THE INSIDE STORY: Who's Behind Ad Campaign?

A slickly-produced ad campaign is targeting the upcoming Metro school board elections.

But just who is paying the bills?

The people behind the group Nashville Rise refuse to say.

But NewsChannel 5 Investigates did some digging and discovered the group appears to be tied to the charter school community. (Watch video below.)

Nashville Rise, it turns out, is actually a part of Project Renaissance -- an education advocacy group created by former Mayor Karl Dean.

Project Renaissance Co-CEO Wendy Tucker refused to identify who is currently funding the group's efforts, saying some of the money people did not want to be identified.

But she released an IRS report showing major contributors for 2015. They are:

  • $2.5 million from the Scarlett Family Foundation in Nashville. That foundation is headed by Joe Scarlett, who serves on the board of the Beacon Center of Tennessee. That organization has pushed charters and vouchers in the state legislature.
  • $500,000 from the Vanguard Charitable Trust, a donor-directed fund that allows contributors to remain anonymous.
  • $250,000 from the Joe C. Davis Foundation in Nashville, which boasts that it is focused "on increasing the supply of high-performing charter schools."
  • $125,000 from the Sunnyside Foundation of Dallas, which says it "assists practicing Christian Scientists."
 

Tucker downplayed questions about the group's funding.

"In the midst of all the questions about how our non-profit organization funds our work, I trust that you will not lose sight of the fact that the real story here is one about a group of very passionate parents from across Nashville who have come together to support each other in focusing on high quality public schools for all Nashville students," she said in an email.

"The parents who have joined Nashville Rise are truly inspirational."

But three incumbent school board members -- Amy Frogge, Will Pinkston and Jill Speering -- announced Tuesday that they would not be participating in an upcoming candidate forum sponsored by Nashville Rise.

"As incumbent members of the local school board, and survivors of four years of attacks by the national charter school and voucher movement, we are skeptical of organizations that appear to promote vouchers or unabated charter school growth at the expense of students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers," the letter stated.

 

The three incumbents said they were "objecting to the general lack of transparency by Project Renaissance — especially regarding donor contributions in 2016 that may be supporting its current activities, including the upcoming candidates’ forum."

It added: "Without full disclosure and transparency, we cannot achieve a trusting and productive dialogue."

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