Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students



A look at the inner workings of the multi-billion dollar strategy to destroy public schools

Have you ever wondered where all the anti-public school legislation, propaganda and hubris come from?

It’s called the PIE network.

The entire multi-billion dollar school privatization industry is organized through the PIE Network, connecting 70 education reform organizations in 34 states, including several in Tennessee, which has long been considered the battleground for the most outrageous money-grubbing schemes. Since 2007, the PIE Network has quintupled, and their efforts have produced exponential growth in charter schools and voucher programs nationwide.

Financed by billionaires and large corporations, such as the Walton Family Foundation, the PIE Network coordinates and funds think tanks that label public schools as failures. By supporting the so-called “reform” groups that push for more and harder testing, the PIE network and its affiliates strive to sway political entities to drive the legislative process toward privatization and attack the opposition – public school teachers, parents and community members who want to keep and improve public education. It is a massive and well-oiled machine.

Tennessee members of the PIE Network are SCORE, Stand for Children, Students First (now renamed as Tennessee CAN), Federation for Children, the Beacon Center, Memphis Lift, and Campaign for School Equity, among others. It is a formidable array of resources and propaganda.  

And the only folks poised to stop it are us – teachers, parents and community members not willing to give up our rights or sell our schools for something worse.

“The reason why TEA is attacked every legislative session is because we are the only group standing in the way of vouchers, radical charter expansion, and other privatization schemes that will damage every public school in this state,” said Jim Wrye, TEA chief lobbyist. “We are the only organized political force that can push back and win against these opponents, and protect our great public schools.”

The education industrial complex strategy is simple and sounds all too familiar to Tennessee teachers.

Privatizers push for new and harder tests, declare that schools are failing and demoralize teachers. They push for so-called “school choice” and sponsor legislation to open a limited number of charter schools in the “most troubled” districts. Once those charters are in place, campaigns are launched to further discredit public schools, calls are made to expand charters and more public schools get privatized.

Since 2008, 4,000 public schools were closed nationwide and more than $33.6 billion of public school funds went to charters.

In Tennessee, privatizers targeted Nashville and Memphis schools through the Achievement School District. Started in 2012, ASD promised to turn the state’s bottom 5 percent of schools to the top 25 in five years, but results are a disaster, with dropping graduation rates and enrollment, school closures and financial troubles.

The ASD troubles are just beginning. Their academic growth rate is the lowest in the state, which is the reason why almost all ASD schools are still in the bottom 5 percent after years of additional funding and charter operation. 

In spite of all data that proves them wrong, TEA fully expects privatizers to push vouchers and charter expansion again in the General Assembly this year.

“People get paid a lot of money to be a part of the privatization industrial complex, and just because the data and record shows they are flat wrong, I doubt any of them will quit,” said Wrye. 

Here's how the privatization machine works.


Years ago, wealthy investors like the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation and the DeVos family, decided they wanted to turn our nation’s system of public schools into a  for-profit operation - prioritizing money over quality public education for all children.


Most Americans love their local public schools. For this privatization plan to work, Americans’ trust in teachers and public education had to be undermined. A new teacher evaluation system based heavily on test scores allowed privatizers to paint teachers as “ineffective.” Distrust is sown on issues like curriculum, painting schools as out-of-touch with the values of the communities they serve.


Tennessee educators witnessed first-hand how privatizers try to silence the opposition. Six years ago when the legislature voted to repeal collective bargaining rights, privatizer fingerprints were all over the legislation. The plan backfired though. Teachers are more engaged than ever, and TEA is the largest and strongest hurdle standing in their way. Now they’ll come after payroll dues deduction.


In addition to using flawed standardized tests to label teachers as ineffective, those same tests are used by privatizers to label our schools as “failing.” Teachers know that a standardized test is not the best way to measure student achievement, but their voices went unheard as privatizers pushed the nation to evaluate schools based solely on test scores.


Once unreliable test scores provide the manufactured data privatizers needed, they go about the business of shutting down one “failing” school after another, firing its staff in the process.


As public schools are closed, privatizers lobby the state to hand its schools over to a number of different private school operators and/or implement private school voucher programs. This scheme diverts billions of dollars from public schools and into private pockets.

Below are the Tennessee groups linked to the privatization industry:


Memphis Lift

Beacon Center

Stand for Children

Federation for Children

Campaign for School Equity

TennesseeCAN (formerly Students First)

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