American Federation for Children is Buying Legislative Seats to Privatize Public Education

The American Federation for Children turned its attention to Mississippi after successfully bankrolling the wins of privatization candidates in state legislatures in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennesse, and Wisconsin in 2014. Not limiting its PAC money to legislative races, AFC has also spread its influence to judicial and local school board campaigns in other states.

 In North Carolina, AFC poured $75,000 into the 2014 Supreme Court races, claiming victory for the re-election of that state’s chief justice; in the month prior to that election, the North Carolina Supreme Court announced that it would hear an appeal on the state’s private school voucher program. Local school board members were targeted after the Florida School Boards Association challenged Florida’s tax credit scholarship/voucher program. The AFC-funded Florida Federation for Children financed the election defeat of the president and president-elect of the Florida School Boards Association in their local county elections, and helped elect pro-school privatization majorities on several targeted local school boards in large school districts. 

The state-based strategy of school choice privatizers was laid out clearly by one of the movement’s earliest and most lavish backers, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation’s annual meeting in 2002. Michigan billionaire Dick DeVos, who with his wife Betsy founded and funds the American Federation for Children, and whose family has made personal contributions to pro-voucher legislative candidates in numerous states over the last decade, said of the school choice movement:

“The effort now needs to move and the focus needs to shift to the state level.”

“I’m beginning to change my own terminology. I would encourage you to either improve on mine or adopt it. Public schools is such a misnomer today that I hate to use it. I’ve begun to use the word ‘government school’ or ‘government-run school’ to describe what we used to call public school because it’s a better descriptor of what, in fact, they are.”

“We need to target our ability at the state level to deliver rewards and consequences to legislators on school choice issues. As simple as it seems, it does change the nature and the scope of the debate when you’re able to deliver help to your friends and consequences to those who oppose the agenda.”

“We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities. Many of the activities and the political work that needs to go on will go on at the grassroots, it will go on quietly, in the form that politics is done, one person at a time speaking to another person in privacy.”  (View the entire speech on YouTube.)

Read AFC’s own reports of how it has engineered elections in key states, using front organizations with names similar to the Mississippi Federation for Children, as well as pouring money directly into television advertising and “astroturf” operations:

2012 Election Impact Report – American Federation for Children

 2014 Election Impact Report – American Federation for Children

The AFC board of directors includes:

Betsy DeVos, chairman

“We have seen a rise in proposed ESA bills and programs across the country this past year,” said Betsy DeVos, chairman of AFC, in a statement congratulating Gov. Phil Bryant on signing Mississippi’s voucher bill in April 2015. “It truly is the way of the future for K12 education.”

John Kirtley, vice chairman of American Federation for Children and chairman of Florida’s Step Up for Students

Lee Barfield, II, Tennessee lawyer who lobbies for big business, including the nursing home industry for which he successfully wrought changes in TN law that limited the financial judgements against negligent nursing homes being sued by family members of residents who suffered neglect or abuse.

William Oberndorf, a billionaire investor who founded the California hedge fund SPO Partners and funds school choice initiatives nationwide,

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