Atlanta Journal-Constitution Exposes Dark-Money Funding Behind Georgia School Takeover Campaign
Private corporations, lobbyists, and a national group connected to major dark-money, anti-teachers-union donors are major contributors to a campaign supporting a state education proposal that is fiercely opposed by teachers and parents, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
A proposed amendment to the Georgia state constitution -- Amendment 1 -- would allow the state to take over schools that are deemed “failing” and create an “Opportunity School District,” a move proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal and opposed by public educators and parents. As the Journal-Constitution explained, the amendment would “enable an appointee of the governor to seize ‘chronically failing’ schools and the local tax dollars that support them. Those schools would either be shuttered, run directly by a new statewide district or converted to charter schools under independent management.”
Amendment 1, which will be on state ballots in November, has attracted millions in funding from groups in support and in opposition of the proposal, including substantial funding from national teachers unions for an advertising campaign opposing the measure.
Teachers groups and the state PTA have spoken out against Amendment 1, explaining that its passage could eliminate local control by school boards and community members -- particularly in black and Latino communities -- and could shift tax dollars to private charter management companies or other groups that are subject to less oversight. As the Journal-Constitution reported, the National Education Association has spent heavily on a campaign opposing the amendment representing 35,000 Georgia teachers who are among its ranks.
But the identities of donors bankrolling the advertisements in support of the proposed amendment -- as part of an organization called Opportunity For All Georgia Students -- were purposely concealed using a group set up by supporters of Gov. Nathan Deal. The group, Georgia Leads, is categorized as a “social welfare” group with a 501(c)(4) tax status, and as such is not required to disclose its donors. Of the four donors contributing a total of $1.22 million to the campaign in support of Amendment 1, Georgia Leads contributed the most substantial amount -- $810,000.
On Friday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an investigative report revealing some of Georgia Leads’ donors -- and the biggest names were private corporations and lobbying firms (emphasis added):
The biggest donor to the pro-OSD amendment this year — as of Sept. 30 — was Georgia Leads Inc., a fund set up to push Deal’s agenda. Georgia Leads had put $850,000 into Opportunity for All Georgia Students as of the end of September.
While Georgia Leads doesn’t disclose donors, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found more than $250,000 in contributions to the group by reviewing expenditure listings by companies and political action committees who file reports with the state ethics commission. All the donors have big stakes in legislation at the state Capitol, including AT&T, the retail store lobby, McGuireWoods (one of the best-connected lobbying firms at the Statehouse), Hospital Corporation of America, beer distributors and bank lobbyists.
The investigation also identified the national group 50CAN as another major donor to the pro-Amendment 1 campaign, second only to Georgia Leads. 50CAN is affiliated with a dark-money-fueled echo chamber pushing conservative, anti-union policies under the guise of “education reform,” and has supported past Georgia initiatives to open up schools to private competition, as well as similar Opportunity School District-type initiatives in other states. It is affiliated with a number of other national groups that received dark-money funding from anti-teachers-union private donors.
Graphic created by Sarah Wasko.