Unmasking Vouchers: Texas Federation for Children

Photo by Mariana Krueger, CCR Studios

Two weeks ago, we began unpacking the impact of dark money on Texas public education with a look at the billionaires and organizations that fund the Charter Schools Now PAC, which donates to Democrats and Republicans alike in the Texas Legislature and on the State Board of Education in the hopes of influencing policy. 

In our analysis, we called attention to a $5,500 contribution made in May 2020 by the Charter Schools Now PAC to the Texas Federation for Children as exemplifying the messy relationships in this web of dark money and its resulting influence in our institutions.

This week, we take a closer look at the Texas Federation for Children itself. The Texas Federation for Children is the Texas arm of the American Federation for Children, which was formerly run by Betsy DeVos before President Donald Trump appointed her as his Secretary of Education. 

DeVos has spent her life funding voucher and privatization campaigns, and her involvement with an organization is typically all you need to know about its mission. The American Federation for Children advocates for taxpayer-funded vouchers and sending public education dollars to unaccountable private schools. The Texas Federation for Children, meanwhile, has evolved into one of the most visible and well-funded astroturf organizations pushing vouchers and privatization at the Texas Legislature.

The Texas Federation for Children’s list of major funders in Christopher Tackett’s analysis includes current board members of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, large donors to state leadership, and some high-profile national figures:

  • William Obendorf – $909.5K
    • A California billionaire investor who funds right-wing causes like the privatization of education. 
  • Stacy Hock – $245K
    • Private investor and philanthropist who serves as a board member of the far-right Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). Hock was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in July 2023.
  • Richard DeVos – $140K
    • The son of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos and the husband of Besty DeVos. In 2012, Forbes magazine listed his father as the No. 351 richest person in the world, with a net worth of approximately $5.4 billion.
  • Betsy DeVos – $125K
    • Ran the American Federation for Children before being appointed the Secretary of Education by former President Donald Trump, despite having no experience as an educator. Longtime proponent of vouchers and taxpayer funding for private schools.
  • Richard Weekley – $110K
    • A co-founder of Weekley Homes and the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR). One of the major funders of the Charter Schools Now PAC, making him an important node in the web of dark money in Texas public education.
  • Tim Dunn – $37.5K
    • Vice chairman of the TPPF board of directors, as  well as the founder and CEO of Crownquest, an oil business based in Midland. A billionaire conservative activist donor featured in the CNN special report “Deep in the Pockets of Texas” and known for being a major funder of defunct advocacy group Empower Texans.
  • Robert Rowling – $25K
    • An American billionaire businessman and the founder of TRT Holdings, the holding company of Omni Hotels. Named by Abbott to the COVID-19 Strike Force to Open Texas.
  • Sen. Mayes Middleton – $10K
    • A sponsor of SB 8, major voucher legislation in the regular session of the 88th Texas Legislature. President & CEO of Middleton Oil.
  • Holloway Frost – $31K
    • Founder and CEO of high-tech company Texas Memory Systems. Has previously donated to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the Texas Right to Life PAC, and to a candidate (Richard “Bo” West French) who challenged anti-voucher state Rep. Charlie Geren in Texas House District 99. 
    • “Frost was also the central focus of a 2009 lawsuit claiming he sexually harassed and assaulted a former employee for years. Frost settled the lawsuit.*” -Reform Austin
  • American Federation for Children – $100.1K

Interestingly, the Texas Federation for Children shares Richard Weekley as a major funder with the Charter Schools Now PAC. The Texas Federation for Children’s list of dark-money donors also includes two members of the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, as well as other state and national donors to Republican and conservative political causes. In return, the Texas Federation for Children has spent this money on advancing the causes of vouchers and education privatization in the Texas Legislature, where the organization established a presence and made its name known among policymakers during the 88th regular session.

If the name of the Texas and American Federation for Children sound eerily close to the American Federation of Teachers, the name of our union, that is no mistake. The Texas Federation for Children has sought to establish itself as a mirror organization fighting for the interests of children, often repeating the slogan “fund students, not systems” in its canned sales pitches.

The irony of the Texas Federation for Children’s use of that statement is extreme. In reality, its funding and modes of activism reveal that the Texas Federation for Children has no interest in funding students or supporting public education. Instead, its mission is to undermine and dismantle public education in Texas by implementing the largest voucher program in the country. The Texas Federation for Children has solely sought to direct public education funding to private schools and has had nothing to say regarding the state support necessary to fully support our public school students and classrooms.

Texas AFT is excited that Christopher Tackett, the source of this dark money campaign finance research, will join us Tuesday, Sept. 20 for the next installment in our Schools in Crisis: Unpacking the 88th Legislature series via Zoom from 6 – 7:30 PM. Click here now to register and participate in this important discussion next week.