With teachers in various red states across the country rebelling against low pay and inadequate school funding, Republicans are scrambling for a message strategy to stop them from winning.
That’s where the State Policy Network (SPN) comes into play. While the group’s name sounds innocuous, it actually operates in tandem with the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — an organization made up of Republican state lawmakers and corporate lobbyists who draft corporate-friendly “model bills” that find their way to statehouses across the United States.
The SPN gets its funding (approximately $80 million, according to the group’s executive director) from organizations tied to the Koch Brothers’ vast network of nonprofits and lobbying groups. The Walton family — which owns Walmart — also funds the SPN’s work, as well as the DeVos family. The SPN and its staff have ties to various Koch-funded groups, including Americans for Prosperity, the Mercatus Center, the Cato Institute, and the Heartland Institute, among others.
On Thursday, The Guardian reported on an SPN memo it obtained that included various messaging points for right-wing politicians and organizations seeking to attack teachers protesting in deep-red states like Arizona, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. The memo is likely in response to the strikes’ popularity with voters. A nonpartisan poll released last Friday showed 72 percent of Oklahoma voters supported the strike.
One of the main claims it told opponents of teachers to repeat ad nauseam is “teacher strikes hurt kids and low-income families,” and “it’s unfortunate that teachers are protesting low wages by punishing other low-wage parents and their children.” The memo also encourages conservatives to place the blame for low teacher pay at the feet of teachers’ unions, rather than Republican politicians who have been cutting school funding in state budgets.
In the memo, authors Starlee Coleman and Katherine Bathgate, acknowledge that the recent passage of tax cuts and subsequent cuts in state budgets makes it “challenging” to counter the message that low tax revenues are hurting school funding. However, right-wing pundits and politicians are given a canned reply in response to that argument.
“One of the most important things we can do to make sure our schools are properly funded is to have a strong economy where everyone can work and contribute to the tax coffers that fund the government,” the memo encourages SPN members to say. “Lower tax rates contribute to stronger job growth. Also, lower taxes on individuals let teachers keep more of the money they earn.”
Corporate tax breaks for large industries have been largely to blame for years of budget cuts to K-12 education in many states, including Oklahoma and Arizona. As Grit Post previously reported, a tax break used by oil & gas companies in Oklahoma is responsible for bleeding the state of more than $1 billion over a three-year period. Consequently, Oklahoma teachers are demanding roughly $1 billion in new funding over a three-year period, although legislators have only appropriated $450 million as of this writing.
Coleman and Bathgate did not immediately respond to Grit Post’s requests for comment.
Read the full memo below:
Jake Shepherd is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys poring through financial disclosure statements, spirited debate, and good scotch. He remains eternally optimistic about the Browns. Email him at jake.d.shepherd.21 (at) hotmail (dot) com.