Maurice Cunningham is a retired professor of political science in Massachusetts. He is an expert on Dark Money in education issues. His revelations about the money behind a state referendum to expand the number of charters indefinitely in Massachusetts in 2016 helped to defeat the referendum. I wrote about his role in my book Slaying Goliath.

What Happened to Election Day at National Parents Union?

There I was on the edge of my seat in front of the television waiting for Steve Kornacki to break down the numbers in the election for the hotly contested highest offices in the National Parents Union. Could Keri Rodrigues be re-elected to another three year term? Might Alma Marquez, elected secretary-treasurer three years ago before mysteriously disappearinglaunch a comeback bid? Would the networks call a winner before my bedtime?

But no, nothing. No network call. No Steve Kornacki. No election at all.

That was a huge disappointment because on January 27, 2020, Beth Hawkins of The74 reported “Founders Keri Rodrigues and Alma Marquez were voted into three-year terms as inaugural president and secretary-treasurer, respectively.”

So I waited three years for the next election. If you can’t get reliable information about a Walton Family Foundation franchise like NPU from a Walton Family Foundation publication like The74, where can you look?

I’m kidding. I knew there would be no election, just like I knew the Hawkins piece was corporate puffery, and just as I knew there was no real election in 2020 where Rodrigues and Marquez “launch[ed] the National Parents Union on Jan. 16, when they … [held] an inaugural summit in New Orleans with 125 delegates from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.” For one thing, Rodrigues signed NPU’s incorporation papers on April 4, 2019 as president. Then on the 2020 annual report Rodrigues signed as president with a term ending December 31, 2025. Tim Langan (later to marry Rodrigues, in 2022) replaced Marquez as treasurer. There has never been any accounting of what happened to the duly elected treasurer and apparently zero curiosity about her from the “125 delegates from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico” who presumably left New Orleans thinking they had elected her to a three year term.

Still, an election for a part-time job that pays $232,000 for twenty hours per week would seem attractive enough to draw some opposition. (Source: National Parents Union Form 990 tax return for 2021)

The $180,000 is from a related organization, the Walton Family Foundation franchise Massachusetts Parents Union, also a 20 hour per week gig. (Source: Massachusetts Parents United Form 990 tax return for 2021)

Reading over The74 article I’m struck by how important it was for the Waltons to portray NPU as something like a real union. But it isn’t. For one thing unions elect their leadership democratically. Rodrigues promised Fox News that NPU would “be creating a national parent council and a board of advisers. We will assemble delegates, agree on by-laws, vote on ratification, and form our union.” The parent council has never materialized, no by-laws have been made public, and ratificationwas about as valid as the treasurer’s vote. But they did appoint delegates! Then NPU killed off all the delegates. They were replaced with a 7 person parent “advisory council.” Keep your bags packed, councilors.

Who would vote if NPU did hold an election? Rodrigues recently tweeted “Just held our last @NationalParents Union leadership meeting where @TafshierCosby announced we have now grown to almost 1,000 affiliated organizations in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.”

There are no parent organization affiliates. The only verifiable affiliated organizations are those, as I wrote in Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization, that are in the charter school industry or related privatization fronts. Cosby is identified at the NPU website Senior Director of the NPU Center for Organizing and Partnerships and “also the CEO of Parent Impact.” Parent Impact is apparently part of the KIPP charter school business. Itwas recognized by the IRS as a tax exempt organization only on September 10, 2020. IRS placed Parent Impact on the auto-revocation list for not filing tax returns on May 15, 2021.

I didn’t let the popcorn go to waste on election night but I sure did miss Steve Kornacki.

Maurice T. Cunningham is author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization. As a (now retired) educator in the UMass system, he is a union member.