Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Dean Machine expands with nonprofit advocacy organization's endorsement

The Nashville Chapter of Stand for Children, which describes itself as a "grassroots advocacy" organization for public schools, announced its endorsement of Karl Dean for Mayor saying:

Mayor Dean has demonstrated amazing commitment to our public schools. During one of the most economically trying times in our history, Mayor Dean has fully funded the schools budget every year since he has been in office. He listens to community and parent input

Except that the statement is somewhat disingenuous as the Nashville City Paper recently pointed out regarding 300 teacher displacements and the loss of federal funds:

the positions of 334 teachers — covering Metro elementary, middle and high schools — have been eliminated prior to next school year, with district officials hoping to relocate affected teachers to other schools. But there’s no guarantee that will happen — it boils down to a still-unknown number of openings elsewhere ....

The reality of eliminated teaching positions has gone largely underreported in Nashville, perhaps in part because Mayor Karl Dean has announced intentions to fully fund Metro schools.

Dean’s budget proposal for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which awaits Metro Council approval, supports schools financially to the level requested by the Metro Nashville Board of Education. However, the mayor and school board’s plan does not cover more than $30 million in depleted federal stimulus monies and approximately $10 million in vanishing federal-jobs program dollars. Official have known this day was coming, and it’s resulting in more than 300 terminated positions.

So, stating it as "fully-funded" is overstating the case, but this is an election year and organizations are jockeying for positions of influence on Karl Dean's coattails.

It is not as if Stand for Children is not already well position in the pack. They have been the "advocacy" arm of One Nashville, a public schools project of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, which itself is tight with Mayor Dean and receives hundreds of thousands of sweetheart tax dollars from Metro Nashville. Given those ties to the Chamber, I already doubted whether SFC could remain balanced enough to advocate good policy, whether it agrees with Chamber priorities are not.

With the Dean endorsement, I look back over their advocacy role with One Nashville and question whether they can be independent enough to realize it:

builds networks and provides training for members to become effective leaders in their communities and to petition elected officials about education and children’s programs.

Sounds to me like Stand for Children could just as likely flip those networks and train members to become effective at GOTV for Karl Dean while avoiding petitioning for anything that might fall outside the Mayor's agenda. As a public school parent I wonder who Stand for Children is actually going to stand for after choosing to endorse Dean, and whether One Nashville in reality only stands for one person.

I told someone this week that I believe that political patronage of nonprofits is just as bad if not worse than it ever was when I started paying attention to Metro Council's shenanigans in 2006. Now it's just a savvier, stylish form of patronage starring the Mayor's Office.


  1. I can see you have a lot of questions about our group. I appreciate the skepticism because our children certainly deserve strong voice with integrity. I would be happy to talk with you further about our work as a grassroots organization and my role as a community organizer and public school parent of two young children.

    Francie Hunt
    972-0765 (cell)

  2. For some reason, this makes it look like my comments are from Religopolitico, whoever that is. That is NOT me. fyi.


  3. Am I missing something, or is it not a violation of sorts for a non profit organization to endorse a candidate for public office?

  4. Shane, non-profits can endorse candidates as 501c4/PAC funded organizations.

  5. Shane, our 501c4 members and PAC can endorse candidates.