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Let’s Recognize AROS For What It Really Is… A Publicity Stunt Organized by the Teachers Unions

On Thursday, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) held “walk-ins” in cities across the country to call for an increase in education funding, a reduction in standardized testing, and limits on charter school expansion.

The Alliance’s “Day of Action” drew plenty of media coverage, most of which portrayed the walk-ins as a genuine expression of frustration over education reform policies and presented AROS as an organic coalition of community and labor organizations.

For example, Emma Brown at the Washington Post covered the story in a piece entitled, “Parents and teachers rally for public education funding at schools across the country.”

From the Washington Post.
From the Washington Post.

Rebecca Klein, education editor at the Huffington Post, wrote about it under the headline, “Frustrated Parents Rally Nationwide To ‘Reclaim Our Schools’.”

From the Huffington Post.
From the Huffington Post.

And, Think Progress education reporter Casey Quinlan played up the grassroots bonafides of the rallies with quotes from participants like Jane Henderson, “a parent with Maryland Communities United,” and Erica Huerta, a high school teacher in East Los Angeles.

The problem is that there was nothing grassroots about the walk-ins and there is nothing organic about the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. A closer look at the individuals and groups behind AROS makes clear that the entire undertaking is a public relations stunt largely organized and funded by the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Here’s two very important facts that recent press reports didn’t tell you about AROS…

I. The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools doesn’t actually exist

If you go to AROS’ website, the Alliance appears to have two staff members: executive director Keron Blair and campaign director Ken Snyder. However, legally speaking, there is no organization called the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. AROS has not been incorporated as a non-profit and it has not been granted 501(c)(3) status by the IRS.

AROS "Executive Director" Keron Blair at a Chicago Teachers Union rally in February.
AROS “executive director” Keron Blair at a Chicago Teachers Union rally in February.

So if AROS isn’t a real organization, who is paying these men for their work?

This is where things get interesting. A Google search turns up Blair and Snyder’s names together once before, back in November 2014, when they were acting as representatives of a group called Raise Illinois Action, which was fighting to increase the minimum wage in the Land of Lincoln.

In 2014, Blair and Snyder worked for another faux group, Raise Illinois Action.
In 2014, Blair and Snyder worked for another faux group, Raise Illinois Action.

Like AROS, Raise Illinois Action wasn’t a real organization. It was a creation of the Committee to Raise Illinois’ Minimum Wage, a ballot initiative PAC backed by SEIU Healthcare Illinois that also happens to have received $500,000 from AFT and NEA. What’s more, AROS executive director Keron Blair is listed as an employee (and a low-paid one at that) of SEIU Healthcare Illinois on their 2015 annual report to the Department of Labor.

AROS campaign director Ken Snyder, on the other hand, is actually something of a baller. He is the co-founder of the Snyder Pickerill Media Group, a full-service media firm that has worked on dozens of high-profile political campaigns across the country. That same SEIU annual report indicates that the union paid Snyder Pickerill nearly $700,000 in F.Y. 2015.

Screenshot from the homepage of the Snyder Pickerill Media Group website

Apparently these two are reprising their earlier roles in the minimum wage fight, with Blair serving as the face of the group while Snyder runs the media blitz behind the scenes, but this time around they’re working to advance the teachers unions’ prerogatives.

II. Most of the organizations in AROS have received AFT or NEA funding

Although many of the stories about the walk-ins acknowledged that AFT and NEA are part of the Alliance to Reform Our Schools, they left out the fact that every one of the other national groups involved have received funding from the two teachers unions. Those other groups are as follows:

Once again, the Alliance for Educational Justice and Journey For Justice are not real independent organizations (do I detect a pattern of behavior?), but are actually initiatives of the Movement Strategy Center and Kenwood-Oakland Neighborhood Organization, respectively.

These unreported funding ties also apply to many of the smaller, local organizations that participated in the walk-ins. For example, remember Jane Henderson, the parent interviewed by Casey Quinlan from Maryland Communities United, which she described as “a group of low and moderate-income parents and community members organizing to improve public schools”? Well, Henderson isn’t a low-income parent, she’s the executive director of the organization, which received $30,000 from AFT in F.Y. 2015.1

When taken together, the facts suggest that the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools’ “National Day of Action” wasn’t the collective venting of the frustrations felt in communities across the country, but a clever, carefully choreographed act of political theater that many in the media swallowed hook, line, and sinker. Maybe one day they will catch on.

Explore the Evidence:

AFT: Annenberg Institute for School Reform - $25,000

AFT: Annenberg Institute for School Reform - $25,000 (p. 624)

AFT: SEIU Florida Community Alliance - $50,000

AFT: SEIU Florida Community Alliance - $50,000 (p. 233)

NEA: SEIU - $9,306

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  1. Erica Huerta, the East Los Angeles teacher interviewed by Quinlan isn’t a disinterested observer either. She’s a highly involved member of the United Teachers of Los Angeles who ran for UTLA’s board of directors this year and was a recipient of the union’s “We Honor Ours Award” which recognizes members “who have given exemplary or outstanding service to UTLA.” 

Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.


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