A Hamilton County education advocacy organization seems to want to have it both ways – as a education reform nonprofit – and as a political action committee.
Hamilton County education advocacy group UnifiEd says it wants to make sure every class has a “great teacher,” achieve “universal excellence by guaranteeing equal opportunity to all students,” get the community to support public education by increasing transparency and accountability, and prioritize public school funding, according to its website.
Those sound like lofty goals.
However, Hamilton County Board of Education members Joe Smith and Rhonda Thurman last May accused UnifiEd of politicizing the district’s desegregation debate, the Chattanooga Times Free Press said. The spat began with the board members speaking out against UnifiEd’s APEX Project.The project suggests the school system increase integration by redrawing attendance zones and providing transportation options to other schools, among other options, Thurman said.
UnifiEd fired back at Smith and Thurman, the Times Free Press said:
“These school board members’ stance and rhetoric is especially concerning given the long history of segregation in Hamilton County schools,” read a statement from UnifiEd in response.
UnifiEd has pushed for cultural competency training, which has already been taking place in Williamson and Knox counties, The Tennessee Star reported.
UnifiEd, founded in 2014, had promised it would not endorse candidates. However, in 2017, the group reneged on its promise and created the UnifiEd Action PAC to reform education by lobbying and endorsing candidates, according to Nonprofit Quarterly.
The group also changed its organizational structure, the publication said:
Now, Unifi-Ed plans to become a membership organization, intentionally shifting to a model where community members can have “ownership and voice in our direction and goals.” There will be two classes of members—one based on payment of membership fees (suggested at $10/month) and the other based on volunteer hours.
UnifiEd director Jonas Barriere temporarily resigned to head the PAC.
A list of candidate endorsements by UnifiEd Action PAC is available here from The Chattanoogan.
UnifiEd also launched political advocacy branch Unified Action, the Times Free Press said.
“There’s nothing more vital to our community than providing a great education for our kids … and leadership matters, leadership in those positions matter,” said Paul Brock, president of UnifiEd Action, a 501(c)(4).
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