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.”
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.
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 HERE, HERE, HERE HERE).
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.