Tag Archives: Steve Gill

PET’s Anti-Union Pro-Privatization Politics

For years, the Professional Educators of Tennessee have repeatedly asserted that they are not a “political organization,” while employing several lobbyists. Currently, three of PET’s staff members are listed by the state as registered lobbyists:

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In fact, PET has employed lobbyists for years:

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Contrary to what PET claims, the organization is extremely political. But what are their politics?

Well, to figure that out, we need only look to their record.

Now, PET is actively working with pro-voucher groups to lobby for a law that would repeat the right of teachers to voluntarily choose for union dues to be automatically withdrawn from their paychecks.

Kyle Mallory, a PET leader who was named 2015 Advocate of the Year by the organization and has represented PET in events organized as part of a campaign by pro-voucher consultant Steve Gill to demonize Tennessee’s public schools, has recently written an editorial promoting the legislation:

Recently, the Tennessee Legislature took up the Fair Access to Collection of Teacher Support Act (SB 151 / HB 294), a piece of legislation that has been amended to take the school district out of collecting dues through payroll deductions for unions who use them for political activities. . . I support the FACTS Act (HB 294 / SB 151) as amended, and hope others will as well.

Not only has PET published editorials in support of this legislation, PET’s executive director JC Bowman has publicly lobbied in favor of it during the legislative session.

Given PET’s history (especially the pro-voucher and pro-charter history of JC Bowman), it should come as little surprise that PET is actively lobbying to undermine the strength of the teachers union, which is the most powerful obstacle standing in the way of the corporate takeover of public education. And yet, there are many teachers across the state who have not heard how PET uses the dues money of their members to lobby for legislation that strips teachers of their rights. Please help spread the word.

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

PET Spreads Hate, Demonizes Public Schools, Paves Way for Vouchers

For months leading up to the current legislative session, prominent representatives of the Professional Educators of Tennessee have been actively working alongside a pro-voucher consultant and a nationally prominent racist to spread hate, demonize public schools and cultivate an environment conducive for the passage of voucher legislation in the state legislature. Based on the facts laid out below, it is obvious that PET has been actively working with other right-wing extremists to till the ground: using anti-Muslim fear and hate to sow distrust of the public educational system in the hopes of reaping increased support for their privatization schemes.

Meet Voucher Consultant Steve Gill
Steve Gill is right-wing consultant who has worked for numerous out-of-state special interest groups that are actively working to advance privatization in Tennessee, including Americans for Prosperity, K12 inc. and the Tennessee Federation for Children. Gill also has a history of working alongside PET.

In the months leading up to the current legislative session, Gill was organizing public forums, spreading sensational anti-Muslim and anti-public education propaganda claiming that the state’s 7th grade social studies standards were indoctrinating students into Islam. These were fact checked by the Tennessean and found to be completely fraudulent (but any 7th grade teacher could have told you that).

The forums featured Bill Warner, a man identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks hate groups, as a right-wing extremist.

These forums not only spread lies about Muslims, but attempted to sow distrust in Tennessee public schools and Tennessee’s educators. This fear reinforces the common right-wing arguments for why parents should have the option of siphoning money from Tennessee’s grossly under resourced public schools so they can send their children to unregulated and unaccountable private (Christian) schools.

Introducing PET Leader Kyle Mallory
Kyle Mallory is a prominent leader in the Professional Educators of Tennessee with a history of being on the frontlines of PET’s attacks on teachers and public education. In 2011, Mallory represented PET at the Tennessee General Assembly, lobbying legislators in support of repealing the collective bargaining rights of teachers and speaking before the TEA Party and other extreme right-wing groups in attacking the state’s teacher union.

Mallroy Speaking NashvilleKyle Mallory speaking at a TEA Party rally in Nashville in support of repealing the collective bargaining rights of Tennessee teachers

More recently, Mallory was featured in a right-wing gossip site lashing out at the mythical “Islamic-centric standards” that are the centerpiece of Gill’s astroturf public forums.

Mallory has publicly promoted Gill’s events, reinforcing the lies about student indoctrination and demonizing public schools and educators.

Mallory promoting Gill Event

Mallory has also represented PET in media debates, attacking the Tennessee public schools and the state’s teacher union.

Kyle Mallory PET Islam

Over the past couple of years, Mallory has been called into meetings by prominent Republican legislators to attack the Tennessee Teacher’s union for spending money in political races to defeat pro-voucher and pro-privatization candidates.

Mallory has publicly shared Gill’s pro-voucher attacks on the Tennessee teacher’s union (and me for writing this blog, pointing out how PET works hand-in-glove to advance the privatization agenda).

Mallory Vouchers

For all of this, Mallory was named the 2015 Advocate of the Year by the Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Enter PET Staff Attorney Mike Sheppard
Mike Sheppard serves as the General Counsel for the Professional Educators of Tennessee and publishes opinion editorials on their behalf.

Sheppard was also a featured speaker at one of Gill’s forums, speaking as an attorney in support of attacking the local school board.

 

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.