Maurice Cunningham: New “Ed Reform” Coalition Shows How Media Allows Billionaires to Control Narrative
Maurice Cunningham is author of the book Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization. In a new post, he looks at the newest front group to emerge in Massachusetts.
According to a State House News Service report picked up at WWLP a coalition called “Voices for Equality” has formed to oppose teachers’ unions efforts to eliminate the MCAS test. The story doesn’t say whom the coalition members represent. Simple: it’s the familiar story of capital vs. labor. But you wouldn’t know it because SHNS lets the billionaires control the narrative.
Here’s what SHNS has to say about the coalition members:
Convened by Education Reform Now (ERN) Massachusetts, part of Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts, the coalition includes the Boston Schools Fund, EdTrust Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, Mass Insight, the National Parents Union, Teach for America Massachusetts, TeachPlus and The Teachers Lounge.
I won’t go into all of them but Democrats for Education Reform/Education Reform Now (different legal structures, same entity) is a political money bundler. Don’t take my word for it, take DFER’s president’s word. In a 2012 interview then president Joe Williams explained “We’re essentially bundlers.”
Whose money does DFER bundle? The largest stakeholder appears to be the Walton family of Arkansas, which yearly donates about thirty percent of ERN’s income. ERN’s major local supporter is the Barr Foundation of Amos Hostetter, the fifth largest dark money donor ($2,000,000) to the losing charter schools privatization ballot campaign in 2016.
Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education has been around since 1989. Wealthy interests that want to influence policy often fund advocacy groups that have compatible aims. That happened here. Before 2017 the Waltons gave MBAE nothing. Since 2017, the Walton Family Foundation has donated $1,250,000. Barr has been a steady donor from 2010-2021 giving $1,290,000.
What if a harmonious operation doesn’t already exist? Billionaires can create their own as the Waltons did in 2020 with the National Parents Union (the sibling of Massachusetts Parents United).