin also just happens to be the registered agent for Tennesseans for Student Success.
Tennesseans for Student Success is a pro-school privatization organization that was set up to support Governor Haslam’s education agenda. This group shares the same agenda as the Tennessee Charter School Center and has recently inserted itself into Representative Mike Stewart’s Democratic primary by supporting his opponent James Turner (see comments). Although it appears that Haslam is no longer involved with Tennesseans for Student Success, it is still very active. It promotes charter schools, excessive standardized testing, and teacher “accountability” (our deeply flawed teacher evaluation model that evaluates 70% of TN teachers on classes they’ve never taught). These are all tentacles of the “school choice” movement. Unreliable standardized test scores are used to prove that TN schools are “failing” and thus to market new and “innovative” solutions, such as vouchers, more charter schools, and more tests and test prep to “assess” how our students and teachers are performing. The common theme here is profit for private interests.
Over and over again, we find ourselves fighting the same battles in different guises against various forms of corruption. It becomes exhausting. During my 8 years on the board, we first had to fight against charter school proliferation (which drains money from public schools and directs it to private interests) and absurd amounts of standardized tests for our children. Then came vouchers (for the moment, defeated!). Now the battle has morphed once again. Former Nashville superintendent Shawn Joseph and current TN Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn, both affiliated with the Eli Broad network, are part of the latest scam to direct public funds to private interests and education vendors in the form of no-bid contracts. (Broad also pushes charter schools.) Millions and millions of dollars are at stake in these efforts. But make no mistake, all of this is ultimately about personal greed at the expense of children.
On a related note, I mentioned in my original post that District 9 candidate Russelle Bradbury is a former Teach for America teacher who has made pro-charter school statements. This matters because TFA and charter schools have a symbiotic relationship, and TFA candidates, like former school board member and TFA executive Elissa Kim, typically view charter schools and standardized testing as the only “solutions” to public school challenges. (I know there are good TFA teachers in our school system, some of whom have even taught my own children, but all of this is beside the point.) Ms. Bradbury denied that she was ever a TFA teacher, to which I responded that she has said (both verbally and in writing) that her “Mom likes to tell people, ‘Russelle did Teach for America, on her own!'” I’ve invited her to respond, but have not heard back.
Keep your eye on these dark money groups that don’t serve the best interests of Nashville’s students. Even when candidates don’t coordinate with groups like Tennesseans for Student Success, organizations like these typically fight against the candidate whom they view as the most effective advocate for true public education. And, as always, just follow the money!
Nashville education blogger TC Weber extols the virtues of District 3 School Board candidate Emily Masters in his post today. Here’s what he has to say:
District 3 has a fantastic candidate in Emily Masters, one who is knowledgeable, experienced, personable, and capable of seeing the big picture. She understands the need to address teacher recruitment and retention in a meaningful way. She is ready to serve as a champion to reduce inequities, and address the capital needs of our buildings. As a parent of two MNPS children, she is well versed in the history of MNPS but not at the expense of being blind to the future challenges that the district will face.
It’s been said that school board elections are the perfect time to hold conversations about what a community’s schools should look like. Nobody is better poised to host that conversation than Masters. She’s knowledgable and articulate on the subjects that should be the focus.
But those weren’t the subjects that dominated this weekend’s conversation. A mailer for her opponent paid for by a previously undeclared PAC – Nashville Parents Committee – that shared an address with the Nashville Charter School Center hit mailboxes and started tongues a-wagging. Here we go again, talking about dark money, charter school proliferation, and their evil plans to destroy public education. Lost in the conversation were the high-quality traits of Mrs. Masters, and the reason her name should be on every voter’s ballot.
In response to the story on mailers from Nashville Parents Committee in the District 3 Nashville School Board race, I received this statement from the Tennessee Charter School Center:
The following statement is issued by Dr. Maya Bugg, CEO, Tennessee Charter School Center, in reference to Tennessee Education Report’s accusation of the Tennessee Charter School Center being involved in a mailer campaign supporting Brian Hubert:
On July 24, 2020, the Tennessee Education Report wrote a post accusing the Tennessee Charter School Center of involvement with a mailer that was sent out by a group called the Nashville Parents Committee in support of Metro Nashville Public School Board candidate Brian Hubbert in the 3rd District race.
The accusation was false and based on the Parents Committee’s address being the same office building as the Tennessee Charter School Center operates from. That address is for a large office building in downtown Nashville that, in addition to a number of independent businesses, also houses a coworking space occupied by more than 100 businesses, organizations and individuals including the Tennessee Charter School Center and many others.
The Tennessee Charter School Center is in no way affiliated with the Nashville Parents Committee or the mailer in question. As a 501(c)3 non-profit advocacy organization, TCSC abides by the legal requirement that it is prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.
It is the responsibility of a site which aims to provide “relevant education news and in-depth analysis of education policy impacting our schools” to also provide accurate information. As always, we at the TN Charter School Center are available to address any questions about our organization’s work or public charter schools in Tennessee. We fully condemn the sharing of false information to the public and hope that the parties involved will post a public correction to statements promptly.
The story of Armando Arzate and wage theft on an MNPS project:
Dear Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education:
For a full year, Armando Arzate has sought $43,000 in unpaid wages for his renovations at McMurray Middle School. Armando has gone into significant personal debt in order to pay his own team of workers, but he is still fighting for a fair resolution with MNPS and their contractor, Orion Building Corporation.
Recently, Armando visited Dr. Adrienne Battle’s house to seek her help. Instead of taking the opportunity at your last meeting to denounce wage theft, many of you used that time to rebuke Armando for demanding justice.
It appears there’s some miscommunication between James Turner’s campaign for the Tennessee House of Representatives and pro-privatization group Tennesseans for Student Success (TSS).
Last week, Turner released a statement denouncing any support from TSS.
However, TSS maintains a website dedicated to “Education Heroes” and it features James Turner.
Specifically, the site notes:
James Turner is committed to ensuring every student in Tennessee has access to great public education and opportunities for a bright future. James Turner will be a leader in helping Tennessee build on our historic gains in education by supporting school choice…
So, is James Turner the type of education “hero” who will sell our public schools out to privatizers? Or, is TSS just making things up?
School privatization group Tennesseans for Student Success has gotten involved in a Democratic primary for the Tennessee House of Representatives in Nashville. The group is backing James Turner in his challenge to incumbent Mike Stewart in House District 52.
Here’s more on the effort by TSS to influence the Democratic primary:
And here’s James Turner’s campaign stating they don’t really want the “help.”