In advance of Tennessee's looming legislative fight over Common Core, dollars from its top philanthropic backer have arrived here to fight a rollback.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made three donations in Tennessee near the end of 2013 to help the push and implementation of the controversial education standards overhaul and its aligned test.
One of those, a $400,000 grant in November to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce for "improving college and career readiness," came ahead of the chamber's recent announcement of a group called Businesses for Tennessee Prosperity. The coalition, which consists of 400 businesses, already has kicked off a public relations push in support of Common Core that began last week with a statewide radio advertisement blitz.
The radio ad says it was paid for by the Tennessee Association of Business Foundation, a branch of the chamber that the Gates foundation lists as the grant recipient.
"We're proud to call them a partner," said Bradley Jackson, a Tennessee chamber lobbyist, who estimated that the first statewide ad buy cost between $50,000 and $100,000.
School districts across Tennessee are preparing to shift next fall to the new curriculum and its associated Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career test. But some Republican lawmakers have proposed legislation to halt its rollout, while others are looking to delay its implementation.
Gates' financial support in Tennessee is just a small fraction of the overall dollars the foundation has poured into organizations nationwide that support Common Core — more than $20 million last year, according to the Washington Post,on top of $170 million to support its development.
Common Core critics, though, see Gates' enormous financial play as indicative of standards they demonize as top-down and nationalized. Tennessee and 44 other states adopted Common Core in 2010. "That's not what we as legislators signed on to three years ago," said state Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale.
Gates isn't the only out-of-state entity that has made Common Core a focus in Tennessee, however. Americans for Prosperity, for example, a conservative opponent of Common Core, opened a Nashville office last year to help sound the alarm against it.