This from Politico:
National advocacy groups powered by the Koch brothers and other conservative megadonors have found a new cause ripe with political promise: the fight to bring down the Common Core academic standards.
|David and Charles Koch|
The groups are stoking populist anger over the standards — then working to channel that energy into a bold campaign to undercut public schools, weaken teachers unions and push the federal government out of education policy.
The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in 45 states plus the District of Columbia, are meant to guide rich and rigorous instruction in math and language arts. They have substantial bipartisan support. But they have also drawn sharp bipartisan criticism as Big Government overreach.
What started as a ragtag opposition led by a handful of angry moms is now a sophisticated national movement supported by top donors and strategists on the right. Conservative groups say their involvement already has paid dividends in the form of new members and troves of email addresses.
But that’s just the start.
A draft action plan by the advocacy group FreedomWorks lays out the effort as a series of stepping stones: First, mobilize to strike down the Common Core. Then push to expand school choice by offering parents tax credits or vouchers to help pay tuition at private and religious schools. Next, rally the troops to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Then it’s on to eliminating teacher tenure.
“This is going to be a huge campaign,” said Whitney Neal, the group’s director of grass-roots activism. She plans to kick it off within weeks with a series of videos that will “connect the dots” between killing Common Core and enacting other conservative priorities.
The campaign will build to a march on Washington this summer, perhaps in partnership with radio host Glenn Beck. “This is definitely an institutional priority for us in 2014,” she said. “We’re putting a lot of time and resources into it.”
Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers, is pressing similar themes in town hall meetings across the country.
A key battleground: Missouri, where conservatives are pushing to get measures promoting vouchers and ending teacher tenure on the fall ballot. Increasingly, the issues are being linked to Common Core.
Concerned Women for America held a conference outside Kansas City, Mo., this weekend that opened with denunciations of Common Core and built to an address by state Sen. Ed Emery, a voucher proponent who has compared the current public education system with slavery because it traps students in government-run schools. Concerned Women, which is part of a Koch-backed network of conservative organizations, will hold additional seminars across the state this month.
The libertarian Show-Me Institute in St. Louis is also fighting Common Core — and sponsoring policy breakfasts in both St. Louis and Kansas City this month on the virtues of expanding school choice. Meanwhile, the institute’s president, retired investment manager Rex Sinquefield, has poured $850,000 of his personal fortune into promoting the ballot measure to end tenure. Missouri will also host a two-day conference devoted to attacking Common Core at the end of the month.
Supporters of the Common Core standards have plenty of resources to fight back. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent $170 million to develop and promote the standards. The Obama administration has pushed them hard. Big Labor and Big Business both back them.
Still, supporters have struggled to counter the critics. They have had trouble even understanding the contours of the smoldering opposition.
“We don’t know who’s funding the other side, and to what purpose,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, a nonprofit that helped write the standards. “It’s really murky.”
Such dark suspicions tickle Sean Fieler, the hedge fund manager who chairs the American Principles Project, another conservative think tank on the front lines of Common Core opposition.
“I wish the money stream were more murky here,” Fieler said. At least at APP, he said, “most of the funding is from me.” Fieler, a prominent social conservative who has spent big in the past to fight gay marriage, said he has directed his organization to spend $500,000 organizing the Common Core opposition and connecting it to his think tank’s long-standing drive for school choice.
“The grass-roots support for this is stronger than for anything else we work on,” Fieler said. “This is an issue with great political promise.”
That same political calculation is evident in FreedomWorks’ draft plan for an Educational Freedom Campaign. Picking up the mantle of parental rights “casts a passionate and caring light on our activists — different from the image currently portrayed by media,” the draft states. The campaign also offers a rare chance to attract new members from outside the tea party — “especially minority communities.”
Already, the strategy is paying off. FreedomWorks started the year in contact with a few dozen stalwart foes of the standards; it now holds weekly strategy sessions with more than 200. “Common Core is bringing in people who are brand-new to activism. They’re coming out of the woodwork,” Neal said. “That’s huge for us.”
Americans for Prosperity’s state chapters also report membership growing because of the issue, even in states like Texas that have not adopted the standards.
“It’s been exhilarating” to watch momentum gather and allies come aboard, Fieler said. “I would characterize this as a tipping point.”
The opposition movement is even starting to draw in conservative Christian groups that in the past have mostly focused on promoting home schooling.
Parents who teach their children at home aren’t directly affected by the new standards but fear they will face pressure to follow them when most textbooks, not to mention the SAT, are aligned to Common Core. Homeschoolers also sense an opportunity to grow their ranks by fanning anger at the public education system.