posted May 21, 2012, 10:00 AM by Bill Duncan
updated Nov 5, 2012, 5:46 AM
"In too many cities and neighborhoods, parents are unable to enroll their kids in the best public schools -- there just aren't enough seats. We're working to make sure all families have a range of high quality schools to choose from, because our kids shouldn't have to rely on a lottery or the ZIP Code of their home to get a great education."
With education issues high on the agenda for the upcoming legislative session, two new groups that favor charter schools and vouchers have spent lavishly on Tennessee House and Senate races.
The Tennessee PAC affiliated with StudentsFirst, a Sacramento, Calif.-based organization led by former Washington, D.C., Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee, has pumped $376,266 into Tennessee this year. That sum includes contributions to a handful of local school board contenders in Nashville and Memphis but far more to candidates seeking state legislative seats. Most of the recipients are Republicans.
StudentsFirst’s Tennessee PAC, formed last year, spent $66,150 in the Volunteer State over the past month alone, according to financial disclosures submitted last week.
During the same four-week time frame, a PAC called Tennessee Federation for Children, a branch of a Washington organization that expanded to Tennessee this spring, accounted for $145,302 in contributions and other expenditures. The group spent $248,539 in Tennessee altogether this year, with money going to direct mail efforts and to pro-voucher candidates.
“The hope is that we can get them elected and that we’ll form a very strong and committed educational ‘choice’ majority in the legislature,” said Malcom Glenn, communications director for the American Federation for Children. Its Tennessee PAC contributed $10,000 to the PAC of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, $7,200 to the PAC of House Speaker Beth Harwell and $2,500 to District 20 Senate candidate Steve Dickerson of Nashville, among a long list of others.
“We support all school options, including vouchers,” Glenn said.
The activity of these two PACs — neither of which existed last election cycle — comes as several hot-button education debates have exploded in Tennessee this campaign season, especially in Nashville. Decisions could be coming next year on whether to authorize public vouchers to help bankroll private schooling in Tennessee and on a proposal to create a new state panel to authorize charter schools.
“We’re committed to being a part of this conversation to make sure we can improve the options that families have right now,” said Brent Easley, hired as the new Tennessee director of StudentsFirst in October. He characterized its level of activity in Tennessee as “middle of the pack” compared to its involvement in other states.
StudentsFirst’s contributions in Tennessee, which also predated the August primaries, include: $11,500 to Dickerson, who is seeking to move departing Sen. Joe Haynes’ seat to the Republican column; $10,000 to both the House and Senate Republican caucuses; $13,500 to Republican Rep. Joey Hensley; $6,500 to Rep. Billy Spivey; and $4,000 to Rep. Jim Gotto, who is in a competitive race to reclaim his Nashville seat.