‘Moms on a Mission’ Is the Latest Right-Wing Astroturf Group Fighting to Privatize Education

Moms for Liberty isn’t the only dark money group pretending to be mom-led grassroots movement. And now there’s a new one with ties to Betsy DeVos.
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos pose for a photo with students of Saint Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida, March 2017. Photo by Shealah Craighead/White House (Public domain).

Moms are allegedly at the center of a right-wing campaign attacking public schools and advocating for school vouchers. The latest entry in the “moms space” is called Moms on a Mission, which the organization’s website reveals is an offshoot of the Betsy DeVos-controlled American Federation for Children (AFC). 

Moms on a Mission joins the better-known Moms for Liberty (M4L), which the Southern Poverty Law Center designated as an extremist group. Yet while M4L and similar groups have tried to depict themselves as a grassroots movement, Moms on a Mission doesn’t hide the fact it is a masquerade for billionaire privatization schemes and Republican politics.

Betsy DeVos has long been affiliated with right-wing Christian campaigns to decimate public schools and redirect funds to voucher programs, charter schools, or religious schools. She was former President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education, but at M4L’s 2022 national summit, she called for the abolition of that very department.

The debut of Moms on a Mission was announced in an email from AFC’s National Director of Communications Strategy, Elizabeth BeShears. BeShears previously worked at Americans for Prosperity, Charles Koch’s dark money nonprofit. Koch and DeVos are political allies on education.

In 2018, Koch announced a move into K-12 politics, with a billionaire compatriot describing it as the “lowest hanging fruit.” Nicole Neily, another Koch operative, runs M4L’s close ally Parents Defending Education, which supports book bans and opposes the factual teaching of racism and school policies to ensure all students feel welcome.

DeVos’s influence entirely depends on her wealth. In a 1997 interview, she boasted about her political contributions, saying “we expect a return on our investment.” DeVos went on to explain exactly which results she seeks from her education spending: “Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s Kingdom.” She added that she wished “to impact our culture [in ways] that may have great kingdom gain in the long-run by changing the way we approach things.” 

READ: Pulling Back the Curtain on the Leadership Institute’s Dominion Over Moms for Liberty

Meanwhile, scandal-plagued M4L continues to belie its grassroots narrative as it recently announced an investment of $3 million to influence the 2024 presidential race in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin, as well as an election for state school superintendent in North Carolina. It’s expected to add three more swing states to its list of targets: Nevada, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

As a group that relies on “dark money,” M4L, an 501(c)(4) organization, is not required to disclose its donors. M4L has approximately 180 501(c)(4)s organized in county chapters across the country. According to the political finance watchdog Open Secrets, an IRS designated 501(c)(4) organization must be “operated exclusively” for “social welfare” but may also spend for political purposes. It can raise and spend unrestricted amounts. M4L also operates at least four IRS designated “527” political organizations, groups that Open Secrets explains may raise and spend unlimited sums for politics. A 527 is required to disclose its donors.

Far-right billionaires are among the known funders of M4L. Richard Uihlein’s Restoration PAC is the sole funder ($161,000 in total) of the federal political action committee Moms for Liberty Action. Publix heiress Julie Fancelli, a $3,000,000 donor to the January 6 Stop the Steal rally, gave $50,000 to M4L’s Florida PAC. M4L is also funded by decades-old right-wing institutions such as the Heritage Foundation and the Leadership Institute.

Both Moms on a Mission and M4L are expected to take part in the nationwide push for expanding school voucher programs. These programs allow parents to use money that is taken away from public schools for options that would never meet state performance standards. The right’s voucher campaign “has racked up a remarkable series of victories,” according to Vox, mostly in Republican-dominated states. Education scholar Josh Cowen has explained that “vouchers have some of the worst results in the history of education research.”

Most of the new voucher money transfers have gone to students who were already in private schools. When Politico’s Quorum Report tweeted that it was wealthy parents in red states benefiting most from vouchers, DeVos acolyte Corey DeAngelis replied, “Fantastic.”

DeVos is advancing her religious agenda, too. Education scholar Josh Cowen found that vouchers have been aiding Catholic and other religious schools, many of which were struggling financially before the infusion of public money. Red state conservatives are also advocating for churches to start up new religious schools to cash in. Scores of existing private schools that receive voucher money are raising tuition.

READ: The Independence Law Center Seeks to Impose its Biblical Worldview on Pennsylvania School Districts

The problems associated with vouchers will accelerate if Donald Trump wins the presidency this year. The MAGA-aligned Heritage Foundation has published a plan to decimate the federal government, including abolishing the Department of Education and pushing vouchers.

No one has explained the right’s goal better than the conservative Council for National Policy in a 2017 memorandum to Trump and DeVos: to replace public schools with “free-market private schools, church schools, and home schools as the normative American practice [emphasis in original].

That is what school choice means. Pay a corporation, enroll in a Christian indoctrination program, or teach the kids yourself.

No one should be fooled simply because billionaires choose to name their front groups “moms.” Understand the stakes.

This article was originally published in The Progressive and reprinted here with permission.

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Picture of Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham, PhD., J.D., is author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization. He is a retired professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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