Tag Archives: Corporate Reform

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

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.