The Tea Party and Vouchers: Reunited

The local party officials of the GOP are partnering with two pro-privatization groups to offer free food and a “talk” led by Glen Casada (who has received more than $15K from pro-privatization groups) regarding vouchers and their other education privatization efforts in Tennessee. The local GOP event tonight is hosted by Americans for Prosperity and American Federation for Children—two national groups who spend huge sums of money to get pro-privatization candidates elected to local and state offices. Americans for Prosperity, of course, also dumped tens of thousands of dollars into the 2014 Williamson County School Board race and took credit for the victories of Cash, Burgos, Curlee, and Emerson. The AFP relationship with some board members (including Beth Burgos and Susan Curlee) has remained tight over the past two years. AFP TN Director of Communications director Tori Venable was (and may still be) in a now-secret Facebook group with Julie Mauck, Susan Curlee, and Beth Burgos, among others. James Amundsen, a current staffer for AFP, worked closely in 2014 with Franklin Alderman Bev Burger and others in their efforts against both Mike Looney and then-incumbent board member Eric Welch. These groups are unabashedly for vouchers and other forms of privatization of public schools. This event will also celebrate the privatization efforts of Milton Friedman, the father of the voucher movement. Friedman said: “Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system.” He was clear that he wanted a “private, for-profit industry to develop” in service of a “radical reconstruction of the educational system.” So these special interest groups,...

Time Machine to Two Years Ago – July 24, 2014

On this day, two years ago, Kent Davis (a major funder of Curlee, Burgos, Cash, and Emerson) laid out the plan for the final days of the 2014 WCSB campaign. He wrote that final ads should be “focused on helping the candidates and should ignore the opponents.” Davis also noted that pictures are “dynamite” and the “fact that there are four is also dynamite.” He also encouraged the ads to focus on Common Core and against federal interference. “Funding would be the least of the issues,” he said, and went on to say that he would “defer to whoever believes we can put together an effective ad on short notice.” (On August 5th and 6th, the two days before the election, identical, glossy sets of three Americans for Prosperity mailers were sent to households in the four contested districts. AFP later bragged that it spent $500,000 in Tennessee in the six weeks prior to the August elections and called the new WCS board a major victory. The mailers included high-resolution photos of the candidates (not available off the internet) and their phone numbers, instructing voters to “thank” the candidates. AFP is not a registered PAC.) Later that day (7/24/14), Burgos, Cash, Curlee, and Emerson held a press statement at Centennial High School. The press contact was Franklin Alderman Bev Burger (using the name Elka Ahearn). Burger had hosted campaign fundraisers for Burgos, Curlee, Emerson and Paul Bartholomew and later endorsed Cash.   The prepared statement read by Beth Burgos stated: “Not one of us has remotely entertained or expressed the desire to replace our superintendent Dr. Looney.”   “We...

How much did AFP spend to influence WCS board elections? Conservative estimate: $50,000

AFP bragged that it spent $500,000 in Tennessee on Education/Common Core-related fights in the six weeks prior to the August elections.  AFP also cited the new WCS board as a major victory. How much of that cool half mill went to the WCS board race? We estimate that AFP spent more than $50,000 on WCS board races during the election.  This is a conservative estimate. (Where did the other $450K go?)  The bulk of their money appears to have been spent on a huge influx of mailers that arrived right before Election Day. Almost everybody we know (including unlikely voters) in the four contested districts (45,872 voters) received at least three pieces of mail – glossy, two-sided jumbo postcards that warned that the incumbents were “letting Obama run Williamson Co. Schools.”  We talked to multiple mail shops, printers, etc., and estimate that the all-in cost of design, printing, mailing and list services was over $50,000 for the mailers based on the number of voters in the districts and per unit cost for mailers of this quality. AFP declined to tell the Tennessean how much they spent in Williamson County and campaign finance law doesn’t make them.  This is so-called “dark” money that doesn’t have to be reported as a contribution.  These pieces were technically for the public’s “education.” The mailers had candidates’ phone numbers, instructions to “thank” the candidates, perfect high-resolution photographs (somehow procured), but because they don’t say “VOTE for _____” they are “educational” and not subject to higher reporting standards.  This is all legal as we understand it. Each of the four board members (Burgos, Cash, Curlee, and...

What does a big-money DC-based national right-wing group like Americans for Prosperity want with our Williamson County Schools?

We’d better find out, because it looks like our new school board majority is working for them. Common Core is an opening gambit, folks. Next up may well be getting rid of an AP US History class because they think the curriculum is insufficiently patriotic. But the big play here is defunding, privatizing, and voucherizing our public schools here in Williamson County, otherwise known as radically experimenting with what most of us think is a darn good public education system. AFP and their allies have a national plan that was leaked online in January. The first step is listed as “End Common Core.” The second step is to convert to a voucher system so funds currently used to pay for public schools could be used for private and for-profit schools. As mainline politics site politico.com reported: “The groups are stoking populist anger over the standards – then working to channel that anger into a bold campaign to undercut public schools….” It looks to us like we’re right in the middle of it. See Colorado for how this is playing out elsewhere. This isn’t about local control, folks. This is a national political agenda.   See our post How much did AFP spend to influence WCS board elections? Conservative estimate: $50,000....

Colorado Playbook

Is what is currently happening in Jefferson County CO the future of Williamson County? Jefferson County elected a new school board back by the Koch Brothers American for Prosperity last year. It sounds like the new WCS school board has an eerily similar playbook.   Our newly elected school board has gone on record as saying they want to change our textbooks. In a Thursday, August 7 Williamson Herald article, Beth Burgos shared her thoughts about taking the District 10 seat. “I believe God called me to this position,” Burgos said, “We had so many Christians praying. Many parents want textbooks to reflect Christian values. We want to represent the voices that have spoken.”   We already know that they want to rename winter break Christmas Break, review text books, and want to change AP US History. In addition, all of the new school board members said during the election they were for vouchers and charters and are on emails discussing privatizing our schools and experimenting with our children.   There’s a lot of scary stuff happening and percolating with the new school board majority (the “Anti-8”) and Williamson County Schools: terrified teachers, school board members threatening a tribunal to go after their perceived political enemies (aka active parent volunteers), big money extreme right wing funding for a broader privatization agenda, and calling our schools and our current curriculum inferior and un-American. And there’s more to come – we may lose AP classes that some on the new board have deemed insufficiently patriotic (AP US history) based on (again) a national political cadre and without any input from our own WCS...