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.
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.
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.
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.