May 2016

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.

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.