Texas ‘Grassroots’ Education Reform Efforts Reveal Progressive Funding Sources

AUSTIN, TEXAS--TAMSA (Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment) is the mom-pack posing as the grassroots on the Texas education advocacy front that Breitbart Texas reported flew under the radar when working with elected officials Representative Jimmy Don Aycock (R-Killen) and State Board of Education Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff on HB 5. Although TAMSA identifies itself as a non-partisan organization, campaign and other financial contributions made by TAMSA leadership and core members tells a story that supports a very progressive educational agenda in Texas.

In public records housed on the Texas Tribune's Texas Campaign Finance Database 2000-14, a non-grassroots public education picture emerges from 2012-13 where TAMSA--the darlings of HB5--supported a variety of Democratic and progressive causes in Texas. Among the cash recipients were Battleground Texas, Wendy Davis, and Ratliff, a paid Microsoft lobbyist. Microsoft is neck deep in the implementation of 21st Century learning through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Texas’ 21st Century learning and College and Career Readiness Standards are all a part of the federal agenda, the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

TAMSA president Dineen Majcher  contributed a diminutive $300 to Texas Parent PAC, however, the records show that the PAC's top contributors also included TAMSA agitator-at-large Susan Kellner and former Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff, who sits on the Parents for Public Schools advisory board with Linda Darling-Hammond, a key education policy ideologue and influencer behind both the controversial Common Core State and CSCOPE. 

Furthermore, Texas Parent PAC is an organization that endorses Save Texas Schools and whose advisory committee chairman Allen Weeks was featured on the "Reclaiming the Promise through Community Schools" SXSWedu 2014 panel with Randi Weingarten, president of the largest and most powerful teacher's union in the United States -- the American Federation of Teachers. 

Breitbart Texas was there when Weingarten told attendees on March 3, 2014 that she had been in Austin since January with Weeks to work on a "community schools strategy."  This is the same strategy Breitbart Texas recently reported on that New York Governor Cuomo executive ordered into aligning education, health and social services into the one convenient hub--the public school.

At the conference, Weeks made no mention about his ties to Save Texas Schools. He was listed as executive director of Austin Voices for Education and Youth. However, to donate online to Save Texas Schools, the check needs to be made out to Austin Voices for Education and Youth where it also states that Austin Voices for Education and Youth is the nonprofit organization that is the fiscal sponsor for Save Texas Schools. Reclaiming the Promise is AFT initiative lead by Weingarten.

Also in the 2012-13 records, TAMSA Treasurer Laura Yeager contributed to the most likely Democratic candidates and groups to champion Fed Led Ed right into Texas. She donated to the campaigns of Wendy R. Davis for Governor, Inc.; Battleground Texas and the Leticia Van Putte for Lieutenant Governor Campaign Committee.

TAMSA mouth piece Kellner, who is the former Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees, along with husband Larry Kellner, former chairman and chief executive officer of Continental Airlines, made generous contributions to Democratic causes, candidates and legislators in Texas according to the online records.

The Kellners, however, landed on the top recipients list, contributing a combined total of $40,000 to Texans for Joe Straus, straddling the 2012-13 period at $10,000 per contribution. In 2012, they also ranked among the top contributors to SBOE Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff, flanked by the Texas State Teachers Association PAC and Charles Butt, HEB grocery chain magnate. Among their 2013 contributions listed, they plunked down $20,000 to the Harris County based Citizens for School Readiness, a 527 political organization, busy pushing the federal pre-kindergarten program in a CATO Institute report posted by EAG News.

Thomas Ratliff has been tagged a controversial figure because of questions that have arisen about his lobbyist status and the legitimacy for him to serve on the Texas State Board of Education. Although the Texas Education Code (Title 2. Public Education, Subtitle B, Section 7.103) states in as eligibility for membership that "a person who is required to register as a lobbyist under Chapter 305, Government Code, by virtue of the person's activities for compensation in or on behalf of a profession, business, or association related to the operation of the board, may not serve as a member of the board or act as the general counsel to the board," Ratliff continues to sit on the Texas State Board of Education despite a 2011 opinion rendered on the matter from the Texas Attorney General's office.

Also, the son of the former Lieutenant Governor, Ratliff's top contributors over the same period have been Butt, the Kellners, and Chris Huckabee, appointed to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board by Governor Rick Perry.

The dollars on record do not lie. They tell the story of a well-organized machine and a lot of disconcerting ties that may not reflect Texas values after all.

Currently, TAMSA lists among their latest plank-of-action opting out of the Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (TEKS) aligned STAAR testing but not necessarily in the grassroots spirit of "teaching to the test." Rather, their goal is to replace the Texas exams with the "nationally recognized tests" a.k.a. the Common Core assessments in grades 3-8.  It's right on their website. They are who Thomas Ratliff praised as the "real grassroots" at SXSWedu 2014.

Original records source credited is the Texas Ethics Commission.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom


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