Monday, March 4, 2013

School Voucher Advocates Throw Cash at Tennessee

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 5:50 AM

In a scenario also playing out elsewhere in the country, rich Republicans from outside Tennessee are dropping a ton of money into this state to promote privatization of public education.

Gov. Bill Haslam's school voucher proposal isn't big enough for these people, so the American Federation for Children is funding a TV and radio ad campaign to pressure the legislature to expand it. According to the AP's Erik Schelzig, the tab is $800,000—"a vast amount for political advertising or issue advocacy in the state."

That same PAC gave nearly $250,000 to pro-voucher candidates in Tennessee political races last year. It's run by Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos with funding from her friends. Last month, the organization hired political operative Chip Saltsman, onetime state GOP chairman and driver for Don Sundquist, to help grease the skids for vouchers.

Nashville's Beacon Center, a libertarian outfit with high-dollar corporate funders, also is airing pro-voucher TV ads.

American Federation for Children, a big supporter of the voucher experiment in Milwaukee, helped Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker avoid recall at the hands of voters in 2011 after his anti-public worker union crusade in that state. DeVos wanted Walker to stay in office so he could start voucher programs across Wisconsin, even though vouchers haven't worked in Milwaukee.

In 2008, Ohio levied a record $5.2 million fine against another pro-voucher PAC headed by DeVos for an illegal campaign contribution.

Haslam’s legislation would limit vouchers—or "opportunity scholarships" as Republicans prefer to call them—to 5,000 low-income students in failing schools in the school year that begins in August, and that could grow to 20,000 by 2016. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, thinks that's not nearly enough kids and he's promising to fix that in the Senate Education Committee this week. He said last week he wants "a very expansive" program. He's not given any details of what he has in mind.

“We certainly want to help as many low-income children as we can possibly help," he said.

It's nice that Kelsey and all the rest of these fat-cat voucher advocates care so much about inner-city children. Who knew? We're guessing that while Kelsey's expanding our program, he also might add at least a few children from the state's wealthy white suburbs to give Republican voters a little break on their private school tuition bills. Just think, the money they save could go straight toward their country club dues. Now that's opportunity!

Watch the Beacon Center ad here.

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