Let’s Talk About Dark Money!

If you decide to get into the education policy arena and have the audacity to challenge any position advanced by the teachers unions in power, chances are, you’re going to be accused of accepting evil “dark money.”

From there, folks who can’t find a way to articulate a coherent argument against your education reform position will attempt to paint you as being “dark.”

Leaving aside the racial implications of using language like “dark money” — let’s dig into some of the problems with issue and messaging in the education reform context.

What is “dark money” exactly?

Traditionally “dark money” is money received by a political organization under the “shadow of darkness” — referring to political spending meant to influence the decision of a voter, where the donor is not disclosed and the source of the money is unknown in the form of a political action committee or SuperPAC.

When I started Massachusetts Parents United a year ago (with roughly $4,000 from my life savings — and no, we are not a political organization or SuperPAC) I made the decision from the very beginning to make sure we disclosed where we received our donations from.

Not that we have to, but because I wanted to be fully transparent about our organization — and frankly, I’m not interested in wasting a bunch of time discussing where we get our resources from. So from the start — BANG — right on our website.

Since that time, I’ve noticed that the term “dark money” has now evolved to include any funding that comes from an organization that the teachers unions don’t like. For any reason.

And what it comes down to is a masterful attempt to smear organizations for obtaining support from community foundations and philanthropists to do work the grassroots level. Painting us “dark, evil and bad” because we don’t automatically support the union agenda and would like to have an actual discussion about education policy and how things need to change? Lame.

Powerful teachers unions are able to use their nearly unlimited resources to create a bully pulpit for themselves — drowning out the voices of people like me — who represent the voice of parents. You know, the people who actually have the most to lose in education — after all, these are OUR CHILDREN being educated — remember?

(Here are my three reasons. And I was looking for an excuse to put up their new school pictures. I love them!)

I also don’t appreciate the attempt to shame organizations like mine for accepting donations and funding from organizations like the Walton Family Foundation, the Barr Foundation, the Davis Foundation and others. These are incredibly successful families who do business with us, and live in our communities.

And frankly, these attempts at smearing parents from a classist perspective don’t work either. You’re not ever going to make me feel bad for shopping at Walmart. I’m the single mother of three boys. I shop at Walmart. A lot.

(Do you know how many bags of socks I buy in an average month?)

So do the members of Massachusetts Parents United. And people all over the Commonwealth.

The funniest thing about all this? The multiple union-backed “community organizations” that are actively bankrolled by labor that don’t even bother to show the slightest effort toward being transparent — while continuing to beat up on those of us who do.

You’ll note that some of the #edusnobs accusing independent groups like MPU never seem to call into question these union front groups for failing to provide “transparency” around their funding sources.

A perfect example?

Citizens for Public Schools.

Citizens for Public Schools is an “advocacy group” that is routinely brought out to represent the interests of the “people of the Commonwealth” and morphs into an instant community support organization that surprise, surprise — champions any campaign that is advanced by the Massachusetts Teachers Union or the Boston Teachers’ Union.

It is the same messaging, same money, packaged differently over and over again to give the illusion that they have broad support, but in the end, it’s just a clever game of smoke and mirrors.

And the best part? When visiting their website, there is no disclosure as to where they get their funding from or how they can afford a fancy office space on Tremont Street in Downtown Boston.

(18 Tremont Street? You think MPU can afford a fancy pad like that? NO WAY.)

There is literally ZERO transparency.

Yet, this is the same group that feels empowered to question the motives of other organizations — to the point where they are quoted in the Boston Globe on the issue of “dark money.”

What?

Their executive director, Lisa Guisbond is also an analyst with FairTest, an organization funded by the teachers unions to kill standardized testing. Their board consists of two lobbyists (including the current lobbyist  for the Massachusetts Teachers Association.) The other two board members are educators. No people of color. No low income families. Basically 5 citizens, all with direct ties to labor unions.

Sometimes Lisa speaks on behalf of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance. Which is basically the MTA, the AFT, the BTU and Citizens for Public Schools. But it certainly sounds like robust statewide organization. Same people. Same message. New banner. No traceable 990 form on the Charity Navigator website and no disclosure of funding sources.

Now, all that being said — these folks certainly have every right to be heard. But claiming the mantle of speaking for everyone? Nah.

And seriously — who is fooling who here?

What do you think?

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