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The American Federation for Children tried to buy five Democratic primaries for the Wisconsin state legislature in Milwaukee.  This past Tuesday, Milwaukee Democrats spoke at the ballot box -- and the AFC-backed candidates were defeated in a clean sweep.

The American Federation for Children (AFC) promotes school profitization, seeking to funnel taxpayer money out of the public schools into "voucher" and charter schools, with as little accountability for those profit-making schools as possible.  Chaired and bankrolled by Betsy DeVos, Tea Party ally and billionaire wife of Amway founder Richard DeVos, AFC has funded school profitization efforts to the tune of millions of dollars.  AFC is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), helping to compose and promote model legislation to privatize public education in states across the country.

According to PR Watch from the Center for Media and Democracy, the AFC spent over $113,000 in five targeted Democratic primaries.

What in the world is the AFC doing supporting Democratic candidates in Wisconsin?  The answer is on the other side of the Cheddar Swirl.

The first thing to know is that the city of Milwaukee is heavily Democratic, and the Republican redistricting has clustered Democrats together even more intensely, such that the GOP didn't consider it worth their while to field candidates.  So the only contests in play for those districts were the Democratic primaries.

Second piece of the puzzle: Milwaukee has a peculiar history with school profitization.  Under Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1990, Milwaukee embarked on the nation's first major school-voucher program for children with low-income.  School vouchers have been on current Gov. Scott Walker's priority list as well.  His 2011-2013 budget included a major expansion for voucher programs, while drastically cutting education funding across the biennium.  However, school vouchers in Milwaukee have a mixed record at best, and have been nowhere near the panacea originally promised.  The voucher-expansion in Walker's budget legislation was extreme and unexpected enough to catch some Republicans by surprise; a subsequent measure passed at the end of the session in 2012 placed some limits on the voucher expansion.

Meanwhile, an ALEC model bill called the Special Needs Scholarship Program Act (AB110), attempting to voucherize special education in Wisconsin while stripping participating students of their federal special-education rights, was narrowly blocked in the State Senate.  One Assembly Democrat in particular, Jason Fields of Milwaukee, co-sponsored AB110 and gave the school-profitization lobby cover to call the measure "bi-partisan."  While AB110 was blocked this year, it is rumored to be a priority for the upcoming session should the GOP regain the majority in the Wisconsin state senate.

The AFC has been especially busy in Wisconsin during this season of school-profitization opportunity since Walker's election in 2010.  Their most prominent lobbyist is former Wisconsin GOP Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, convicted in 2006 on three felony counts for using state resources for campaigning (shades of the current John Doe investigation circling ever closer to Gov. Walker...)  Jensen was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment and banned from the Capitol for 5 years, but never did serve due to appeal after appeal.  Finally he got his case moved to Waukesha County, and all was forgiven in December 2010, just in time to ramp up the lobbying in the Walker administration.  As a Capital Times article on Thursday points out the obvious,

Scott Jensen's is not a name with whom many Wisconsin Democrats want to be linked.
It is within that context that the AFC set about to buy itself five Democratic seats in the August primaries.  With the exception of one direct donation of $500 to Jason Fields from Scott Jensen and his wife, the spending was "soft" money, not coordinated directly with the candidates' campaigns, but clearly spent with the expectation that the buys would be worth AFC's while.

Below are the five AFC supported candidates, and the results of their primaries.  The quoted text for all of the below is from PR Watch.

Jason Fields is the incumbent Assemblyman from the 11th District, representing much of Milwaukee. He has represented the 11th district since 2004, but is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Mandela Barnes, who does not support AFC's education policy. AFC has spent $32,557.35 in support of Jason Fields so far on mailing services, newspaper ads, printing, and polling.
Community organizer Mandela Barnes won 68.2% of the vote to the AFC-supported Fields' 31.8%.
Jarrett Fields, the brother of Jason Fields, is also running for Assembly, and also has the support of AFC. Jarrett Fields is running to fill the seat vacated by Representative Tamara Grigsby (who is retiring following health problems), and will appear on the ballot with seven other Democrats. AFC spent more on Jarrett Fields than the other four candidates, $37,989.23, as of the last reporting period.
There ended up being eight candidates on the ballot in this primary.  The winner was Evan Goyke, with 37.2%.  The AFC-supported Jarrett Fields took only 18.4% of the vote in this crowded field.
Tracey Dent is one of four Democrats running for Assembly in the 17th District, and there is no incumbent running in the race. AFC has spent $16,236.42 in support of Dent.
La Tonya Johnson won the primary for the 17th District, with 43.0% of the vote.  The AFC-supported Tracey Dent ran third with 22.5%.
Mildred (Millie) Coby is running in the 10th District and will appear on the ballot with three other Democrats, one of whom is Democratic Representative Sandy Pasch who was redistricted out of the 22nd District, which she previously represented. AFC has spent $13,138.42 supporting Coby.
Sandy Pasch won this election with 60.8% of the vote to the AFC-supported Coby's 32.5%.
Elizabeth Coggs is running for Wisconsin State Senate in the 6th District. She is looking to replace Spencer Coggs, her cousin, who is leaving the Senate to serve as Treasurer of the City of Milwaukee. Elizabeth Coggs is currently the Representative in the Wisconsin Assembly from the 10th District. Coggs is facing four other Democrats who will appear on the ballot on August 14.
Nikiya Harris won this 5-way primary with 47.9%, to the AFC-supported Elizabeth Coggs' 33.4%.

To put the AFC spending figures into perspective: according to the Capital Times, Jason Fields' actual campaign raised $5,585 by July 30.  AFC, by contrast, spent over $30,000 to support his campaign.  The AFC spending, though relatively minor given their millions in spending overall, was intended to be crushingly overwhelming at the primary level.

Another aspect of these races that adds further cognitive dissonance to the AFC support is that all of the AFC-supported candidates were African-American.  There were open racial tensions in several of the primaries, and the outcomes leave the Wisconsin legislature with fewer black legislators, since two of the winners were white.    
That aspect is surely a loss for the legislature, since diversity has been pretty much up to the Democrats (the Republican representation is very white and very male.)  However, as a commenter on State Sen. Lena Taylor's Facebook page put it:

Take note. Those who take voucher school cash, regardless of race, ethnicity, language, gender, religion or sexual orientation will not be rewarded.
Despite the divisions, this was a powerful set of wins for progressives in Wisconsin, and a decisive defeat for big-money school profitization interests.

And now, Wisconsin Democrats have our work cut out for us.  On to November!

Contribute to Tammy Baldwin's campaign via Act Blue  (vs. Tommy Thoompson for U.S. Senate)

Contribute to Rob Zerban's campaign via Act Blue (challenging Paul Ryan for U.S. Congress)

Contribute to Tanya Lohr's campaign via Act Blue (challenging Glenn Grothman for Wisconsin Senate)

Originally posted to AnnieJo on Sun Aug 19, 2012 at 05:16 AM PDT.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive, ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, and Progressive Hippie.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (18+ / 0-)

    If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

    by AnnieJo on Sun Aug 19, 2012 at 05:16:13 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for the diary, AnnieJo. (6+ / 0-)

    The current school vouchers in WI are funded (at least partially) through a "tax" on the rest of the state school districts, if I recall correctly. I think it costs each of our district up here from 2-3 teachers per year.

    •  You're welcome! (4+ / 0-)

      I've not kept track of the funding mechanisms around the Milwaukee vouchers -- though I did diary last year about the insidious creeping expansion of the vouchers, even before they metastasized beyond Milwaukee this year.

      The movement into religious schools -- and away from data-taking -- and removing limits on the percentage of "choice" students in any one school -- and students already in private school became eligible.

      And then when data IS taken, it's not apples to apples because the numbers of students with special needs are so low: 2% of voucher students have disabilities, compared to 20% of their Milwaukee Public School counterparts!  And when you separate out students with disabilities in the data, suddenly MPS outperforms the voucher schools pretty convincingly.

      But you gotta dig a lot of data to get there, and AFC works hard to lobby against such data even being collected in the first place.

      If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

      by AnnieJo on Sun Aug 19, 2012 at 06:55:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Just saw a new AP article (4+ / 0-)

        out of Los Angeles about students with disabilities (especially those with more intense needs) getting increasingly concentrated in the public schools that are required to educate them:

        Special needs kids staying in traditional schools

        The high cost of educating students with special needs is disproportionately falling on traditional public schools as other students increasingly opt for alternatives that aren't always readily open to those requiring special education.

        The issue is particularly acute in districts where enrollment has declined due to demographic changes such as low birth rates and population shifts combined with an influx of charter schools and voucher programs that have siphoned off students.

        If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

        by AnnieJo on Sun Aug 19, 2012 at 08:06:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks AnnieJo. (5+ / 0-)

    This was big news on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, and it needs more exposure. People become involved and people pay attention. That is change I can believe in, and I hope that is resilient and long-lasting.

    Also hope the Rescue Rangers give this a little extra exposure because it is a great story. Are there education groups on Kos who can republish it?

    •  Hope it catches such attention! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A FIB in Cheddarland, rosarugosa

      Thanks for the reminder to republish to Badger State Progressive.  But I don't write about education enough that I'm "in" to republish to those groups myself.

      I'm still kinda slack-jawed at the arrogance of the AFC in trying to overwhelm Democratic primaries.  That in itself ought to be pretty big news -- or is that kind of thing happening elsewhere so much that it's just become business-as-usual??!

      If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

      by AnnieJo on Sun Aug 19, 2012 at 07:07:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Tanya Lohr has an uphill fight ahead... (3+ / 0-)

    ...she has an even more uphill fight against Glenn the Slob than Lori Compas did against Big Fitz in the SD-13 recall earlier this year. SD-20 is overwhelmingly Republican, and that's putting it mildly.

    Well, if Appalachian State can defeat Michigan, Tanya Lohr can defeat Glenn Grothman.

    Oh, and speaking of Lori Compas, she's going to announce what her "next project" is on September 28...if anyone has inside information on what Lori's next project is, don't spill the beans, as I don't want the surprise factor spoiled. She may have lost her bid to recall Big Fitz earlier this year, but she lit a fire under progressives, and that flame is not going out!

    Joe Lieberman, Mike Madigan, Andrew Cuomo, and Tim Cullen...why are they Democrats?

    by DownstateDemocrat on Sun Aug 19, 2012 at 07:26:18 AM PDT

    •  Lohr has an uphill fight indeed (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sark Svemes, rosarugosa

      but she's got an amazing campaign where's she's winning people over door by door, one by one.

      I diaried about Lohr's campaign the other week, using a lot of quotes from her Facebook reports.  Here's another more recent example of who she is and how she's approaching her campaign:

      I introduced myself to a woman today who said she was going to be voting for my opponent. I said, "Okay. Thanks for your time today. Have a great rest of your day." She looked puzzled and said "Doesn't that bother you?" I replied "Well, I certainly would prefer that you vote for me, but if we get to the point where candidates can expect to win unanimously then our whole system of democracy is in question." She paused for a moment and said "That's a pretty open-minded response" to which I replied, "Well, I'm a pretty open-minded candidate." She decided to take my literature after all.

      If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

      by AnnieJo on Sun Aug 19, 2012 at 07:57:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  AFC in Arizona-The Plot Continues (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thank you for your timely post.  You have added greater context to the same fight here in Southern Arizona LD3.  Oliva Cajero-Bedford, the incumbent, is being challenged by Maria Garcia, widow of the beloved former state senator who represented the district until his death.  The details are in the link from Arizona Blue Meanie, but it is enough to say that AFC is supporting Maria because she supports vouchers.  They have paid for a series of vile mailers containing outright lies, distortions, and half truths against Olivia.  It is the same scheme you described except it is in a primarily Hispanic district.  I am willing to bet that the mailers Wisconsin voters received are the cookie cutter copies of those LD 3 voters are now receiving.  That is the MO of these organizations.  I have destroyed my copies so I cannot scan them for this post.  If any Wisconsin voters still have these mailers, I would like to request that they post them so that other candidates who are facing this challenge can understand that this is a coordinated effort by corporate forces who wish to plunder public education in the same way they have plundered college loans and the housing market.

    The Arizona Primary is on August 28, but early voting began two weeks ago.  Some states hold primaries in September.  You would be doing a great service to others who are fighting the good fight in other states where I am sure this is also happending.  I recently saw a story about hedge fund operators salivating at the prospect  of dividing the spoils of the public education system.  That story is also linked below for anyone who did not see it.  These forces will only succeed if they can fill the state legislators with people who are naive enough to believe their promises and do not have the expertise to verify their claims.

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