Kelcie Moseley-Morris: Records show powerful, wealthy funders outside Idaho back school choice campaign
Reporting for the Idaho Capital Sun, Kelcie Moseley-Morris explains how Idaho’s big voucher push is the product of carpetbagger astroturf. What has been presented as a grassroots movement is fueled by other players.
The national special interests groups who have poured millions of dollars into efforts to make education savings account programs a reality in states like Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Wisconsin and New Hampshire are the same donors who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars during Idaho’s midterm election to ensure school choice-friendly legislators occupied as many seats as possible in the Idaho Legislature, records show.
The American Federation for Children and the State Policy Network are two of those groups that are coordinated and funded by millionaires and billionaires dedicated to conservative policy positions across the U.S. — and now in Idaho. Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, introduced an education savings account bill Tuesday for parents to use per-pupil funding from state funds at the institution of their choice.
The Federation is focused on school choice, while State Policy Network’s affiliates also demonstrate opposition to unions, a reduction in public services, opposition to climate change efforts and advocate for school choice.
The State Policy Network’s donors are largely not known to the public, but investigations have determined donors include foundations run by David and Charles Koch and large corporations such as Microsoft, Verizon, GlaxoSmithKline and Kraft Foods.
One of the players is one of the DeVos family’s favorite charities.
During the 2022 primary election in Idaho, a group called the American Federation for Children Action Fund gave $200,100 to an entity called the Idaho Federation for Children. It gave the entity another $140,500 in contributions between September and Dec. 28.
It is unclear how much the entity is connected to Idaho. It is not registered as an entity with the Idaho Secretary of State, and campaign finance records do not indicate any Idaho individuals or companies have donated to the PAC. Records show the Idaho Federation for Children’s street address is the same as the American Federation for Children’s offices in Washington, D.C., although the “state” section of the address says “ID” rather than D.C.
The group’s chairman as listed on Idaho’s campaign finance portal is Tommy Schultz, CEO of the D.C.-based organization.
The piece also quotes Charles Siler, a former conservative operative who became disenchanted with the anti-public school workings. He places this advocacy in a larger context.
Siler said his job often involved meeting with legislators to persuade them to support a certain policy ideal, which included welfare reform, efforts to fight subsidies for public transportation and ballot access restrictions, along with education programs.
Siler said the policies are aimed at disrupting the political power of regular people.
“It’s all funded by people who have a world view that’s really in opposition to any kind of collective action to resolve inequities in our society,” Siler said. “It’s all about undermining and destroying collective power, because it’s the only opposition that wealthy people actually face.”