Show Me the Money: Meet the Multimillionaire Squeezing Missouri’s Schools

Source: Brendan Fischer and Lisa Graves, PR Watch, April 29, 2014

…The jewel in his privatization crown is the Missouri-based Show-Me Institute, a rightwing think tank that receives just shy of $1 million every year from the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation. Its tag line is a mouthful: “Advancing Liberty with Responsibility by Promoting Market Solutions for Missouri Public Policy.” Rex Sinquefield is the institute’s president, and his daughter is also employed there (and spends her time tweeting rightwing talking points). The institute is currently led by Brenda Talent, the wife of former U.S. Senator Jim Talent. For years, the institute has been laying the groundwork for radical changes to Missouri’s education system, producing reports, testimony, and policy papers purporting to show the benefits of ending teacher tenure and enacting vouchers in the form of “tuition tax credits,” along with other efforts to privatize education and undermine teachers’ unions. The Show-Me Institute does not act alone. It is a member of ALEC, and many of the education initiatives it promotes appear to have their roots in ALEC “model” legislation, such as tuition tax credits, parent trigger legislation, and attacks on union rights. The Speaker of the Missouri House, Tim Jones, is a member of the ALEC Education Task Force and for many years has been the ALEC state chair for Missouri. Sinquefield bankrolled Jones’s 2012 campaign to the tune of $100,000. Not that Jones needed the money; he was running unopposed that year. Jones has made it clear he is an ally of deep-pocketed interests. He is quoted in ALEC’s promotional materials as saying the benefit of ALEC is that “business leaders have a seat at the table.” Together, Jones and the Show-Me Institute—backed with Sinquefield cash, and using ALEC model legislation—have pushed an education privatization agenda in the state. For example, Speaker Jones sponsored “parent trigger” legislation in both 2011 and 2012, bills that reflected the ALEC model “Parent Trigger Act.” Parent triggers allow parents to vote via referendum to seize control of their public schools and fire the teachers and principal or privatize the schools. The Show-Me Institute provided outside support for the legislation, with a group’s representative claiming that the bill “would expand the ability of parents to take an active role in the public education of their children.” ….. It doesn’t end there. In 2008, the Show-Me Institute released a “policy study” titled “The Fiscal Effects of a Tuition Tax Credit Program in Missouri,” and that same year, Jones introduced a tuition tax credit bill titled the “Children’s Education Freedom Act,” which reflected the ALEC “Great Schools Tax Credit Act.” (Despite the Show-Me Institute study claiming to demonstrate that tuition tax credits would save the state money, the bill’s fiscal note estimated the cost at $40 million.) In contrast with traditional vouchers, where the state directly reimburses a private school for tuition costs, these “tuition tax credit” proposals—sometimes called neo-vouchers—offer tax credits to individuals and corporations who donate to a nonprofit “school tuition organization.” The nonprofit then pays for a student’s tuition….