Thursday, June 11, 2015

Empowering Opponents of Public Education

In the Haley Barbour years, Mississippi Republicans at least voiced some support for public education. Even then-Lt. Governor Phil Bryant campaigned on the promise that he would always fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP.) As anyone who has observed the Republicans' shameless tactics to undermine Initiative 42 can tell you, Republican support for public schools has come completely unraveled over the past several years. What's changed?

Many Republicans have probably just started showing their true colors. For years, they would voice support for MAEP while voting to under-fund it. There were a few who really did support public education - mainly from districts with strong public schools, such as Lafayette, DeSoto, Madison, and Rankin counties. Their reversal seems to have been dictated by outside pressure rather than personal philosophy or the interests of their constituents.

Thanks to financial disclosures posted on the Secretary of State's website, we can start to get a picture of who is applying that pressure. A campaign finance report for an anti-public education political action committee, Empower PAC, shows some disturbing information about our elected officials' stances on public education. We already know that Republicans are not supporters of public education, and the information in this report further backs that up.

Between January 1 to April 30, 2015, this PAC received nearly $365,000 in donations from anti-public education forces such as state House candidate Joel Bomgaars of Madison and the Mississippi Federation for Children PAC, an ALEC-aligned organization, which is oddly based in Virginia. Who is the Federation for Children, you might ask?

The national organization is chaired by former Michigan Republican Party Chair Betsy DeVos. Her husband, Richard, unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan in 2006, as a Republican, while spending $35 million of his own money on the race. For Mississippi's purposes, the Chairman of the Mississippi Federation for Children PAC is Greg Brock, a person who is listed with a Washington, DC, address. To give you a sense of his feelings on public education, he led an unsuccessful school voucher initiative in 2000. The DeVos family, as well as billionaires Alice and Jim Walton of Walmart, have poured a tremendous amount of money into anti-public education efforts in recent years. That money is now seeping into Mississippi politics.

Republican candidates for statewide and legislative offices are indirect recipients of the DeVos and Walton money to undermine Mississippi's public education system. If you recall from this year's legislative session, state Rep. Forrest Hamilton spoke from the House Well claiming that he was to be the target of forces who want to hurt public education while Speaker Gunn demanded to know the source of this speculation. Hamilton was right. Hamilton's Republican primary opponent, Dana Criswell, has received at least $11,000 from Empower PAC. Steve Hopkins, who is challenging fellow DeSoto County Republican Rep. Wanda Jennings, has received at least $11,000. Mind you that Hamilton and Jennings both oppose legislation advocating vouchers and charter schools. Longtime Republican Rep. Ray Rogers of Rankin County voted against charter schools in 2013, and now he is a target of Empower. Rogers's opponent, Randall Stephens, has received over $11,000 to take on this race.

Not all incumbents are targets, however.
  • Lafayette County Republicans like Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison and House Education Committee member Brad Mayo both received $2,500 from Empower PAC.
  • House Education Committee Chairman John Moore received $2,000.
  • Republican Rep. Carolyn Crawford (who serves on the House Education Committee) received $5,000.
  • Republican Rep. Joey Hood received $2,000.
  • Republican Rep. Randy Boyd (who serves on the House Education Committee) received $2,500.
  • Republican Rep. Charles Busby (who serves on the House Education Committee and was the floor manager of the charter school bill) received $2,500.
  • Republican Lt. Governor Tate Reeves (who is a product of the Rankin County school system) received $5,000.
The evidence is abundantly clear that Republicans do not care about public education; it's been said before and will be said again. You can be a Republican or you can support public education, but you cannot do both.

No comments: