Privatizers Spend Big to Shift Legislative Landscape

I wrote recently about Team Kid PAC, the political action arm of Tennesseans for Student Success.

The dark money, pro-privatization group spent heavily to influence key races in the August primary. As Adam Friedman in the Tennessean notes, Team Kid was joined by other privatization groups in spending that ultimately resulted in the defeat of Republican incumbent House member Terri Lynn Weaver and Senate member Bob Ramsey. Both have opposed using public money to fund private schools.

Education groups that support charter schools and vouchers raised $1.2 million to spend in Tennessee’s most recent legislative primary, helping defeat two Republican incumbents.

Some of education groups support charters and others vouchers. Some back both. They operate using the political actions committees of Team Kid PAC, Tennessee Federation for Children PAC and Tennesseans for Putting Students First.

Tennesseans For Student Success, the American Federation for Children Action Fund, 50Can and The Campaign for Great Public Schools are all national education groups with donors that are nearly impossible to track. 

The Internal Revenue Service classifies these organizations as 501c4s. This means their donors are only available through nonprofit tax forms, but those forms don’t clearly show where the money comes from.

These groups are spending big to elect even more pro-privatization candidates and that spending is overwhelming the efforts of public education advocates.

Here’s more on the kinds of attacks used by Tennesseans for Student Success when lawmakers fall out of line with their privatization agenda:

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Team Kid’s Payroll

Dark money PAC spends nearly $400,000 to promote school privatization

I’ve written before about Tennesseans for Student Success – a group with an innocuous sounding name that is actually a front for dark money issue advocacy and political shenanigans related to privatization of public schools.

I also reported that this dark money, pro-privatization group started a political action committee (PAC) called “Team Kid PAC” with a clear mission of influencing policy by electing candidates who support shifting public money to private schools.

It seems Team Kid is making a move – getting involved in state elections in the 2022 cycle.

According to disclosures filed with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, Team Kid has received $500,000 in contributions from Tennesseans for Student Success this summer.

Of course, they’re also spending.

The group has made contributions to the campaigns of Democratic Senators London Lamar and Raumesh Akbari as well as Republican Senators Jack Johnson, Bill Powers, and Shane Reeves.

Powers, some may recall, broke his campaign promise to oppose vouchers in his first vote as a new state Senator.

Other recipients of Team Kid cash include House Majority Leader William Lamberth, Rep. Chris Hurt, and House candidates Elaine Davis, Gabriel Fancher, Deanna McLaughlin, William Slater, Joseph Barrett, Gino Bulso, Michael Hale, Brock Martin, Jacob McCalmon. The group is also backing Senate candidate Adam Lowe.

Hale is challenging Republican and reliable anti-voucher vote Terri Lynn Weaver. Slater is running in a three-way race in Sumner County and his campaign focuses on his support for vouchers. He previously served as Head of School at Hendersonville Christian Academy.

A Clear Privatization Agenda

The candidates Team Kid is backing, then, demonstrate a clear privatization agenda.

In addition to the $1200 contributions to each of these candidates, the group is spending big on polling, phones, and advertisting.

In their most recently filed disclosure, Team Kid reports spending nearly $400,000 to influence today’s primary.

What does Team Kid – and their sole funder, Tennesseans for Student Success, want?

They want to shift public money to private schools by way of charters and vouchers and they want to help elect lawmakers who will advance this agenda.

Where does the money come from?

That’s a great question.

100% of the contributions indicated on Team Kid’s PAC disclosure are from Tennesseans for Student Success.

TSS is a nonprofit, so that means heading over to Guidestar to check out their IRS 990.

The most recent 990 available at Guidestar is from 2019 (contributions made in 2018). Here’s the thing: When it gets to the contribution element, it simply says “restricted.”

The group took in more than $2 million and there’s no information on who gave the money.

This is like doubling down on dark money. There’s a PAC with a disclosure form. The PAC discloses all of its funds come from a nonprofit. The nonprofit’s most recently available tax form contains information from four years ago. That information sheds exactly zero light on who is funding the group.

Tristar Reads

Tennesseans for Student Success also promotes a program called “Tristar Reads.” It’s a program that essentially promotes K-12 students reading over the summer.

Here’s some of the social media promotion they’ve done for it:

The group’s 2018 990 form shows they spent just over $4000 on Tristar Reads.

By contrast, they’ve spent $400,000 just this summer on electing candidates who plan to pilfer the public purse for the sake of privatization.

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PAC Spending in Memphis School Board Race

Chalkbeat has the story of PAC spending in races for Memphis/Shelby County School Board.

A Memphis political action committee dedicated to improving economic and social mobility in Shelby County and across Tennessee poured nearly $40,000 into four Memphis-Shelby County Schools board races.

Candidates Rachael Spriggs in District 1, Tim Green in District 6, Amber Huett-Garcia in District 8, and Rebecca Edwards in District 9 each received an $8,300 donation from TN Prosperity PAC, according to recent campaign finance filings. The other two candidates for District 1, current board Chair Michelle McKissack and former Chair Chris Caldwell, each received $2,500.

The story notes other significant donors in the school board races:

  • Memphis PACE, which is the political action committee for the Memphis Shelby County Education Association, the larger of two MSCS teachers unions.
  • The Leadership for Educational Equity PAC, a national nonprofit leadership development organization “inspiring and supporting a network of civic leaders to end the injustice of educational inequity,” according to its website.
  • Leaders in Education Fund PAC of Washington, D.C.

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Knox County School Board Endorsements

Here’s a great breakdown of the Knox County School Board races from a local blogger. In it, he explains why he thinks school board races are so important this year:

Probably the biggest threat to public education is the charter school movement. Designed at its heart to divert funding from public schools to private, often religious, schools, it serves as an existential threat to a free and equal public education in the United States. While “school choice” is an appealing phrase, the reality is that these schools diminish funding where most middle and lower socio-economic status children attend to give a tailored, often much less regulated, experience for those who desire their children to be segregated.

When it comes to endorsements, here are the recommendations:

District 1 – John Butler

District 4 – Katherine Bike

District 6 – Phillip Sherman

District 7 – Dominique Oakley

District 9 – Annabel Henley

Reasons for the endorsements are offered in each case along with a plea to restore some sanity to the overall operation of the School Board.

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Total Disgrace

That’s how one incumbent Republican House member describes Gov. Bill Lee’s conduct in the face of comments from a key education advisor disparaging teachers.

Other candidates joined in and suggested the Lee should have taken action rather than sit silently while teachers were attacked. Since the comments were made, Hillsdale President Larry Arnn has doubled down:

Here’s video of the forum where candidates spoke about the incident:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1550962055456456707?s=20&t=vu5OgV6ja6BKuvbMj46SZg

Here’s more on Lee making a weak attempt to distance himself from the whole situation:

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It’s Party Time in Tennessee

Tennessee Lookout has a story out about the first partisan school board races in the state. The piece examines the issue through the lens of races in Williamson County.

The responses in the District 10 race are pretty interesting. That race features incumbent Eric Welch and challengers Doc Holladay and Jennifer Haile.

In summarizing the race, Welch offers this comparison between his candidacy and that of Holladay:

I’m focused on students, and what needs to be done to provide them a world-class education that they can build a successful future on. Holladay is focused on social media hot-button issues that really aren’t applicable to Williamson County Schools.

Here’s how Holladay sums things up:

The polarization of political views has especially created a divide in how we want to educate and raise our children.  The left has held the steering wheel of  public education for decades now, and look at what that has produced in our schools: Marxism, socialism, grooming our kids in gender ideology, pornographic material in our libraries, divisive & racist curriculums like (Critical Race Theory), “white privilege,” “guilt training,” vilifying our founding fathers and our country, untold psychological and developmental damage from useless masking, a massive push to jab them with potentially harmful experimental gene therapy drugs and an effort to divide them ideologically from their parents.  

And Haile has this to say:

Race, gender and inequality, “CRT” as I understand it, simply does not exist in the K-12 curriculum. What we are talking about is the discussion of the human experience.   I think if we approach discussions of race, gender and equality as an issue involving fairness, kindness and understanding, we remove political agendas.  Of course, any curriculum must be age-appropriate and reviewed by parties who are knowledgeable about the subject; but the answer is not to pretend it does not exist and/or fail to adequately prepare our students for a diverse world.

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Division and Exclusion

A Williamson County advocacy group is accusing an incumbent school board member seeking re-election of bullying and sowing seeds of division and exclusion.

Here’s more from a story originally published on NewsBreak:

The Williamson Social Justice Alliance (WSJA) is speaking out on comments made by Williamson County School Board member Jay Galbreath relative to LGBTQ students and broader diversity issues.

Specifically, the group is condemning remarks Galbreath made in a Facebook comment on his candidate page.

In a statement, WSJA noted:

“Galbreath’s comments on his public Facebook page stated that the progressive agenda looks to ‘inject and normalize things like gender identity, the black lives matter movement, and LGBTQ by weaving it into the curriculum.’ Words like these from an elected official marginalize all of the queer students in our community, as well as students with queer parents, by shaming them and stating other children must be shielded from the knowledge of their existence. Such disregard from an adult, especially one who serves as an elected official responsible for representing a diverse array of constituents in a large community like Williamson County, leads to further division and exclusion in our schools and society as a whole.”

The group specifically highlighted the negative impact comments such as Galbreath’s can have on students and referred to his remarks as “bullying.”

“All children deserve protection from bullying, particularly when it’s coming from adults. Bullying from an adult in a position of power and influence in their community is unacceptable.”

In describing their mission, WSJA says:

“WSJA stands for the equality and liberty of students in our schools and community, inclusive of every skin color, sex, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, or gender identity, and believe that everyone, no matter their personal values, wishes equal treatment and opportunity for each student in Williamson County.”

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Garrett Announces Endorsements in School Board Race

Williamson County School Board Chair Nancy Garrett recently announced a slew of endorsements for her re-election bid.

More from a story originally published at NewsBreak:

District 12 School Board candidate Nancy Garrett announced today that her campaign has the support of more than 100 public education leaders as the incumbent board member seeks re-election in August.

In a statement, Garrett said:

“I’m honored to have the support of these school leaders who are the backbone of our community. These citizens have worked together to build the positive national reputation of WCS schools in the arts, athletics, and academics.”

These endorsements include current and former parent volunteers from many school support organizations, former and retired local teachers, and former WCS and FSSD school board members and administrators.

Garrett, the incumbent District 12 representative for the Williamson County Board of Education, has also been elected by her fellow Board Members to serve as Board Chair since 2020. Prior to that, she served two terms as Vice Chair. A Williamson County Schools graduate, and daughter of a WCS teacher, she was appointed to the Board in November of 2016, and elected to the Board in 2018. She was a PTO leader every year of her son’s school career and has had 15 family members graduate from WCS.

Among the endorses is Lauren Sullivan, a former PTO President at Oakview Elementary, who said:

“Nancy Garrett loves her community and its citizens. She has a passion for our schools and children. I trust her to keep our students and teachers at the forefront of her decision-making process, and I enthusiastically endorse her for the District 12 school board seat.”

Kent McNish, a former Franklin Special School District (FSSD) Board Member said of Garrett:

“The voters of FSSD elected me to the Board of Education five times between 1994 and 2012. I was privileged to know and work with Nancy Garrett. She has a strong commitment to the children of the WCS. Her record of service is outstanding. I hope the voters of the 12th District will return her for another term. A good Board member brings no bias to the work of a school board–only what is in the best interest of children. She supports principals, teachers, and she supports families. I am proud to support Nancy Garrett for another term on the Williamson County Board of Education.”

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Bike Campaign Calls Out Deceptive Campaign Tactics

Knox County School Board candidate Kat Bike issued a statement today calling out a deceptive campaign tactic known as “push polling” which she suggests is spreading misleading information about her to voters.

Here’s the campaign’s statement:

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Kat Bike for Knox County School Board

Betty Bean in Knox TN Today reports on the campaign of Kat Bike for Knox County School Board:

District 4 school board candidate Katherine “Kat” Bike has maybe one-tenth the campaign kitty that her opponent has amassed, but she’s banking on fighting the money gap with what appears to be a bottomless reservoir of energy.

Bike is the parent of two Knox County Schools students.

Read more about Bike and her campaign.

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