Told Ya This Would Happen

Back in July, I wrote a post about a newly-created political action committee (PAC) that seemed to be formed by Tennesseans for Student Success. You may recall that Tennesseans for Student Success is the dark money group behind a serious of insidious attacks on any legislator who opposes school privatization.

So, anyway, now they have a cheerily named PAC. Team Kid PAC, they’re calling it. Here’s more from the email they sent announcing this new venture:

Our state has made historic gains in education – twice being named the fastest improving in the nation – but you and our network of parents, teachers, community leaders, and volunteers know we can do better. If we want a better future for our children, we have to elect better leaders. That’s why we formed Team Kid PAC. 

The political action committee of Tennesseans for Student Success, we will serve as the ONLY organization that can and will effectively challenge any elected official or candidate who fails to put Tennessee’s students first –regardless of their political party.

Sounds pretty great, right? I mean, they start out the email with a pretty awesome question:

Do you want to secure effective education for all Tennessee students?

I mean, who is saying no to that? Even Gov. Bill Lee claims to want to secure an effective education for all Tennessee students. Heck, the team over at SCORE often claims they want effective education despite any evidence their presence in our state (or policy advocacy) has improved anything except for their payroll.

Here’s the reality: Tennesseans for Student Success spends their time and money attacking lawmakers who stand up for public schools. If you are not on the pro-privatization train, Tennesseans for Student Success is coming after you. Now, they’ll be doing it under the auspices of Team Kid.

Here’s the other reality: Tennessee needs at least $1.7 billion to make our school funding formula adequate. Tennessee has a huge surplus with even more money on the way. Tennessee has a governor who has no plans to use the current surplus to invest in schools.

So, what’s Team Kid PAC/Tennesseans for Student Success saying about Lee’s policy agenda?

Here are some tweets from them (and a bonus from SCORE CEO Dave Mansouri, a teammate of the Team Kid PAC team):

When Lee proposed an underwhelming raise for teachers:

And here’s Mansouri, acting like a happy cheerleader after his team scores a touchdown even though they’re still down by 50 points:

Oh, and about all those so-called “impressive” gains:

So, just watch out for Team Kid PAC and their gang of seemingly happy marauders out to derail the legislative career of anyone who dares stand and fight for Tennessee’s public schools.

Photo by Rojan Maharjan on Unsplash

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Speaking the Truth to Powers

State Senate candidate Ronnie Glynn is taking incumbent Bill Powers to task, calling Powers out for his votes in favor of vouchers and against teacher pay raises.

Here’s more from a tweet:

Readers may remember that although Powers promised he’d oppose school vouchers during his campaign, he broke that promise within hours of being sworn-in:

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Kirby Endorsed in Knox School Board Race

In a race for a seat on the Knox County School Board, the Knox County Political Action Committee for Education (K-PACE) has endorsed Hannah Kirby, per a Facebook post.

While Kirby is a staunch supporter of public schools, her two opponents for the seat have both expressed support for school vouchers.

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Policy of Truth

State Senate candidate Ronnie Glynn is holding incumbent Bill Powers accountable for his votes on public education in the 22nd district race. Specifically, Glynn notes in a recent tweet that Powers voted to cut funding to public schools while voting in favor of tax cuts for corporations that donated to his campaign.

It’s worth noting that Powers has a record of selling out public schools in favor of privatization. He also has an aversion to telling the truth. While campaigning for the Senate seat in 2019, Powers assured voters he would oppose private school voucher schemes. Then, less than three hours after being sworn-in, Powers voted in favor of Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account voucher plan.

During the campaign, Powers promised he’d be against vouchers if elected. The race, decided by around 1000 votes, was relatively close. It’s possible if he’d said he supported vouchers, he would have lost the race.

While new to the body, he’s apparently not new to the art of creative deception. The very first bill Powers voted on was Governor Bill Lee’s voucher proposal. How did Powers vote? He voted YES.

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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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Voucher Quest

Nashville education blogger TC Weber talks about Gov. Bill Lee’s quest to voucherize Tennessee public schools and includes details on the Governor’s involvement in some key legislative races.

Here’s more:

One only has to take a look at the campaign trail for a clue to see how serious Lee is about vouchers.

Up in the far Northwest corner of the state is Obion County, the seat of Senate District 24. For nearly a decade, District 24 has been represented by Senator John Stevens. It’s a small rural district with a fraction of the economic base of the larger Tennessee districts. So the virus is taking a toll fiscally as well as physically. This year Stevens is being challenged by fellow Republican Casey Hood for the seat.

Hood is a plumber by trade and political newcomer, who is a staunch conservative, but also a staunch supporter of public education – an area that Stevens is weak in. Initially, the Stevens camp gave little credence to the Hood challenge, but recent polls show Hood as either even or slightly ahead, and suddenly things have gotten serious.

Stevens, you see has been an excellent waterboy for the governor, willing to tout any initiative put forth, including vouchers. Hood, not so much. He has yet to hear the argument that demonstrates vouchers as being beneficial for rural districts and therefore has publically stated he would never support voucher legislation. The governor can ill afford to lose this seat, especially in light of rumors that Districts 25 and 26 might also fall to candidates that don’t support voucher legislation.

That probably explains why come Monday the Governor will get in his car and drive to a county that he’s never set foot in to try and arouse support for a loyal soldier. It’s why he’ll be holding a “private rally” at Obion County Central High School in Troy, Tennessee while the Obion County commission meets to try and find additional funding to increase compensation for teachers. Obion County and Hood value the district’s teachers, with Governor Lee the jury is still out.

Over the last several week’s voters have been hit with over 14 pieces of campaign literature from the incumbent. Tennesseans for Student Success alone have spent between $30K and $40K to turn back the Hood threat. Somebody really doesn’t want to lose the seat and is doing whatever they can to hold it.

Teachers at the high school will be holding an in-service day on Monday, meaning the governor will have a captive audience. I wonder if he’ll tell those teachers how safe they are while COVID numbers explode for the county. I wonder if Lee will tell them how much he cares while meeting them for the first time ever. You have to wonder why a seat in a small district that he lost during his gubernatorial campaign has suddenly taken on such importance. I’m also curious how much of Monday’s trip’s cost is being picked up by Tennessee taxpayers.

This is not the only race that Lee is injecting himself into. He’s flooding the market with fliers in the Byrd campaign, as well as targeting Representative Mark Cochrane. I think it’s pretty clear that Lee has a plan on his mind and it ain’t about reopening schools. It’s about further disrupting public education. Much has been made of the negative impact of Lee’s education policies on urban districts, well they ain’t good for rural districts either.

More on Byrd:

More on Tennesseans for Student Success:

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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.

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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!

TC Talks Masters

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.

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