When most Pennsylvanians think of fair treatment, the first image that pops into their head is probably not Oklahoma based organizations funded by billionaires suing public school teachers here in the Keystone State. But that’s exactly what is happening now in the Reading school district.
Recently, it was announced the intentionally and benignly named The Fairness Center and Americans for Fair Treatment are suing the Reading school district. First, it is important to call out that both of these organizations official business registrations are at the same Oklahoma address.
While a recent Reading Eagle article noted that The Fairness Center has addresses in King of Prussia and Harrisburg, what was left unsaid is that they share these office suites with both The Commonwealth Foundation and The Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, two right-wing political pressure organizations. The connection in all of these organizations is Matt Brouillette, previous president of the former and current president of the later. In fact, The Fairness Center is so concerned about hiding this connection that they recently scrubbed their website of any mention of Mr. Brouillette despite originally serving on the board of The Fairness Center.
These organizations were not founded with intentions of improving Pennsylvania or the Reading School District. Quite the contrary. The lawsuits show their purpose is to disrupt school district finances. It’s important to note that similar lawsuits have already been thrown out in other parts of Pennsylvania because these extremist groups lacked standing.
They file lawsuits to further their agenda of privatization of our public school system. The Commonwealth Foundation advocates for policies that let billionaires write off their donations to expand privatization of our public school system. The Fairness Center files lawsuits to keep the district and revenues tied up in court, often targeting policies that allow teachers to advocate for their students. It’s a shameful legal strategy to push their for-profit agenda and Pennsylvania has become their testing ground. But sunshine is the greatest disinfectant, and as more people become familiar with these tactics, it’s increasingly being discredited.
The organization suing the Reading school district is an organization solely dedicated to bringing forth frivolous lawsuits. The Fairness Center uses lawsuits as weapons to push their for-profit driven agenda. In fact, the majority of lawsuits they’ve been involved with have been against educators in some form or another. Whether it’s suing teachers in Reading or Allentown or across our state public universities, they have a special ire towards those who dedicate their lives to educating children in the classroom. To say they’re an independent group from Americans for Fair Treatment is also a stretch.
Americans for Fair Treatment describe themselves as a national organization. However, their body of their work tells a far different story. In addition to being registered at the same address as The Fairness Center in Oklahoma, they have only sued teachers in Pennsylvania. That’s the sum total. So let’s unpack how they get away with describing themselves as a national organization by looking at their board of directors – which is comprised of individuals from the Illinois Policy Institute, Mackinac Center of Public Policy, Empower Mississippi, and wouldn’t you have guessed it, the aforementioned Commonwealth Foundation. All these organizations are part of the same nationwide network that makes up the State Policy Network – another intentionally and benignly named organization…until you follow the money.
The State Policy Network is part of a network of organizations referred to as “the dark money ATM of the conservative movement.”Funding all of these groups include the right-wing Scaife, Koch and DeVos Foundations. Some of those names may sound familiar, particularly DeVos. It’s especially familiar to those concerned about education with a profit motive. At her family’s foundation, Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos oversaw efforts to dole out money to extremist organizations – like The Fairness Center – in addition to her well publicized efforts to roll back rights for LGBTQ students.
Don’t be fooled by this lawsuit. And don’t be hoodwinked by their ridiculous “ghost teacher” language. The Fairness Center and Americans for Fair Treatment want teachers to be ghosts so they can rob them of the most effective tool they have in bringing attention to conditions inside their classroom: their voice on the job.
One valuable lesson teachers often pass on to their students is to not judge a book by its cover. Take this lawsuit the same way. This has nothing to do with fairness or fair treatment.