This story has been covered extensively, but it's one of those stories that needs to be covered extensively, so if this post seems a little redundant, that's okay. As teachers and marketers both learn, if you really wnat a message to get through, repetition is key.
In Tennessee, Stand for Children and other outside pro-reform charter-pushing groups sank about three quarters of a million dollars in attempts to buy themselves more compliant school boards, with the main push landing on the Nashville board race.
It was ugly. Mailers defaming candidates. A push poll insinuating that one candidate defended child molesters and pornographers. Newspapers throwing their weight behind the reformsters.
And standing against them, a completely disorganized array of moms and dads. No spokesperson, no point person, no strategy meetings-- just a whole bunch of people pissed off that outsiders were coming in to try to buy an election as a way to buy themselves a slice of the education biz, a sweet shot at charter money.
You can read newspaper accounts of the aftermath here and here. And for a local close up summary of the whole sorry mess, I recommend this account from Dad Gone Wild.
The events of Nashville are worth paying attention to because this is the way the game is now played. Reformsters sink big money into local races all across the country. Setting state and federal policy is hard and expensive, but making sure that you have board members or other officials in place who will see things your way-- that can be more cost-effective.
It's happening all across the country:
In Massachusetts, charter profiteers, frustrated at the cap on charter school proliferation, are mounting a huge PR offensive to convince the public that charter schools (always called "public" charter schools, mind you) should get more money and more space, including snappy ads from the same firm that brought you the Swiftboating of John Kerry.
In Connecticut, DFER and other privatizing reformster groups are dumping money into school board and general assembly races. We are again talking about millions and millions of dollars for local or regional elections. But Gov. Malloy has had a hard time selling his pro-privatizing agenda, and he needs more people in office on his side, and if those folks can't sell themselves to local voters-- well, someone from outside will just have to finance the push.
In Washington State, charter boosters have been repeatedly frustrated in their attempts to sell a charter bill. When they finally succeeded, the bill was ruled unconstitutional. Solution? Not to come up with a bill or approach that would be legal, but to get a judge elected who would have a more favorable notion of what "legal" is.
Increasingly, public education supporters can not afford to think that they are too small to matter, that all the important battles will be fought at the state and federal level. Attacking on that level has brought reformsters some success in the past, with the successful suspension of democracy for education in cities like New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago. But big money is patient, and where it's necessary to chip away a few elected offices at a time, big money is willing to take that approach.
What the outcome in Nashville reminds us is that big money doesn't automatically win just because it can commandeer the media and the mail slots. Nashville also reminds us that citizens, taxpayers, voters and parents don't have to be highly trained perfectly co-ordinated political activists to be effective. Money is powerful, but it is not the only source of power that exists, and sometimes, it's not even the greatest source of power.
Don't forget. Stand up. Make a difference.