Tag Archives: school choice

PET’s Privatization Agenda Now Includes Dues Deductions

The Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) have been a consistent advocate for the corporate takeover of public schools. For example, years ago, the executive director of PET, J.C. Bowman, was the director of a private voucher program in Tennessee that was intended to serve as a model for advancing statewide voucher legislation. Bowman publicly advocated for a full throttle privatization agenda, blasting public schools and their greatest defender: teacher unions.

“School choice, implemented through tuition scholarships and vouchers, is the only true education reform sufficiently aggressive to break the cycle of failing government schools, poverty and the pernicious cycle of dependency on government. This is particularly true in minority and low-income communities, where left wing education zealots and union operatives insist that minority and low-income children remain trapped in failing schools. Do not let the bureaucrats risk your child’s future. Show your support for school choice.”
– J.C. Bowman

Bowman’s private voucher initiative failed, but he went on to be appointed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush to be the “Director of School Choice” for the first statewide voucher program in the country.

“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.” - J.C. Bowman

Bowman has publicly bragged about his work privatizing Florida public schools, stating:

“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.”
– J.C. Bowman

After being named the Executive Director of PET, Bowman quickly went to work with the Beacon Center of Tennessee – one of the leading right-wing voucher and charter advocacy organizations in the state – to attack teacher unions and lobby for the repeal of the collective bargaining rights of administrators, teachers and education support personnel. Collective bargaining allowed school district employees to negotiate contracts  on a whole range of issues, including teacher evaluations, merit pay schemes, tenure, seniority, or transfers and reassignments, salaries, length of work day, insurance and other crucial working conditions. Bowman publicly stated that he wanted these rights completely repealed.

“We’d like to see collective bargaining rolled back, if not completely done away with” – J.C. Bowman

In the end, the law providing teachers with the right to collectively bargain was repealed and replaced with a much more limited law. Bowman recorded a video of himself bragging about his role in undermining the rights of teachers.

PET has continued to attack teacher unions while working alongside some of the leading proponents of privatization (see their continued collaboration with the Beacon Center to attack unions HEREHERE and HERE). In the lead up to the current legislative session, PET leaders and staff worked alongside Steve Gill, a prominent pro-voucher consultant, and Bill Warner, a man identified as a right-wing extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks hate groups, to host public forums spreading anti-Muslim hate and lies about public education. It is very likely that these forums were organized for the purpose of creating a political environment conducive for the passage of voucher legislation in the state legislature.

Now, PET is actively lobbying for a law that would make it illegal in every school district across the state for teachers to have their union membership dues deducted from their paychecks.

PET is making an argument against dues deduction that is similar to one that they made while lobbying to repeal the collective bargaining rights of teachers in 2011: under the former collective bargaining law, an organization representing teachers was required to have 50% + 1 membership in the school district to begin the process of negotiating with the school board. PET has never been able to reach this membership threshold. So what did they do? They blew up collective bargaining. Now teachers are legally barred from negotiating contracts with language concerning testing, evaluations, tenure, reassignment and transfers and many other issues.

Similarly, many school boards around the state have set thresholds for an organization to be able to deduct dues from the paychecks of those employed by the school district. Typically, about 15% of the teachers have to be members of an organization for a school board to allow that organization to deduct dues from their paychecks. Once again, PET is not able to meet the minimum threshold in many school districts around the state.

In essence, PET is using the common right-wing, pro-privatization talking points about “freedom” and “choice” to push an anti-democracy agenda. They point to the fact that they are unwelcome in many schools and unpopular among many teachers as grounds to justify the tyranny of an extreme right-wing minority. If PET’s 5 members in a school district can’t be treated as absolutely equal to the union’s 500 members, then they want the state to punish those districts.

It shouldn’t escape our attention that PET’s attack on teacher union dues deductions comes after the union successfully defeated vouchers, again. Out-of-state corporate interest groups spent millions of dollars financing political campaigns and bankrolling their pro-privatization propaganda, just to be beaten back by the union.

Since 2011, PET has supported the repeal of teacher collective bargaining rights, worked alongside pro-voucher lobbyists like the Beacon Center and Steve Gill, as well as Bill Warner, a nationally prominent racist, to demonize teacher unions and Tennessee public schools. Now, after defeating vouchers and the big monied interest groups behind them, PET is leading the charge to have the state government outlaw the right of teachers to have their union dues deducted from their paychecks.

None of this should be surprising, given the decades that J.C. Bowman, PET’s executive director, has spent fighting to undermine teacher unions and advance the corporate takeover of public schools. What is surprising is that anyone would be a member of PET.

via GIPHY

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.

Privatization Through Union Busting

In October of 1999, the Lexington Institute, a “free market think tank” and active member of the nefarious Koch-financed State Policy Network, hosted a national conference entitled “The Teacher Unions: How School Choice is Breaking Their Monopoly.”

According to the conference agenda, three of the major themes were:

  1. Expanding voucher, tax-credit and charter school programs as well as the teacher unions’ actions to prevent such programs;
  2. The brisk growth of independent teacher associations, which now have more members than the NEA or AFT in three states;
  3. Education outsourcing and privatization issues, recent unprecedented concessions by teacher unions in contract agreements, curbing the political abuse of compulsory dues and other related topics.

Here we see a perfect example of the collusion between the “free market think tanks” that belong to the State Policy Network and are part of a national strategy for advocating for the privatization of public schools and the growth of “independent education associations” (I prefer the term “yellow unions”) that claim to represent teachers, but are actually front groups created for the intentional purpose of undermining the largest and most politically organized opposition to the corporate reformers and their privatization agenda: teacher unions.

These “free market think tanks” and the yellow unions work hand in glove, one advocates for the privatization agenda while the other weakens the agenda’s main opponents.

Guess who is listed at the very top of the conference’s list of speakers?

None other than the current executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee: J.C. Bowman.

How about that.

 

Download the agenda here: capital-hill-teacher-union or see below.

Download the PDF file .

What is a Yellow Union?

One of the biggest players in the long-term agenda to demoralize teachers and defund, dismantle and privatize public education in Tennessee is the Professional Educators of Tennessee, or PET, which might come as a shock to some of their members. After all, PET bills itself as an innocuous member-run business: a “non-union, professional educators’ organization” that “offers a premium package of benefits including exceptional legal protection and liability coverage.”

But the truth is something very different.

Uncovering The Truth About Tennessee's Most Notorious Yellow Union

In the past, organizations like PET would have been called “yellow unions”: organizations that claim to represent the interests of workers while actually advancing the company’s agenda. PET is just one example of a growing number of public sector yellow unions 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.

This website is dedicated to exposing PET for the yellow union that it is. If teachers are going to be successful in fending off the organized attacks against their profession and against public schools, then they need to know who they can trust – and who they can’t.

The best place to start is in the tabs at the top of this page, entitled “Collective Bargaining” and “Privatization.” The “Resources” tab is provided so that advocates of public education and public school teachers can download informational materials to hand out to their friends, family, neighbors and colleagues.

Lastly, as made clear in the “About” tab, this website is a completely independent and volunteer project of a Tennessee labor activist and public school advocate. All materials, opinions, and content contained herein have been created voluntarily and freely for one purpose: to educate and inform the public about the devastating role that yellow unions like PET have had on their members and the public schools of Tennessee. Please, feel free to share this site and the materials herein, comment on the pages and posts.

Have any questions? Want to share a story or provide information about PET? Feel free to contact me at: chactivist@gmail.com

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