Charter school, voucher advocates ramp up TN campaign spending

Recently-filed campaign disclosures show three political action committees supporting charter school expansion and/or vouchers have pushed their  Tennessee campaign spending toward the $2 million mark and a poised to pass it.

PACs representing Stand For Children,  the Tennessee Federation for Children and Tennessee Campaign for Achievement Now – previously known in the state as Tennessee StudentsFirst – collectively reported spending more than $1.2 million in July disclosures. In the new reports, covering the period of July 25-Oct. 1, show additional spending of $584,000 – most in late attack advertising prior to the Aug. 4 elections.

Tennessee Campaign for Achievement Now, also known as TennesseeCAN, reported $300,000 in spending by the PAC set up to replace one operated by StudentsFirst following a merger earlier this year with another group. The group reported spending just $18,000 in its July PAC report, which came amid what a spokesman called “restructuring” after the merger. Most of the money spent came from the group’s national organization, known as 50CAN.

The Tennessee Federation for Children, also drawing most of its funding from a national parent organization, reported new spending of $148,000 on top of $361,000 reported in July.

Stand for Children, which operates two PACs in the state, disclosed new spending of just over $143,000 for the two combined – almost all on “independent expenditure” attack advertising in state legislative primaries or local school board elections. The groups had reported about $830,000 spent as of July 25.

Stand for Children is facing an investigation by the Registry of Election after complaints were filed contending its spending in Nashville school board races was illegally coordinated with candidates. A hearing on the complaint, originally scheduled for last week, has been postponed until December.


(Note: The Nashville Scene has new details on the Nashville school board spending by Stand for Children, HERE.)

The success of spending by the groups varied widely. All the candidates supported by Stand for Children in Nashville school board races lost to candidates who came under attack.

In state legislative primaries, the standout spending was by Tennessee Federation for Children in advertising attacking state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who lost on Aug. 4. The group had earlier reported spending $109,363 in opposing Todd and disclosed last week another $23,714 in the new report for a total of about $133,000 – an apparent record for a single PAC against a single legislator. Todd was charged with misdemeanor theft during the campaign for allegedly stealing an opponent’s campaign signs and is awaiting trial.

On the other hand, the Federation PAC spent more than $90,000 – including more than $10,000 not previously reported — opposing state Rep. Gary Hicks, R-Rogersville, who won his Aug. 4 primary.

All three organizations bill themselves as advocates for “school choice” education reforms, though the Federation focuses on promotion of school vouchers in its legislative lobbying and Stand for Children on expansion of charter schools.  StudentsFirst has backed legislation on both matters in the past.

The Tennessee Education Association, which opposes school vouchers and charter school expansion, reported spending of $66,272 during the most recent period. TEA, also known as the teachers union, in July had reported about $121,000 in spending.

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