What you should know about Kyle Olson and the Education Action Group Foundation (EAG):
- They parade as a school reform group in order to play the press with its anti-union – and increasingly, anti-public school – message.
- The Education Action Group Foundation is not a new group: it is the latest iteration of several previous Michigan-based groups that led voucher campaigns — roundly rejected by Michigan voters — to divert tax dollars from public schools to private and religious schools.
- They claim to be nonpartisan, but their founders are Michigan Republican Party operatives. EAG’s claim to be nonpartisan is patently untrue.
- They continually advocate for transparency, but refuse to divulge who funds their operations.
They parade as a school reform group in order to play the press.
The Education Action Group Foundation claims to be a group of citizens and school board leaders who are public school advocates. A closer look reveals a broad range of far-right-wing political connections and a decidedly anti-union and anti-public schools agenda.
EAG incorporator Eric Doster and Vice President Kyle Olson have ties to anti-public education groups including the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Great Lakes Education Project Political Action Committee. These groups have devoted years of effort and extensive financial resources supporting issues and candidates who favor private school vouchers, privatization of public school employees, and the end to unions representing working people.
None of EAG’s employees have any teaching experience except for writer Ben Velderman, who failed to survive his probationary period, teaching only 2 years in Zeeland, Michigan. Nevertheless, they present themselves as education experts, managing to recommend any solution to perceived problems as long as it includes blaming unions.
EAG regularly hires Dick Morris as an “expert” on education issues. Morris is best known for being fired from the Clinton administration for his affair with prostitute Sherry Rowlands, and for allowing her to listen in on phone calls to President Clinton. He has since moved on to write for the right wing New York Post and become a regular on the Fox News Network.
When Morris was brought to Grand Rapids, Michigan to narrate a video denouncing public school labor leaders, a local newspaper interviewed the school officials involved:
“… Board of Education president says she wants nothing to do with the Education Action Group and its high-profile friends. ‘They need to mind their own business,’ President Catherine Mueller said Tuesday.”
“‘We don’t need their help.’… Superintendent Bernard Taylor said he had ‘no idea why Dick Morris would be interested in Grand Rapids,'” National operative Dick Morris in video bashing Grand Rapids teachers union, Grand Rapids Press, July 30, 2008.
Kyle Olson’s deeply-held bias against public education is apparent in a 2011 Town Hall column:
I would like to think that, yes, Jesus would destroy the public education temple and save the children from despair and a hopeless future. And he would smash a temple that has been perverted to meet the needs of the administrators, teachers, school board members, unions, bureaucrats and contractors.
In November, 2011 Kyle Olson appeared on the Glen Beck webshow to denounce the use in public schools of the children’s book Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type, asserting that it is part of a secret plan to indoctrinate kindergarteners in pro-union ideology.
Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type won the Caldecott children’s book award in 2001, awarded by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. The Caldecott and Newbery Medals are the most prestigious American children’s book awards.
Not knowing this background, some mainstream news organizations continue to reference EAGNews and Kyle Olson as an authority on education issues. EAG is in fact a well financed political operation tasked with vilifying unions in as many media outlets as possible.
The Education Action Group Foundation is the latest iteration of several previous groups that led voucher campaigns to divert tax dollars from public schools to private and religious schools.
In 2000, a group called Kids First Yes! advanced a pro-“parochiaid” statewide ballot question that would have legalized taxpayer vouchers for use in private schools. The campaign was led and funded by 2006 GOP Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos and his family, which contributed millions of dollars to the campaign.
Three organizations — the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Michigan Family Forum, and the Teach Michigan Education Fund — have supported vouchers for many years. These organizations all receive substantial funding from the DeVos family.
After Michigan voters dealt a landslide defeat to the 2000 ballot initiative, the DeVos family formed the Great Lakes Education Project PAC to support political candidates willing to keep the movement alive. Eric Doster, incorporator of the Education Action Group, sat on the advisory board of the Great Lakes Education Project and his home address is listed as GLEP PAC’s treasurer.
The Great Lakes Education Project PAC continues to pay Sage Consultants L.L.C. for “professional services.” Sage Consultants lists Doster’s home as its primary address on campaign reporting documents.
Doster and his family members also made campaign contributions to the DeVos for Governor campaign in 2006. The EAG connection to those involved in Michigan’s voucher movement is undeniable.
They claim to be nonpartisan, but their founders are Michigan Republican Party operatives.
The Education Action Group Foundation is a front group for the Michigan Republican Party and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. It is tied with groups that seek to expand the use of publicly-funded vouchers for private and religious schools. A closer look reveals broad GOP connections:
Eric Doster, Education Action Group incorporator
Eric Doster, a Lansing lawyer, has been General Counsel to the Michigan Republican Party for over 15 years. Doster served on the advisory board for the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) and his home address is listed as that of the group’s treasurer. GLEP is a Republican group that advocates vouchers and charter schools.
Doster represented U. S. Rep. Tim Walberg in his recall fight, represented Citizens for the Protection of Marriage in 2004, and was appointed to the Judges’ Retirement Board in 1996 by former Governor John Engler. He is a member of the ultra-conservative Federalist Society.
In 2010 Doster was asked by the Michigan Republican Party to step down as General Counsel until his involvement in two secret groups, “Eagle Strategies” and “Peace and Prosperity” was resolved. Doster was listed as the resident agent for Peace and Prosperity, which had filed a assumed name certificate for the name Eagle Strategies. Eagle Strategies ran TV ads vilifying a GOP gubernatorial candidate as not conservative enough.
Its resolution urged Doster to step down “until the Michigan Secretary of State’s Election Division has concluded their investigation into his involvement as resident agent for Eagle Strategies Project.”
Kyle Olson, Education Action Group Foundation Founder and CEO
Kyle Olson, a former Lansing lobbyist, was district director and campaign manager for Republican Gerald Van Woerkom’s campaign for state Senate in 2002. He is also a member of the Republican State Committee. In September 2007, he joined other prominent Michigan Republican activists at a Grand Rapids airport during a visit with Vice President Dick Cheney.
Olson’s brother Ryan was the Director of Education Policy for the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
They continually advocate for transparency, but refuse to divulge who funds their operations.
The Education Action Group Foundation refuses to disclose the group’s funding sources. EAG’s Articles of Incorporation give only vague details of the organization’s funding sources: “The corporation is to be financed under the following general plan: Contributions from corporate foundations and private foundations.”
When asked, EAG uses a dodge common to right wing interest groups. Olson suggests his funders will be subject to some kind of undefined danger if their names are revealed. A much more likely explanation is that EAG’s pretense as a school improvement group would be plainly disproved if its corporate funders list were released.
But while the public knows little about the source of EAG’s funding, EAG goes to extraordinary lengths to know as much as possible about the individuals who send them donations. EAG uses the Aristotle Campaign Contribution Web site for contributions. It is designed for political campaigns. Other than processing the money, it:
“…is the only company with the ability to screen the name of each contributor against a proprietary database of government records to check that the contributor is a US Voter. This service is provided to registered political organizations.
“From the registered voter file, we’ll also tell you the date-of-birth, congressional and legislative district of the contributor, his or her party affiliation and vote history as maintained by the county or state board of elections. You’ll know more about your contributors and be better able to target solicitations to new prospects with similar demographics.”
Source: www.campaigncontribution.com, FAQ
The public deserves an accurate description of the EAG so that they can judge its work. One can’t intelligently listen to anything Kyle Olson says without knowing his background. More importantly, it’s not possible to take his arguments seriously when he is so dishonest about his background.