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Conservative School Choice Group Spends Big Supporting Pro-School Choice Democrats
The American Federation for Children Action Fund Inc., a pro-school privatization group bankrolled by conservative financiers, has spent more than $113,000 supporting five Milwaukee Democrats running for State Assembly and Senate, who are facing primaries on August 14.
The American Federation for Children (AFC) is a D.C.-based organization chaired by Betsy DeVos, the billionaire wife of Amway heir Dick DeVos and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. In recent years she has funneled tens of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts nationwide. In Wisconsin, AFC spent millions on independent expenditures and phony issue ads to back Republican candidates in the 2011 and 2012 recall races, but have supported some Milwaukee Democrats in past elections.
AFC's Ties to Milwaukee, ALEC
AFC promotes public school privatization through "voucher programs," charter schools, and internet charter schools. In 1990, Milwaukee was one of the first cities in the nation to implement a school voucher program. The program was sold as a solution to the problems of Milwaukee's school system and would not have passed without the leadership of Milwaukee African-American legislators Rep. Polly Williams and Sen. Gary George. Taxpayers have been paying to send low-income students to private and religious schools ever since, with mixed educational results. A major new expansion of voucher schools was implemented in the 2011-2012 Wisconsin budget.
Former Wisconsin State Representative Scott Jensen is AFC's main lobbyist in Wisconsin. Jensen is the former Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker convicted in 2005 of three felonies for misuse of his office for political purposes, and banned from the state Capitol for five years (the charges were later reduced on appeal and Jensen is now a frequent visitor to the Capitol).
AFC is also an active member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and is represented by Jensen on the ALEC Education Task Force. ALEC's model legislation on education issues diverts taxpayers' money from American public school children to private schools or for-profit education corporations; allows schools to loosen standards for teachers and administrators, and to evade federal protections for students with disabilities and special educational needs; and to escape the requirements of collective bargaining agreements and experiment with other pet causes like merit pay, single-sex education, school uniforms, and political and religious indoctrination of students.
AFC, which typically allies itself with right-wing Tea Party types, is now mailing fliers to voters praising Democratic candidates, but discussing issues besides their support for school choice: "Every time Republicans have tried to take away our rights State Rep. Jason Fields was there, protecting us and our community," one flier says.
This support can be attributed to the fact that some pro-voucher Democrats are being challenged in primaries by candidates who oppose AFC's agenda. The flyers accuse Republicans of trying to oust Fields and praised him because he has supported collective bargaining rights, voting rights, and educational opportunities for children and opposed tax breaks for large corporations.
American Federation of Children's Team in Milwaukee
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The amounts listed above only represent money spent as of the most recent report filed with the Wisconsin elections board on August 8. For some of these candidates, running to represent largely Democratic districts, the outcome of the August 14 primary will determine who goes on to represent the district in the Wisconsin Assembly.