Turner’s Heroes

State House candidate James Turner has disavowed support from dark money school privatization group Tennesseans for Student Success. But, that hasn’t stopped the group from viciously attacking incumbent State Rep. Mike Stewart in the District 52 Democratic Primary.

Here’s a recent mailer from TSS against Stewart:

Since Turner says he doesn’t want the “help” he’s getting from TSS, one can assume this means he opposes tactics like these and will be calling them out.

Oh, and Turner might want to correct the record while he’s at it. Stewart has consistently supported improving the state’s funding formula for schools (the BEP), has supported teacher pay raises (which Gov. Bill Lee slashed in this year’s COVID-19 emergency budget), and has opposed Lee’s school voucher scheme.

Tennesseans for Student Success is also spending heavily in districts around the state in an attempt to defeat Republicans who oppose school vouchers. This is, of course, in service to the Lee-DeVos school privatization agenda.

It also appears the group is spending heavily (estimates of $30,000-$40,000) in at least one Nashville School Board race.

Meanwhile, the TSS Twitter feed chugs along with innocuous posts like this:

That seems like a great way to build a following while hiding your true mission.

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The Payday Predator’s Pal

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.

An attack ad by Tennesseans for Student Success targeting a Republican who opposed school privatization

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.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Mystery Solved

Amy Frogge solved the mystery:

Here’s the story:

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!

No Thanks

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:

I am really perplexed by why someone running in a Democratic Primary in Nashville and Antioch is being assisted by the…

Posted by Rep. Bo Mitchell on Thursday, July 23, 2020

And here’s James Turner’s campaign stating they don’t really want the “help.”

Looks like Nashville has a clear message for TSS:

The Five Pillars of Privatization

Tennesseans for Student Success recently released a 2020 policy agenda and noted the following five pillars guiding this agenda:


Tennesseans for Student Success is kicking off the 2020 legislative session by outlining our policy pillars and how they affect student success. Our five pillars are higher academic standards, an aligned assessment to those standards, protecting accountability, innovation in education, and securing economic freedom for all. 

This sounds pretty nice, or at least rather innocuous. But, who is Tennesseans for Student Success? Here’s what their website says:


Tennesseans for Student Success is a statewide network of teachers, parents, community leaders, and volunteers who are dedicated to supporting, championing, and fighting for Tennessee’s students and their futures.

This sounds even better, right? Look! It’s everyone! All coming together to fight for our kids! We should ALL love TSS, right?!

Well, let’s take another look. It seems TSS is all about privatizing public schools. Sure, they attacked staunch public education defender and state representative Gloria Johnson a few years back. But, maybe that was an anomaly.

Then, of course, there are the candidates they strongly back.

It’s a who’s who of school voucher backers.

TSS has consistently indicated support for voucher-backers like Senators Dolores Gresham and Brian Kelsey. And, they’ve taken out ads against Republicans who dare stand in the way of Gov. Lee and the school privatization agenda:

The five pillars of TSS are nothing more than the five horsemen of the public education apocalypse. Standards and Assessment simply mean ever more testing. Protecting Accountability means using voodoo science to evaluate (and remove) teachers and keep salaries (costs) low. Education “innovation” means charter schools and vouchers (as seen in the ads above). Economic freedom for all is nothing more than saying the “market” is what should guide education policy — it’s saying we should privatize above all.

TSS is, in fact, non-partisan. They’ll attack anyone, Republican or Democrat, who stands in the way of letting privatizing profiteers get their hands on public schools.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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Tennesseans Against Liberals?

Just a group of moms and dads and teachers and administrators and engaged community members working together to make Tennessee schools great. Sounds nice, right?

That’s how the issue advocacy group Tennesseans for Student Success describes itself. Here’s the official description from their website:

Tennesseans for Student Success is made up of moms and dads, teachers and parents, administrators and education leaders, and community and elected officials. If you are interested in joining our work, we have a place for you to be a part of this historic work.

We hope you’ll join us in one of our Coalitions for Student Success. Our students are more prepared for their next steps than they have ever been before. Tennessee’s kids are now better prepared for life after school, but there is more work to be done. We need your help as we all work to spread the message of student success in counties and communities across the state.

See, a perfectly positive group spreading the message of student success all across Tennessee.

And then there’s this:

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They sure don’t like that Gloria Johnson. You know, the former state rep. running for her old seat. The one who stood up to Bill Haslam and to special interests seeking to privatize public schools by way of vouchers.

Their involvement in the 13th district House race is more interesting in light of a twitter encounter back in August relative to the Nashville School Board races.

Here’s that tweet:

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So, they don’t endorse candidates? True, the ads against Gloria Johnson don’t technically ask voters to vote against her. But, the message is pretty clear.

Then, there’s this press release from after the August primary:

“Every election day brings the possibility of changing course in the General Assembly. As Tennessee’s students, teachers, parents, administrators, community leaders, and education advocates continue their work to make sure every child in the state has the opportunity to succeed, it is paramount Nashville stay focused on student success. Tennessee kids are the fastest improving in the nation in education and every elected official must be committed to that work.

“Tennesseans for Student Success this summer spent time across the state engaging with voters about our advocacy for all Tennessee classrooms. From school tours in Knoxville to Days of Action in Brentwood to reading events in Bolivar, we worked to advance and protect education reform throughout the state.

“As we celebrate the victories of Senator Dolores Gresham, Senator Steve Dickerson, Representative Charles Sargent, Representative Jon Lundberg, and Representative John DeBerry we are grateful voters considered the message of student-centered, commonsense education reform and voted for what’s best for their children, their teachers, their classrooms, and their futures.”

Hmm. All the candidates they are celebrating are also lawmakers who support school vouchers. While the candidate they are warning voters about, Gloria Johnson, opposes vouchers.

So, what’s the story? Is Tennesseans for Student Success a nonpartisan issue advocacy group just trying to help our schools? Or do they believe that liberals can’t also support student success? Or are they a front group for a Haslam Administration that supports school vouchers?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport