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Groups to watch

Conservative foundations and think tanks are putting an increased emphasis on attacking public sector unions and public schools after the Supreme Court made its decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case.

They are spending hundreds of millions of dollars across the nation to elect anti-labor and anti-public education candidates and to produce so-called “research,” television ads and mailings to bash unions. The Koch network alone plans to spend $400 million this year. Virtually all of these organizations aren’t required to report their donors.

These groups try to bill themselves as pro-worker – they are not. They want to privatize our public schools, take away your voice for your students, lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy, block access to health care, cut pensions, suppress voters, gerrymander and weaken the political power of unions.

The tentacles of all of these groups are already reaching into Illinois, advocating for vouchers, more charter schools, defined-contribution pensions and the destruction of public employee unions. Their goal is simple. They want to divide Americans across racial, religious and economic lines.


Illinois Policy Institute
The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a so-called “think tank” that pushes a right-wing agenda in Illinois, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities.

It has close ties with Gov. Bruce Rauner, who last summer fired most of his closest staff to replace them with IPI employees.

The IPI also runs various media entities, including the Illinois News Network, so you should listen closely and look closely when you consume news to see if it was produced by INN because you can guarantee it’s going to have a slant. Learn more about IPI’s media outlets here.

The IPI has been filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with school districts across the state seeking personal information about IEA members in hopes of reaching out to you to encourage you to drop your union membership. In fact, they want to make it as easy as possible. In at least one city, the IPI applied to the post office for return postage paid envelopes to send mailings to the district and to the local education association office so you could opt out. The post office denied the IPI’s application and reported the organization to the postal inspector for shady practices.

The IPI is part of an $80 million nationwide State Policy Network (SPN) that works to rig the system against working families by pushing for privatizing public schools, blocking expanded access to health care, lowering taxes for corporations and the very wealthy and undermining workers’ rights and unions.  SPN and many of its affiliates are members of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where corporate lobbyists and special interest group representatives vote as equals with state lawmakers behind closed doors on “model” legislation that in many cases ends up benefiting the corporations’ bottom line.

IPI and its affiliates are not required to disclose their donors and almost none of the groups publish a list of funders. But, Gov. Bruce Rauner has been a major one, donating $625,000 between 2009 and 2013. SPN and its affiliates are not required to disclose their donors, and almost none of the groups publish a list of funders. Tax documents and other available records reveal that SPN is funded by large corporations, right-wing foundations, and wealthy conservative ideologues such as the Koch brothers, the family of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Walton family of Walmart.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy
This is another so-called think tank that is really just another arm of the State Policy Network’s rightwing propaganda network. You may have received an email from the Mackinac Center at your school email address the day after the Supreme Court ruled in the Janus case.

The Mackinac Center, founded in 1987 in Michigan, has pushed for more charter schools, vouchers for charter schools, decimating pensions for educators and other public employees, putting caps on educators’ health insurance, using test scores to evaluate teachers, getting rid of tenure – the list goes on and on. Like other groups backed by dark money, the Mackinac Center doesn’t disclose its funders. Tax documents and other available records reveal that it is funded by the usual suspects of wealthy, conservative ideologues such as the Dow Chemical family, the anti-worker Bradley Foundation, the Koch brothers, the family of U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Walton family of Walmart and other anti-union, anti-public education organizations.

The Mackinac Center has launched a “My Pay, My Say” website to try and get union members across the nation to opt out of their union. Fellow State Policy Network groups like the Center of the American Experiment are pushing this out as well.

Project Veritas
Project Veritas, a conservative media organization dedicated to secretly infiltrating progressive organizations to produce unflattering and deceptive videos, is targeting educator unions across the country.

The organization was founded by James O’Keefe, a protégé of Andrew Breitbart, in 2010. Project Veritas has frequently been criticized for editing its videos to deceive its audience and misrepresent its subjects. Operatives have targeted a number of high-profile organizations through the years including ACORN, Planned Parenthood and, most recently, National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) affiliates around the country.

So-called “union alternatives”
These organizations swoop in once a state becomes right to work.

They will try to bill themselves as alternatives to the union. What they won’t tell you is they provide liability insurance and pared-down legal services – and little more. Little or low-quality professional development, no help on contract negotiations, no support on working conditions, no lobbying for public education and public school staff, and no help passing your local levy.

And they proactively work against the things we know are good for students and educators.

Association of American Educators (AAE)
AAE, established in 1994, doesn’t represent teachers in collective bargaining and claims to be free of any political agendas or political activism. It provides members with liability insurance, legal counsel in workplace employment issues, and teacher scholarships and grants.

So far, AAE has about 6,200 members at most with state chapters in Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho Kansas, Oregon and Washington and a partner organization in Louisiana. Two of its biggest donors are the anti-union Walton Family Foundation and Bradley Foundation. Several other conservative foundations have given the association grants as well.

Christian Educators Association International (CEAI)
This group was one of the plaintiffs in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association Supreme Court case, one of the slew of cases brought on by anti-union interests before Janus v. AFSCME.

Despite its name, 95 percent of its members are public school educators. CEAI started in 1953 and now has about 6,500 members, experiencing much of its growth since 1991 when the association started to provide liability insurance.

The group’s mission is to “proclaim God’s word as the source of wisdom and knowledge,” including preserving “our Judeo-Christian heritage and values through education” and “the legal rights of Christians in public schools.”

National Association of Professional Educators (NAPE)
A group of Los Angeles teachers formed the first Professional Educators chapter in 1972, two years after a teachers strike. The group has opposed teacher strikes and supported a National Right to Work Act as well.

Like other independent groups, they have no office in the Washington, D.C. area nor do they have a regularly staffed office anywhere. It appears they have no website and have affiliates in 24 states. Many of those are also affiliated with the American Association of Educators.

NAPE is not well known and seems to have hit its peak many years ago. No membership information is available for them. Some estimates had their paying membership as low as 2,000 in the 1990s.

As former NAPE Executive Secretary Philip Strittmatter has written, “We do not criticize teachers for joining the unions if they want to do that. We just want to be free to represent those educators who prefer a professional organization that does not get involved with radical social political issues not related to the education of children.”

Coalition of Independent Education Associations (CIEA)
The CIEA is a cooperative of associations. The coalition is loosely structured. It wants to bill itself as an alternative to the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, but Iacks an independently staffed office, operates on a very low budget and has no presence or visibility at the national level. CIEA lists 24 independent state groups as members. The Texas group (ATPE) reports that it is the largest teacher organization in the state, with at least 100,000 members, but has used this unchanged figure for several years.

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