Tag Archives: State Policy Network

Bowman’s Anti-Union & Pro-Privatization Buddies

Back in late August/early September, I wrote a post on my personal blog detailing the political connections between J.C. Bowman, the director of the Professional Educator of Tennessee, and several right-wing anti-union and pro-privatization politicians and groups:

You have to hand it to the Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET), they don’t bother to try and hide their connections to the far right extremists and big monied interests that are working so hard to privatize Tennessee public schools. Just take their recent tweets, praising Williamson County School Board member Susan Curlee for receiving an award from the Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism (CEAFU), a project of the National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC), for “exposing forced unionism in public education.” (Nevermind the fact that Tennessee is a so-called “right to work” state and no worker can be “forced” to pay the costs of the union representation they receive or the union contract they benefit from).

For anyone who has not heard of them, the NRTWC is one of the slimiest pack of lawyers around. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the NRTWC is one of the “national leaders in the effort to destroy public and private sector unions” and has “strong connections to the national right-wing network, including to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Republican National Committee, and the State Policy Network (SPN).”

Well, I just discovered that the CEAFU decided to double down on their love affair with Bowman after my blog post.

In response, the CEAFU published a web post bemoaning the “vicious ad hominem attack” I had launched against Bowman for his being an “outspoken critic” of “the TEA’s [Tennessee’s teachers union] radical agenda.”

What makes TEA’s agenda so radical, to the CEAFU and PET, is that the TEA has historically supported teacher tenure, the rights of teachers to collectively bargain a contract, using public money to fund public schools (not private businesses acting as schools) and other mainstream views on how teachers should be treated and our public schools should be run.

But that is the agenda that J.C. Bowman/PET are united with other corporate interest groups – like the CEAFU and the NRTWC – in undermining.

Bowman has spent decades working alongside right-wing groups financed by big business to destroy the legal right of teachers to organize on the job, because privatizers know that organized teachers are the largest, most powerful obstacle standing in the way of the full-on corporate takeover of public schools.

Not only that, but the CEAFU post, written on September 15, ends with the statement: “Tomorrow, a proud Defense of JC Bowman.”

On September 17, Bowman’s daughter published a column on another website defending her father, which the CEAFU reposted. What this would seem to imply was that Bowman and his family were actually coordinating with the CEAFU to publish responses to my previous posts – while never once contesting any of the facts that I presented. All they could ever say was that, well, Bowman is actually a swell guy and I shouldn’t be trusted because I worked for the teachers union. Which, I did. At the time. I am openly pro-teacher, pro-union and pro-public education. I don’t hide those facts at any point.

This is not the first time that privatization activists have come out in defense of Bowman. Steve Gill – a paid consultant who worked for the Tennessee Federation for Children to build public support for vouchers (he failed) and K12 inc. to protect their for-profit charter chain in the state from being shut down – wrote a piece defending Bowman after an expose published on this site that connected PET’s leadership to the coordinated racist attacks on Muslims as a cynical method for passing off absurd claims about Islamic indoctrination within public schools during the lead-up to the most recent legislative session.

All that this continues to demonstrate is that Bowman and PET are deeply entrenched within a powerful and well-funded network of corporate interest groups that are fundamentally dedicated to demonizing unions in support of defunding, dismantling and selling off Tennessee’ public educational system. None of which should come as a surprise to anyone if they have read the rest of this site.

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 .

PET and the State Policy Network

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.

SPNAM 2015 sponsorsSponsoring organizations of the 2015 State Policy Network Annual Meeting

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.

Bowman quote 2003
Bowman quote featured in the SPN’s 2003 Annual Meeting update

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.

2013 SPN Update - Beacon & PET

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.