Tag Archives: American Legislative Exchange Council

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.

PET and the State Policy Network

The State Policy Network (SPN) just wrapped up their 2015 annual meeting ( #SPNAM) in Michigan. The attendees were a Who’s Who of privatization organizations and the conference’s agenda was packed with sessions on how to advance the corporate takeover of public schools in state legislatures across the country.

SPNAM 2015 sponsorsSponsoring organizations of the 2015 State Policy Network Annual Meeting

In case you aren’t aware, the SPN is a shadowy web of privately funded, extreme right-wing “think tanks” that, according to an extensive report by the Center for Media and Democracy, “work together in coordinated efforts to push their agenda, often using the same cookie-cutter research and reports, all while claiming to be independent and creating state-focused solutions that purportedly advance the interests or traditions of the state.” Their “extreme right-wing agenda” aims “to privatize education, block healthcare reform, restrict workers’ rights, roll back environmental protections, and create a tax system that benefits most those at the very top level of income.”

The SPN’s annual meeting agenda certainly reflected their extreme right-wing goals, including workshops on how to message voucher legislation to the public, how to create alternative forms of “accountability” from the test-based model used in public schools for private schools receiving publicly financed vouchers, how to transform higher education in a system resembling a market based system, how to remove state-based caps on vouchers and charter schools. According to participants in these workshops, “the end game is to eliminate every barrier to school choice for every student” with recognition that the “hurdles to a barrier-free education marketplace are laws and public policies in the states.”

Through the SPN, right-wing think tanks are connected with other extremist right-wing organizations, often affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to promote their model legislation across the country, as well as extremist right-wing politicians, like Jeb Bush, who actively pursue that model legislation, as has been the case in Florida.

J.C. Bowman, the executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, has a long and sordid history of working for and with SPN affiliated “think-tanks,” ALEC and extreme right-wing politicians.

Bowman’s PET profile explicitly states that he served as the chair of the “Union Affairs Sub-Committee of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Education Task Force” from 1999 to 2001. J.C. Bowman  not only served on the ALEC committee dedicated to advancing legislation that targeted teacher unions and their collective bargaining rights, but, acting as the newly appointed executive director of PET in 2011, Bowman successfully lead the fight to repeal the collective bargaining rights of teachers in Tennessee.

Bowman has also spent decades advocating on behalf of the corporate takeover of public education while working for or with several of the ALEC-aligned member organizations in the State Policy Network, including: the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Tennessee Institute for Public Policy, the Beacon Center and the Heartland Institute. Bowman himself has previously attended the State Policy Network’s annual meetings and is even quoted in their literature praising the events.

Bowman quote 2003
Bowman quote featured in the SPN’s 2003 Annual Meeting update

It is little wonder that Bowman was appointed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush to oversee Florida’s state-wide voucher program.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee is an especially active member of the State Policy Network and is highly committed to the privatization of Tennessee’s public schools. To give you an idea of the scope of the Beacon Center’s recent privatization efforts, just look at their 2013 “school choice” campaign, which aimed at gaining state-wide support for vouchers with a focus on parents, community leaders and politicians in Memphis and Nashville. During this campaign, the Beacon Center:

  • Ran a series of radioand television commercials in support of voucher legislation.
  • Launched a single-issue websitededicated to promoting vouchers and “school choice”.
  • Produced propaganda materialsthat attempted to obscure the fact that the legislation being introduced in Nashville was ALEC’s cookie-cutter, model voucher legislation.

While the teachers union and pro-public education advocates across the state have been vigorously fighting the Beacon Center and their privatization agenda, Bowman, acting as PET’s Executive Director, has continued to work alongside the Beacon Center. Both organizations work together to regularly co-author anti-union editorials, attacking not only teacher unions but attempts by the UAW to organize factory workers in Chattanooga as well. The State Policy Network’s July/August 2013 newsletter featured information on the activities of all the Network’s state affiliates across the country and proudly championed the annual Beacon Center and PET alliance to attack teacher unionization.

2013 SPN Update - Beacon & PET

The same year that the Beacon Center ran a barrage of pro-voucher media, the State Policy Network featured their work alongside PET in their national newsletter (click to enlarge)

Here we have a concise picture of the evil privatization troika that is active in states all over the country, including Tennessee:

  • ALEC: The American Legislative Exchange Council wines and dines state policy makers who introduce cookie cutter model legislation written by the lobbyists of corporations who stand to profit from the privatization of our schools.  The vast majority of Senate Republicans in Tennessee are members of ALEC, spending tens-of-thousands of tax-payer dollars every year to fly around the country and schmooze with corporate leaders at their catered functions and then returning to Tennessee to fight for ALEC’s extremist corporate agenda, like the recently passed IEP voucher bill.
  • State Policy Network: A web of “free market think tanks” that provide “research” and media campaigns supporting ALEC’s cookie cutter legislation are privately funded by the same corporate interests who to stand to benefit from privatization. The Beacon Center is an active member of the SPN and is “largely funded by out-of-state right-wing special interest groups.”
  • Yellow Unions: Organizations that claim to represent the interests of workers while actually advancing the corporate agenda. PET is just one example of a growing number of public sector yellow unions (they like to call themselves “independent teachers associations”) that are spreading across the United States. This is important because, typically, 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. Not only do these so-called “independent teachers associations” share deep institutional and ideological connections with the corporate education reform movement, but by dividing teachers in the schools and siphoning resources away from teacher unions, they are intentionally undermining the largest and most politically organized opposition to the corporate reformers and their privatization agenda.

The evil corporate troika might have millions of dollars at their disposal, but we have something far more powerful: teachers, parents, and community members who are committed to protecting our public educational system. The truth is, the power of organized people can overcome the power of organized money. That is why it is so important that everyone get involved in the struggle to defend public schools – especially since the State Policy Network’s 2016 Annual Meeting is going to be hosted by the Beacon Center in Nashville.