Tag Archives: Beacon Center

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for model ALEC legislation that would deny teachers the right to voluntarily choose for union dues to be automatically withdrawn from their paychecks.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.

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 & 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.

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