Laura Chapman lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the national board of the NAACP held its annual meeting and approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools. The resolution was first proposed by the annual national convention of NAACP members from across the nation. Protestors arrived from Memphis to protest any moratorium on new charters.

Laura, a retired arts educators and an inveterate researcher, wrote about why people came from Memphis to Cincinnati:

“Cincinnati was the site of protests against the NAACP resolution to put a moratorium on charter schools. About 150 protesters, who wore coordinated t-shirts, were bussed to Cincinnati from the infamous “Achievement School District” (ASD) in Memphis, TN, specifically by a group called Memphis Lift.

“Who actually paid for the trip and why did protesters against the NAACP resolution come to Cincinnati from Memphis? I do not final have answers, but there can be no doubt that the charter industry is organized to protest against any cuts in charter expansion. Here are some things worth noting.

“Three persons from Memphis are on NAACP’s 63-member national board: Jesse H. Turner Jr., the organization’s treasurer and the president of Tri-State Bank of Memphis; Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel of Memphis; and Bishop William Graves of Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
No doubt the pro-charter group, Memphis Lift, hoped to influence their vote.

“Memphis Lift was created in 2015 in order to organize black parents as vocal supporters of school choice. Memphis Lift has close ties to the wife of Chris Barbic, the founding superintendent of the scandalous Memphis “Achievement School District (ASD)”

“Why scandalous? An August 2016 audit of the ASD indicated that for school year 2016-2017, ASD added 4 more charter schools to its Memphis portfolio, for a total of 33 under the charter management organizations (CMOs) in charge of running day-to-day operations. This first ever audit revealed frauds on a grand scale in just one year. Among them, the liberal issuance of purchasing cards combined with records of purchases totaling $14,895 for which the cardholders did not obtain advanced approval as required by ASD policy. (p. 44). Six transactions were for a dental insurance premium, donation, coffee supplies, and “accrual calculations” totaling $131,637. Three travel claims were for one flight and CMO expenses, totaling $4,734 with no supporting documentation (p. 43). For more examples of this free spending, including luxury transportation and the bar charges at parties, see the report.

“Participants in Memphis Lift are not grassroots volunteers. They are employed-parents who received paid training channeled through Education Reform Now. Education Reform Now is supported by Democrats for Education Reform’s Political Action Committee. Chris Barbic’s wife, Natasha Kamrani, works as the Director of Democrats for Education Reform in Tennessee. She would certainly know about the training program and the political action funding channeled to it.

“How was the training financed? Memphis Lift is a fairly expensive operation. Initially, it was organized around 19 parent-employees who received $1800 for attending a 10-week training program. The training included help on public speaking, canvassing parents, and the use of a laptop, a perk given to participants in the program. The parent-employees, paid $12 to $15/hour, worked for about 25 hours per week. They were sent to canvas parents in Memphis neighborhoods where the public schools had been given the lowest performance rating by the state. In addition to providing these parents with information about the low performance of these schools, they discussed charters as an option for the parents. This paid “voice group” for parents successfully canvassed about 1,100 parents, and simultaneously created a roster of prospective contacts for marketing charter schools.
Who provided the training? The Parent Leadership and Advocacy Institute (PLAI). PLAI, the local affiliate of Democrats for Education Reform. Successive cohorts of participants in Memphis Lift were trained by Dr. Ian P. Buchanan, Deputy Director of the Parent Leadership Advocacy Institute/Democrats for Education Reform in Memphis TN.

“Dr. Buchanan’s work for Memphis Lift was aided by co-director Johnnie M. Hatten, a conspicuous supporter of charter expansion and member of the ASD Advisory Council, who ran for the state legislature in 2016 (as a Democrat), but lost the contest to Antonio Parkinson, a vocal critic of the state-run school turnaround district. Hatten’s campaign coffers were filled by charter-supporting groups: Tennessee Federation for Children PAC ($11, 501), along with Education Reform Now, Students First Tennessee, and Campaign for School Equity (each contributing $5,000). Support for charters in Memphis is clearly threatened, another reason for hoping to get help from the NAACP.

“Political connections still supply money to Memphis Lift. In January 2016, Memphis Lift sent 21 members to Washington, D.C. for Teach For America’s 25th anniversary celebration. “Natasha Kamrani, director of Tennessee’s branch of Democrats For Education Reform and wife of founding ASD superintendent Chris Barbic, introduced the group to attendees of the TFA reunion, stating she was lucky to work with them.”

“Follow the money to Teach for America and Democrats for Education Reform and to the many states across the country where “voice groups” like the parents in Memphis are paid for recruiting other parents to charter schools while carefully avoiding the truths about the rip-offs from charter operators.

“For a really eye-opening and well-documented report on Democrats for Education Reform and who is guiding its activities, go to this website

“And do look for the quote from one of the founders of DER, hedge fund manager, Whitney Tilson