PET Continues To Hide Anti-Union Legislative Agenda #EPICFAIL

The registered lobbyists for the Professional Educators of Tennessee spent the most recent legislative session working alongside pro-voucher organizations such as the Beacon Center to lobby for model ALEC legislation that would deny teachers the right to voluntarily choose for union dues to be automatically withdrawn from their paychecks.

PET’s Executive Director, J.C. Bowman, even went so far as to publicly claim during a House committee meeting that this anti-union legislation was necessary because PET had been “discriminated against” from having the dues deducted from their members by the Robertson County school system.

In a formal letter to the General Assembly, the Robertson County Board of Education called PET out for spreading so much fertile bupkis.

Pretty embarrassing for PET/Bowman. Not that many would have noticed, since PET’s anti-union legislative agenda was largely hidden from their members – in the same way that PET hid their work advocating for the repeal of teacher collective bargaining rights in 2011.

PET did mention the legislation in their most recent organizational magazine, likely due to all the additional light shed on the issue after this blog exposed Bowman’s distortions about Robertson County, namely the “discriminatory practices that came to light during the committee meetings” and were proven to be a sham:

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This is the just the most recent in a long series of anti-teacher and anti-public school reforms that Bowman has spent decades advocating for – like his paid work advocating for the state law legalizing charter schools in 2002 or when he was appointed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush to be the “Director of School Choice” and oversee the first state-wide voucher program in the country. All of which you can continue to real all about it, right here at PETexposed.com

BUSTED! J.C. Bowman Was Paid Advocate for Tennessee Charter Schools

In 2002, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Tennessee Charter School Act, which legalized charter schools for the first time in the history of the state.

Charter schools largely exist so private, for-profit companies can extract taxpayer money from the public educational system. Every charter that opens steals money from already strapped public schools. Charters also have a long history of stripping away basic protections from teachers, screening out special needs students, and even expelling and pushing out students prior to state-mandate tests so their own scores can stay artificially high. They are also notoriously difficult to close down once they open. Charter schools and vouchers are policies peddled by the business community to advance their bottom line, not the interests of students.

At the time charter schools were legalized in Tennessee, J.C. Bowman – the current director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) – was the “Director of Education Policy” for the Tennessee Institute for Public Policy, a “free market think tank” that publicly advocated for vouchers, charter schools and terminating the collective bargaining rights of teachers. The Tennessee Institute for Public Policy was later replaced with the Beacon Center of Tennessee, which has continued to advocate for those same policies and continues to work closely with PET under Bowman’s leadership.

While acting as Director of Education Policy, Bowman organized a group called Education Policy in Action. The group had a Yahoo listserv that is available for public viewing online.

Bowman used the group to push heavily for charter school legislation to pass in Tennessee. He circulated pro-charter school editorials, provided legislative updates on this status of charter school legislation and even helped to pass along talking points for why teachers unions – who Bowman repeatedly mocked for being the strongest opponent to charters and vouchers – should be denied collective bargaining in Tennessee.

Bowman even wrote a call to action, requesting that pro-charter activists support the final version of the 2002 legislation even if they didn’t get everything that they wanted. Namely, Bowman wanted the state legislature to legalize explicitly for-profit charter schools in Tennessee:

Charter Friends:

While the proposed bill is less than perfect, it certainly puts Tennessee in the Charter School game. If US Representative Van Hilleary wins the
Governor’s race we will be in position to make any needed changes, as he is a strong Charter School advocate. If Phil Bredesen wins the race, we are guaranteed he will not work to strengthen any Charter bill since he opposes Charter Schools nor is he likely to introduce legislation. He will certainly have heavy teacher union support. I suggest we face an “all or nothing” battle here in Tennessee in the next two months, which will have a shelf life of four plus years. It is okay to be critical of the bill, for not having a “for profit” element and other provisions, such as start-up costs. But it is a fairly decent bill. Commissioner Faye Taylor has done an excellent job to get us to this point. We are indebted to her strong leadership. Governor Sundquist has been consistently supportive of Charter School legislation. Many political pundits  speculated the bill would die an easy death, now many people feel it has an excellent shot at passage. We are working on limited time, we need support at this point on a national
scale with laser like precision, and help or suggestions are welcome and needed. Please ask your supporters in Tennessee to join with us and contact their legislative leaders to support Charter Schools. We can pass Charter legislation in Tennessee this year, but we will need alot of help and support to guarantee a good bill.

Thanks!!
J. C. Bowman
Director of Education Policy
Tennessee Institute for Public Policy
Telephone: 615-327-3120 x 103

In other Education Policy in Action posts, Bowman also pushes for readers to support eliminating the cap on charter schools and for legislation that would allow the state to take over any public schools that were deemed to be “failing” and turn them over to a charter school operator. Bowman also supported the creation of a state-wide charter authorizer, stripping approval of charter schools from local school boards. Remarkably, Bowman also supported removing any requirements mandating that charter school teachers have a teaching certificate or be licensed to teach by the state! Many of these proposals would later come to be a reality under Governor Haslam. You can read his support for these policies on the listserv here.

The Yahoo listserv ends with Bowman announcing that he was leaving the Tennessee Institute for Public Policy to join the Jeb Bush administration in Florida:

I believe Education Policy in Action has been a huge success. However, I have now left the Tennessee Institute for Public Policy. I am joining Governor Jeb Bush’s staff in Tallahassee next week. I am honored to be selected for this
opportunity. I believe Florida is on the cutting edge of education reform in America. I am very excited to be part of this great challenge.

While in Florida, Bowman would oversee the first state-wide voucher program in the country as the “Director of School Choice in Florida.” Bowman would later brag about his time there, saying:

“I served the state of Florida as Director of School Choice, where I oversaw a groundbreaking voucher program, 2000 Private Schools, 230 Charter Schools, and 40,000 home school children.”

At every step of the way, Bowman continued to recognize that it was the teachers union that continued to be the single greatest threat to his school choice program. While advocating for passage of the Tennessee Charter School Act of 2002, Bowman wrote:

Well-to-do Americans across the rest of the nation already have choice by private means. All Americans, especially the poor, would benefit from educational choice. Students in failing schools most assuredly should be given an option out of the system. Opposition to school choice most often does not arise out of concern for children attending public schools. In fact
most hostility comes from organizations and people who have a financial stake directly tied to the current system.

The current education monopoly, in which state and public school bureaucracies assign all tax funds without parental choice should be
scrutinized for effectiveness. Schools that perform poorly under the current system are not penalized, in fact they usually get additional
funding. Bureaucrats continue to assign children to failing schools.

The vested interests of teacher unions, special interest groups and local and state bureaucracies can scarcely afford a change in public policy that would end their monopoly advantage over public schools and put them in a competitive and comparative environment.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone then that the very first legislative priority that Bowman undertook after being appointed the Director of PET was to join forces with the same right-wing, corporate-funded, anti-union and pro-privatization groups that he has always to actively lobby for the passsage of a state law outlawing the collective bargaining rights of teachers in Tennessee.

Don’t let PET take you for a ride. Help to get the word out in your schools and communities. The Professional Educators of Tennessee are just another right-wing astro-turf organization that exists to advance the corporate takeover of public education in the state.

Bowman’s Anti-Union & Pro-Privatization Buddies

Back in late August/early September, I wrote a post on my personal blog detailing the political connections between J.C. Bowman, the director of the Professional Educator of Tennessee, and several right-wing anti-union and pro-privatization politicians and groups:

You have to hand it to the Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET), they don’t bother to try and hide their connections to the far right extremists and big monied interests that are working so hard to privatize Tennessee public schools. Just take their recent tweets, praising Williamson County School Board member Susan Curlee for receiving an award from the Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism (CEAFU), a project of the National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC), for “exposing forced unionism in public education.” (Nevermind the fact that Tennessee is a so-called “right to work” state and no worker can be “forced” to pay the costs of the union representation they receive or the union contract they benefit from).

For anyone who has not heard of them, the NRTWC is one of the slimiest pack of lawyers around. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the NRTWC is one of the “national leaders in the effort to destroy public and private sector unions” and has “strong connections to the national right-wing network, including to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Republican National Committee, and the State Policy Network (SPN).”

Well, I just discovered that the CEAFU decided to double down on their love affair with Bowman after my blog post.

In response, the CEAFU published a web post bemoaning the “vicious ad hominem attack” I had launched against Bowman for his being an “outspoken critic” of “the TEA’s [Tennessee’s teachers union] radical agenda.”

What makes TEA’s agenda so radical, to the CEAFU and PET, is that the TEA has historically supported teacher tenure, the rights of teachers to collectively bargain a contract, using public money to fund public schools (not private businesses acting as schools) and other mainstream views on how teachers should be treated and our public schools should be run.

But that is the agenda that J.C. Bowman/PET are united with other corporate interest groups – like the CEAFU and the NRTWC – in undermining.

Bowman has spent decades working alongside right-wing groups financed by big business to destroy the legal right of teachers to organize on the job, because privatizers know that organized teachers are the largest, most powerful obstacle standing in the way of the full-on corporate takeover of public schools.

Not only that, but the CEAFU post, written on September 15, ends with the statement: “Tomorrow, a proud Defense of JC Bowman.”

On September 17, Bowman’s daughter published a column on another website defending her father, which the CEAFU reposted. What this would seem to imply was that Bowman and his family were actually coordinating with the CEAFU to publish responses to my previous posts – while never once contesting any of the facts that I presented. All they could ever say was that, well, Bowman is actually a swell guy and I shouldn’t be trusted because I worked for the teachers union. Which, I did. At the time. I am openly pro-teacher, pro-union and pro-public education. I don’t hide those facts at any point.

This is not the first time that privatization activists have come out in defense of Bowman. Steve Gill – a paid consultant who worked for the Tennessee Federation for Children to build public support for vouchers (he failed) and K12 inc. to protect their for-profit charter chain in the state from being shut down – wrote a piece defending Bowman after an expose published on this site that connected PET’s leadership to the coordinated racist attacks on Muslims as a cynical method for passing off absurd claims about Islamic indoctrination within public schools during the lead-up to the most recent legislative session.

All that this continues to demonstrate is that Bowman and PET are deeply entrenched within a powerful and well-funded network of corporate interest groups that are fundamentally dedicated to demonizing unions in support of defunding, dismantling and selling off Tennessee’ public educational system. None of which should come as a surprise to anyone if they have read the rest of this site.

BUSTED! PET Lied To State Legislators To Advance Anti-Union Privatization Agenda

For months now, the registered lobbyists of the Professional Educators of Tennessee have been working alongside pro-voucher organizations such as the Beacon Center to lobby for model ALEC legislation that would deny teachers the right to voluntarily choose for union dues to be automatically withdrawn from their paychecks. Bowman testified in support of the anti-union legislation during a House Education Administration and Planning subcommittee, saying:

“We have been discriminated against. We have consistently asked to have payroll deduction and it is inconsistent from one district to the other. In Robertson County, for example, they may say that you need to have 20% membership.”

In response to Bowman’s testimony, the Robertson County Board of Education has issued a statement to the members of the General Assembly, stating that Bowman and the Professional Educators of Tennessee have never even requested payroll deductions in Robertson County:

Central Office Scanned Document

So, to date, the Professional Educators of Tennessee have spent the last year:

  • Working alongside a pro-voucher consultant and a man listed as a nationally prominent racist by an organization that tracks hate groups to demonize public education.
  • Claiming to not be political, while retaining lobbyists on staff who have actively supported anti-teacher and anti-public education legislation, the most notorious example being their support for the repeal of the collective bargaining rights of teachers in 2011.
  • Working alongside some of the largest pro-voucher groups in the state to attack the biggest foe to the corporate takeover of public schools: the teachers union.
  • Using the dues money of their members to lobby for legislation that would strip teachers of more of their rights, such as voluntarily choosing to have union dues deducted from their paychecks, all in an attempt to weaken the organized position to privatization.

One additional update: In his testimony before the committee, Bowman reference this website and it’s author, attempting to connect petexposed.com to the teachers union. As of this writing, I am employed by Labor Notes, a labor movement media and organizing project. However, even when I was employed with the union, this site has operated as a wholly independent and volunteer project. You can read about what led me to create the site in the About section. Unlike Bowman, who allegedly writes for Rocky Top Politics, anonymously.

PET’s Anti-Union Pro-Privatization Politics

For years, the Professional Educators of Tennessee have repeatedly asserted that they are not a “political organization,” while employing several lobbyists. Currently, three of PET’s staff members are listed by the state as registered lobbyists:

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In fact, PET has employed lobbyists for years:

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Contrary to what PET claims, the organization is extremely political. But what are their politics?

Well, to figure that out, we need only look to their record.

Now, PET is actively working with pro-voucher groups to lobby for a law that would repeat the right of teachers to voluntarily choose for union dues to be automatically withdrawn from their paychecks.

Kyle Mallory, a PET leader who was named 2015 Advocate of the Year by the organization and has represented PET in events organized as part of a campaign by pro-voucher consultant Steve Gill to demonize Tennessee’s public schools, has recently written an editorial promoting the legislation:

Recently, the Tennessee Legislature took up the Fair Access to Collection of Teacher Support Act (SB 151 / HB 294), a piece of legislation that has been amended to take the school district out of collecting dues through payroll deductions for unions who use them for political activities. . . I support the FACTS Act (HB 294 / SB 151) as amended, and hope others will as well.

Not only has PET published editorials in support of this legislation, PET’s executive director JC Bowman has publicly lobbied in favor of it during the legislative session.

Given PET’s history (especially the pro-voucher and pro-charter history of JC Bowman), it should come as little surprise that PET is actively lobbying to undermine the strength of the teachers union, which is the most powerful obstacle standing in the way of the corporate takeover of public education. And yet, there are many teachers across the state who have not heard how PET uses the dues money of their members to lobby for legislation that strips teachers of their rights. Please help spread the word.

PET & Beacon Center Unite Again To Attack Voucher Foe

The Beacon Center is a Koch-funded “free market think,” a member of the ALEC aligned State Policy Network and one of the largest and most outspoken advocates of vouchers in Tennessee.

The Beacon Center has spent this legislative session advocating hard for voucher legislation, which would defund public schools by allowing parents to use tax-payer money to send their children to unregulated and unaccountable private schools.

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The Beacon Center has also been active this session in advocating for legislation that would make it unlawful for teachers to have their union dues deducted from their paychecks. This legislation is model ALEC legislation, pursued for the purpose of weakening public sector workers, like teacher unions, which are committed to protecting public education from the corporate free market reformers. The Beacon Center is fixated with passing legislation that would silence the voices of teachers, because the union has been on the legislative frontlines, beating back voucher legislation year after year.

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The Beacon Center knows that the union can’t match the flood of money coming into Tennessee from out-of-state corporate front groups and so they are using their political influence to try and weaken the union’s greatest strength: it’s membership. That is why Justin Owen, the executive director of the Beacon Center recently wrote that the Beacon Center was supporting legislation that would outlaw the practice, which has been around for decades, of allowing teachers to have their dues deducted from their paychecks. “For years,” Owen laments, “the unions have called the shots on Capitol Hill when it comes to education in our state.” For Owen, the days of teachers being recognized as the experts on education policy should be long over – education policy should instead be left to business leaders and lawyers like himself.

J.C. Bowman, the executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, has a history of collaborating with Justin Owen and the Beacon Center. The Beacon Center and PET collaborated together to lobby for the repeal of the collective bargaining rights of teachers in Tennessee. Bowman and Owen collaborated on an editorial attacking the union organizing drive at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, they collaborated on editorials calling for teachers to drop their union membership, and now they both agree that the state should outlaw dues deductions for teachers.

Owen has written that “even though there are now numerous professional associations for teachers to join, many local school districts pick and choose which can and can’t benefit from payroll deduction” and that “this arbitrary picking of winners and losers represents yet another reason to eliminate the practice.” Far from “picking winners and losers,” many school systems require organizations to meet membership thresholds, typically about 15% of the personnel, before agreeing to collect dues from the paychecks of their employees. The simple fact of the matter is that PET is unable to meet these thresholds because they are unpopular among teachers, who are increasingly aware of how PET’s executive director is a long-time proponent of privatization and that the organization has used their dues money to lobby against their rights.

Speaking before the Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee in support of the Beacon Center’s legislation to ban dues deductions, Bowman parroted the claims made by the Beacon Center. “I would like to have payroll deduction in all 141 districts,” Bowman told the committee. “If you can grant that today I’m absolutely in favor of that. If you can’t do that, I think we have a problem.”

All across the United States, from Chicago to Jefferson County to Nashville, we see how the greatest fightback to the corporate takeover of public schools has come from teachers who are organized in their schools, in their communities, and at the ballot box. The greatest obstacle between the privatizers and our schools are teacher unions. PET shares deep institutional and ideological connections with the corporate education reform movement, as made clear by their partnership with groups like the Beacon Center. By dividing teachers in the schools and advocating for legislation attacking teacher unions, PET is intentionally undermining the largest and most politically organized opposition to the corporate reformers and their privatization agenda.

So if you care about fighting the corporate reformers, then please help to share this information far and wide. It’s time more people were exposed to the truth about PET.

Uncovering The Truth About Tennessee's Most Notorious Yellow Union

PET’s Privatization Agenda Now Includes Dues Deductions

The Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) have been a consistent advocate for the corporate takeover of public schools. For example, years ago, the executive director of PET, J.C. Bowman, was the director of a private voucher program in Tennessee that was intended to serve as a model for advancing statewide voucher legislation. Bowman publicly advocated for a full throttle privatization agenda, blasting public schools and their greatest defender: teacher unions.

“School choice, implemented through tuition scholarships and vouchers, is the only true education reform sufficiently aggressive to break the cycle of failing government schools, poverty and the pernicious cycle of dependency on government. This is particularly true in minority and low-income communities, where left wing education zealots and union operatives insist that minority and low-income children remain trapped in failing schools. Do not let the bureaucrats risk your child’s future. Show your support for school choice.”
– J.C. Bowman

Bowman’s private voucher initiative failed, but he went on to be appointed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush to be the “Director of School Choice” for the first statewide voucher program in the country.

“I served the state of Florida as Director of School Choice, where I oversaw a groundbreaking voucher program, 2000 Private Schools, 230 Charter Schools, and 40,000 home school children.” - J.C. Bowman

Bowman has publicly bragged about his work privatizing Florida public schools, stating:

“I served the state of Florida as Director of School Choice, where I oversaw a groundbreaking voucher program, 2000 Private Schools, 230 Charter Schools, and 40,000 home school children.”
– J.C. Bowman

After being named the Executive Director of PET, Bowman quickly went to work with the Beacon Center of Tennessee – one of the leading right-wing voucher and charter advocacy organizations in the state – to attack teacher unions and lobby for the repeal of the collective bargaining rights of administrators, teachers and education support personnel. Collective bargaining allowed school district employees to negotiate contracts  on a whole range of issues, including teacher evaluations, merit pay schemes, tenure, seniority, or transfers and reassignments, salaries, length of work day, insurance and other crucial working conditions. Bowman publicly stated that he wanted these rights completely repealed.

“We’d like to see collective bargaining rolled back, if not completely done away with” – J.C. Bowman

In the end, the law providing teachers with the right to collectively bargain was repealed and replaced with a much more limited law. Bowman recorded a video of himself bragging about his role in undermining the rights of teachers.

PET has continued to attack teacher unions while working alongside some of the leading proponents of privatization (see their continued collaboration with the Beacon Center to attack unions HEREHERE and HERE). In the lead up to the current legislative session, PET leaders and staff worked alongside Steve Gill, a prominent pro-voucher consultant, and Bill Warner, a man identified as a right-wing extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks hate groups, to host public forums spreading anti-Muslim hate and lies about public education. It is very likely that these forums were organized for the purpose of creating a political environment conducive for the passage of voucher legislation in the state legislature.

Now, PET is actively lobbying for a law that would make it illegal in every school district across the state for teachers to have their union membership dues deducted from their paychecks.

PET is making an argument against dues deduction that is similar to one that they made while lobbying to repeal the collective bargaining rights of teachers in 2011: under the former collective bargaining law, an organization representing teachers was required to have 50% + 1 membership in the school district to begin the process of negotiating with the school board. PET has never been able to reach this membership threshold. So what did they do? They blew up collective bargaining. Now teachers are legally barred from negotiating contracts with language concerning testing, evaluations, tenure, reassignment and transfers and many other issues.

Similarly, many school boards around the state have set thresholds for an organization to be able to deduct dues from the paychecks of those employed by the school district. Typically, about 15% of the teachers have to be members of an organization for a school board to allow that organization to deduct dues from their paychecks. Once again, PET is not able to meet the minimum threshold in many school districts around the state.

In essence, PET is using the common right-wing, pro-privatization talking points about “freedom” and “choice” to push an anti-democracy agenda. They point to the fact that they are unwelcome in many schools and unpopular among many teachers as grounds to justify the tyranny of an extreme right-wing minority. If PET’s 5 members in a school district can’t be treated as absolutely equal to the union’s 500 members, then they want the state to punish those districts.

It shouldn’t escape our attention that PET’s attack on teacher union dues deductions comes after the union successfully defeated vouchers, again. Out-of-state corporate interest groups spent millions of dollars financing political campaigns and bankrolling their pro-privatization propaganda, just to be beaten back by the union.

Since 2011, PET has supported the repeal of teacher collective bargaining rights, worked alongside pro-voucher lobbyists like the Beacon Center and Steve Gill, as well as Bill Warner, a nationally prominent racist, to demonize teacher unions and Tennessee public schools. Now, after defeating vouchers and the big monied interest groups behind them, PET is leading the charge to have the state government outlaw the right of teachers to have their union dues deducted from their paychecks.

None of this should be surprising, given the decades that J.C. Bowman, PET’s executive director, has spent fighting to undermine teacher unions and advance the corporate takeover of public schools. What is surprising is that anyone would be a member of PET.

via GIPHY

PET Spreads Hate, Demonizes Public Schools, Paves Way for Vouchers

For months leading up to the current legislative session, prominent representatives of the Professional Educators of Tennessee have been actively working alongside a pro-voucher consultant and a nationally prominent racist to spread hate, demonize public schools and cultivate an environment conducive for the passage of voucher legislation in the state legislature. Based on the facts laid out below, it is obvious that PET has been actively working with other right-wing extremists to till the ground: using anti-Muslim fear and hate to sow distrust of the public educational system in the hopes of reaping increased support for their privatization schemes.

Meet Voucher Consultant Steve Gill
Steve Gill is right-wing consultant who has worked for numerous out-of-state special interest groups that are actively working to advance privatization in Tennessee, including Americans for Prosperity, K12 inc. and the Tennessee Federation for Children. Gill also has a history of working alongside PET.

In the months leading up to the current legislative session, Gill was organizing public forums, spreading sensational anti-Muslim and anti-public education propaganda claiming that the state’s 7th grade social studies standards were indoctrinating students into Islam. These were fact checked by the Tennessean and found to be completely fraudulent (but any 7th grade teacher could have told you that).

The forums featured Bill Warner, a man identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks hate groups, as a right-wing extremist.

These forums not only spread lies about Muslims, but attempted to sow distrust in Tennessee public schools and Tennessee’s educators. This fear reinforces the common right-wing arguments for why parents should have the option of siphoning money from Tennessee’s grossly under resourced public schools so they can send their children to unregulated and unaccountable private (Christian) schools.

Introducing PET Leader Kyle Mallory
Kyle Mallory is a prominent leader in the Professional Educators of Tennessee with a history of being on the frontlines of PET’s attacks on teachers and public education. In 2011, Mallory represented PET at the Tennessee General Assembly, lobbying legislators in support of repealing the collective bargaining rights of teachers and speaking before the TEA Party and other extreme right-wing groups in attacking the state’s teacher union.

Mallroy Speaking NashvilleKyle Mallory speaking at a TEA Party rally in Nashville in support of repealing the collective bargaining rights of Tennessee teachers

More recently, Mallory was featured in a right-wing gossip site lashing out at the mythical “Islamic-centric standards” that are the centerpiece of Gill’s astroturf public forums.

Mallory has publicly promoted Gill’s events, reinforcing the lies about student indoctrination and demonizing public schools and educators.

Mallory promoting Gill Event

Mallory has also represented PET in media debates, attacking the Tennessee public schools and the state’s teacher union.

Kyle Mallory PET Islam

Over the past couple of years, Mallory has been called into meetings by prominent Republican legislators to attack the Tennessee Teacher’s union for spending money in political races to defeat pro-voucher and pro-privatization candidates.

Mallory has publicly shared Gill’s pro-voucher attacks on the Tennessee teacher’s union (and me for writing this blog, pointing out how PET works hand-in-glove to advance the privatization agenda).

Mallory Vouchers

For all of this, Mallory was named the 2015 Advocate of the Year by the Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Enter PET Staff Attorney Mike Sheppard
Mike Sheppard serves as the General Counsel for the Professional Educators of Tennessee and publishes opinion editorials on their behalf.

Sheppard was also a featured speaker at one of Gill’s forums, speaking as an attorney in support of attacking the local school board.

 

Privatization Consultant Defends PET

J.C. Bowman, the executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, has been desperately scrambling to find an effective way to minimize the incredible exposés published on this website – like the fact that Bowman has spent decades advocating for vouchers and the privatization of public schools and that he has a long history of working for and alongside a national network of shadowy free market “think tanks” dedicated to the promotion of privatization and the destruction of teacher unions. Or the revelation of a YouTube video in which Bowman openly admits that he was paid by with the dues money of PET members to secretly lobby for the repeal of teacher collective bargaining rights. There is also the continuing revelations of how organizations like PET are part of a national strategy to weaken the most politically organized opposition to the corporate reformers and their privatization agenda: teacher unions.

So how has Bowman responded to these facts being made public? He calls on his buddy Steve Gill to help him out with some online media exposure.

Who is Steve Gill? Gill is a former right-wing radio pundit and currently a “media consultant” for a broad array of groups spearheading the privatization agenda in Tennessee. Here are just a few highlights of Gill’s long career demonizing public schools, public school teachers and public school advocates on behalf of big monied interests:

Americans for Prosperity

Steve Gill has published editorials praising Americans for Prosperity as “Tennessee’s conservative warriors” in an attempt to shield the organization from criticism for being an out-of-state special interest group financed by the billionaire Koch brothers. AFP is a major advocate for vouchers and in 2014 the group spent an astounding $1.1 million in “lobby-related” expenses in Tennessee. AFP has even spent tens-of-thousands of dollars in local school board races across the state, electing pro-privatization candidates like Susan Curlee in Williamson County, who is a close ally of PET and was featured in the organization’s Spring 2015 newsletter.

Gill was also paid by AFP to be their voice in a radio campaign attacking Republican legislators who were on the fence about supporting Insure Tennessee, Governor Haslam’s plan to expand healthcare access to Tennessee’s working poor. According to a Harvard study, an estimated one to two people in Tennessee die needlessly everyday as a direct result of not receiving healthcare from Governor Haslam’s plan. A Vanderbilt poll found that nearly two-thirds of registered voters in Tennessee support Insure Tennessee, yet legislators killed the life-saving legislation in committee out of fear that AFP would spend enormous sums of money against them in upcoming elections. Republican House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick told the press that “AFP represents a small group of people and a small group of donors,” yet legislators are forced to “pay attention to groups that have millions of dollars to spend and are willing to do so in campaigns. You do have to get reelected in order to be effective.”

privatization shark

 

Tennessee Federation for Children

In 2013 and 2014, the Tennessee Federation for Children spent around $700,000 to advance their privatization agenda in the Tennessee General Assembly. Part of that money was spent on Steve Gill, who worked as a “media consultant” for the Federation for Children. Part of his “consulting” work was creating a robocall that went out to voters encouraging them to support voucher legislation and to fightback against teachers unions for “working to oppose parental choice scholarships that allow parents to escape failing government-run schools.” According to the Tennessean, the robocall backfired when all it incited was anger and bewilderment from parents of public school students who support both their public schools and their teachers.

Facebook post by the Tennessee Federation for Children encouraging the public to contact their legislator in support of vouchers through the website created by the Beacon Center of Tennessee. Bowman and PET have repeatedly partnered with the Beacon Center to attack teacher unions, which are the most powerful organized opponents of vouchers.

Facebook post by the Tennessee Federation for Children encouraging the public to contact their legislator in support of vouchers through the website created by the Beacon Center of Tennessee. Bowman and PET have repeatedly partnered with the Beacon Center to attack teacher unions, which are the most powerful and organized opponents of vouchers.

K12, Inc.

K12 Inc. is a for-profit charter chain listed on the New York Stock Exchange and is the country’s biggest purveyor of online homeschooling, paid for with public funds drawn away from traditional public schools. Since the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation (written by ALEC) in 2011 authorizing K12 Inc. to open in the state, this for-profit corporation has taken in millions of dollars in tax-payer money while consistently remaining one of the lowest performing schools in Tennessee. While the students might be failing according to our state’s academic standards, by Wall Street’s standards this private company is a remarkable success. Diane Ravitch described K12 inc. in Tennessee as “the worst school in the state protected by lobbyists” and a New York Times investigation into the for-profit charter stated that the company exists to “squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards.” When the Tennessee state government took steps to close the school down, K12 Inc. hired a team of lobbyists, lawyers and, of course, the for-hire privatizer Steve Gill to shill for them in public by speaking to the press on their behalf (see HEREHERE, HERE HERE).

What's Eating Public Education

Gill Interviews Bowman

The fact that Bowman has to rely on a for-hire, pro-privatization media consultant to help defend him is revealing in-itself, but the funniest part of the entire five question interview is that Bowman can’t deny the fact that he was the president of the largest private voucher in the country, which was based out of Chattanooga and used to provide an “example” for spreading vouchers across Tennessee, or that he was appointed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush to oversee the implementation of the nation’s first statewide voucher program. Bowman can’t deny any of this, because his pro-privatization history is a verifiable fact.

Instead, Bowman weakly pivots and offers rationalizations for why he supports and is proud of vouchers in Florida (which have been a colossal failure), while simultaneously claiming that he does not “think that vouchers will work here” because “Tennessee lacks the number of high quality private schools to meet any demand.” Bowman makes it very clear that he is not opposed to vouchers or privatization in principle, but simply thinks that we need more high-quality private schools before we start defunding our public schools even further and sending children off to be educated in privately owned education companies, like the for-profit charter schools that replace teachers with computers and are owned by Tennessee’s John Danner (who Bowman admits in the interview to working closely with in the past to advocate for massive charter expansion in Tennessee).

So there you have it, a hired media consultant for the extreme, right-wing privatization agenda in Tennessee publishes a highly selective and limited interview with J.C. Bowman in which Bowman acknowledges that he has spent decades advocating for vouchers, charters and the free market education agenda.

Bowman also implies that he still supports those endeavors, but with incredibly weak qualifications for why he is not publicly advocating for them now, such as the supposed need for a greater number of “quality” private schools In Tennessee for vouchers to work here.

At no point does Bowman apologize or state that he opposes vouchers or privatization, because he doesn’t. That much is obvious. After all, why else would he spend so much time and energy partnering with pro-voucher and pro-charter groups like the Beacon Center in attacking the biggest obstacles to those very policies: Tennessee’s unionized teachers.

Privatization Through Union Busting

In October of 1999, the Lexington Institute, a “free market think tank” and active member of the nefarious Koch-financed State Policy Network, hosted a national conference entitled “The Teacher Unions: How School Choice is Breaking Their Monopoly.”

According to the conference agenda, three of the major themes were:

  1. Expanding voucher, tax-credit and charter school programs as well as the teacher unions’ actions to prevent such programs;
  2. The brisk growth of independent teacher associations, which now have more members than the NEA or AFT in three states;
  3. Education outsourcing and privatization issues, recent unprecedented concessions by teacher unions in contract agreements, curbing the political abuse of compulsory dues and other related topics.

Here we see a perfect example of the collusion between the “free market think tanks” that belong to the State Policy Network and are part of a national strategy for advocating for the privatization of public schools and the growth of “independent education associations” (I prefer the term “yellow unions”) that claim to represent teachers, but are actually front groups created for the intentional purpose of undermining the largest and most politically organized opposition to the corporate reformers and their privatization agenda: teacher unions.

These “free market think tanks” and the yellow unions work hand in glove, one advocates for the privatization agenda while the other weakens the agenda’s main opponents.

Guess who is listed at the very top of the conference’s list of speakers?

None other than the current executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee: J.C. Bowman.

How about that.

 

Download the agenda here: capital-hill-teacher-union or see below.

Download the PDF file .