The New Carpetbaggers: “Empower Mississippi”


Mississippi, we’ve got to discuss this group called “Empower Mississippi.” In case you’ve never heard of them, Empower MS is a political group pulling the strings behind some of the biggest political races in the state. Armed by their financial wing, Empower PAC, they’ve been making campaign contributions in high-profile races from Ocean Springs to Olive Branch. So we should probably all be up to snuff on who they are and what they do.


Five things you need to know about Empower MS:

1. They have lots and lots of money.

There’s no real way to sugar coat this. Empower PAC is big time cash. We’re only in the election primaries, but they’re already dishing out some $360,000 across the state to fight against any and all candidates who are friendly to public education.

2. Almost all of their money comes from outside of Mississippi.

Of the $368,250 they filed last quarter, $360,000 was from an out-of-state corporation founded by Michigan billionaires Dick and Betsy DeVos. That’s 98% of their bank roll. Folks, 98% of the money “Empower Mississippi” is currently using to influence Mississippi politics is from outside of Mississippi. You deserve to know that.

3. They are using their massive bankroll to replace Mississippi’s public schools with taxpayer-funded education businesses.

Empower MS has what they call “School Choice Scorecards” on each of our legislators, based on just four bills going back to 2012. These four bills include a charter school bill and three bills to introduce vouchers into Mississippi. That’s it. That’s their whole assessment of legislators on education, because their sole purpose is to promote ways for taxpayer money to be channeled to private corporations. Because that’s what vouchers and charter schools do: they take taxpayer funds and send them to private entities. And Empower MS is here to make it happen.

4. The charter school law they sponsored opens the door for foreign indoctrination of Mississippi kids.

When the Mississippi legislature passed the Mississippi Charter School Law in 2013, several amendments were suggested which would protect Mississippians from foreign interests injecting themselves into our political process. All, however, were voted down in favor of a stripped-down, hoops-free bill to allow ample opportunity for outsiders to fleece Mississippi taxpayers.

For example, consider Amendment 12 to the bill: “No public charter school organization and no legal entity which contracts for educational services with a charter school may contribute to any candidate for public office or expend any funds to influence an election.”  Simple. Common sense. But struck down by the Legislature.

One version of the law, House Bill 369, wanted to “Bar foreign organizations from running charter schools and foreign teachers on limited visas from working there.” However, that provision was also eliminated from the final version of the law. It was reworded to prevent employees in “nonimmigrant worker visa programs,” but it opens the door to “sources of private funding and all funds from foreign governments, foreign legal entities, (l. 612-616) as well as “a charter school proposal from an applicant that currently operates one or more schools in ANY state or NATION.” (l. 658-660)

The fact Turkish nationals have been holding lavish receptions in Jackson and accompanying legislators on overseas trips has been called the worst kept secret in Jackson. It doesn’t show up much in the media. You generally have to find out from journalists outside Mississippi. But considering the biggest charter school company operating in America is owned and run by a Turkish Muslim priest, perhaps what our legislators and lobbyists are really up to is something Mississippians ought to know about. At the very least, we deserve a straightforward answer to the question: “Who exactly are you selling our education system out to?”

5. They sound pretty; they play dirty.

But “Empower Mississippi” sounds so positive! They’ve gotta be all about helping the little guy, right? Giving power to the people! And they talk about school choice! Who doesn’t love having more choice, especially when your public school is failing you?

Right, except the reality is, the “choice” they offer involves taking your taxpayer money and handing it to someone else with no strings attached, or at the very least, fewer strings than in the public school system. And those strings are important. They help taxpayers make sure their money is being spent wisely. Empower MS wants to cut those strings so you don’t get to see how your money is spent.  The failed policies of charter schools and vouchers have endured so many losses in other states, now the national and international players think they can pull one over on us country folk in Mississippi.

Despite their message of “empowerment” and “choice,” Empower MS has no real success stories to share, so they operate by deceiving voters and by tearing down Mississippi officials who have the audacity to support our own Mississippi schools. They’ve actually hand-picked candidates in some counties (like noteworthy Desoto) for the sole purpose of unseating Mississippi legislators who are friendly to public education.

Here’s a mail-out from Empower PAC to influence the Pearl-area Republican primary between Ray Rogers and Randall Stephens, who has also accepted $23,200 from Empower PAC.


See anything about how terrific Randall Stephens is, or school choice, or “empowering” Mississippians?  Me neither.

Or here: compare these campaign pieces from a Desoto County Republican primary. On the left in each picture, you have the chosen messaging to voters from Empower PAC.  On the right, you find mail-outs from Forrest Hamilton, a Republican conservative Empower MS is trying to get rid of for simply sticking up for Desoto County’s already-successful school system and advocating for small town conservatism.


And they actually want us to think this out-of-state buyout of Mississippi politics is going to “empower” somebody?

I’m not buying it.  And neither should you.

How can you take action?

1. Get informed about your local primary race.

The Parents’ Campaign has a great site for this. They’ve got surveys of all the candidates, voting records, and information to learn more about privatization in education.

If you don’t know the candidates in your race, do a google search for your county’s sample ballot.

2. Look for clues of Empower MS’s influence.

Here’s a list of which candidates they’ve given money to. That’s a great place to look to see where they’ve bought influence.

You’ve also got to listen to your candidates and read their materials. Look for key words like “choice,” “control,” and “failed schools.” They’re smoke screens for an agenda to transfer your tax dollars to the pockets of millionaires.

3. Follow the money.

Follow the money trail, folks, because the influence over Mississippi’s future is being bought and sold right now.

Have a great week! See you at the polls August 4th!



  1. Mike Stewart

    I happen to disagree with you. The Idea of a voucher system was first promoted by Milton Freedman 40 years ago. The rich people already send their children to private schools because they can afford it. The people who mostly benefit from this are the poor and African American people who now have a choice where to send their children. The taxpayer money goes to the school of choice and not to the parents of the child. These schools must perform up to standard or they will lose their funding.
    Also, we all know that competition historically raises the quality and lowers the cost of any product or service. For example, if McDonalds were the only hamburger store allowed in town, they could raise the price, charging what ever they want while giving poor service because the people have no other choice. Take it or leave it. But when competition is allowed to come to town, Wendy’s and Burger King are also competing for business, so they lower their price and give better service to gain more
    business. Guess what, it worked. Then McDonalds also lowered their prices and gives better service to compete with the competition. That my friend is what makes this country work.

    1. jacomans (Post author)

      There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of targeted vouchers to address specific problems and misuse of funding. However, the research is overwhelming that Mississippi’s school systems are woefully underfunded, even using measures of adequacy from conservative lawmaking bodies. The first step in that case is not to assume the existing schools are misusing funds, but to fund them adequately in the first place.

      Then we can talk about vouchers and charter schools.

      The problem is, school choice advocates are well aware that in the years Mississippi DID fully fund the MAEP, the test scores rose, reflecting prosperity in school systems’ abilities to do their jobs.

      1. Chris T

        Mike, the article isn’t saying that the voucher money goes to parents, but points out that it does not go to the local school who, apparently, is already struggling. I do understand wanting to provide the best for your child, and have honestly considered alternate options for my children occasionally. However, providing more activities or a bigger variety of extra-curricular is not why I send my kids to school. I send them for an education.
        If I send one child to a different school using state vouchers, I remove that one student’s annual budget allowance from the school who wasn’t providing things I wanted for my child.
        Although I HATE it when we use business to discuss schools–sorry Republicans, schools are NOT a business, let’s use your McDonald’s metaphor.
        Let’s say that for years you have owned the local “Mom and Pop” hamburger joint. You do the best you can with your six employees and limited hours. Then, McDs moves in next door. They offer more menu items and more employment and longer service hours. Slowly you feel the sting of regulars moving to the franchise giant. How do you respond? You are already leaking money like a faucet so adding items to your menu is no option. Your employees are starting to check out a more “secure” future elsewhere, so longer hours won’t work without exhausting the few loyal employees you have left–which is seriously affecting your ability to provide the friendly, fast service you used to be well-known for. You reluctantly ask for help from the government, because they promised you they would give you “whatever you needed”. They told you they were going to make small businesses like yours their “top priority”, but they swear the money isn’t there. Everyone is having hard times. You shrug it off, and go back to dig in and fight to make it work–and then find out the government that promised to help you gave that money to the franchise that is putting you under!
        Now, what do you do? How do you improve? How do you meet the demands and not go under?
        Our local schools in low income communities ARE struggling. They have tons of ideas. They have a passion for helping all of their students. They want to do all that the bigger schools are doing, they even get trained on programs the other school provide trying to determine how in the world they can make it work with NO budget for it–and sometimes they even pull it off. But once we start sending off our students, we lose budget that’s already significantly less than needed. What do we do? How do we improve? How do we meet the demand and not go under? Taking money away is not the only option.
        And THIS is why we MUST stop looking at schools as business plans. It doesn’t add up. Businesses sell things–products, services. Schools PROVIDE education to its pupils. It isn’t a service that we can live without. It is a necessity if we want to grow our community. Stop taking it for granted. Fund education. Provide more teachers, update facilities, reduce parent-teacher ratios, work out options for after-school tutoring and summer term programs. Don’t buy programs and do not fund another administrator position. Put the funds to work directly with the students. But provide the funds!!! Do not take anything away.

    2. Martin Gonzalez, PhD

      Please read the book the “Shock Doctrine” to find out the truth about how Milton “Friedman’s” economic philosophy really works in the “real world”. The School of Economics at the University of Chicago has left disaster in its wake where its theories were applied. Their theories are not compatible with the needs of my native state of Mississippi. Mississippi needs well funded public schools and not another pretend “separate but equal” situation. Most of the white families are looking to find a way to get their tax dollars moved to support the current private (often religious affiliated) schools that their children and grandchildren attend. Vouchers can work in certain situations, but not in Mississippi with its educational situation.

    3. Number9

      Did you just compare the education system to McDonalds? School choice turns us into consumers whose only interest is our own. Public education has long been a vehicle for justice in this country. If we are forced to seek means to serve our own interests, we will be forced to neglect the interests of our neighbors! What will the millions of kids do who do not have an advocate at home to help them “compete” for a good school? Attend the bad ones? That, my friend, is segregation.

      Hooray! We get to choose. The schools will compete and improve …everybody wins.

      Evisceration of communities, segregation, wider achievement and economic gaps

      Competition for services and products that are not human beings works. Children are not commodities to be competed over. Competition implies there are winners and losers. We just simply cannot have losers in the education system. Now, just so no one goes here to attack me, I’ll include this disclaimer- The system is not perfect and all schools are not performing as well as they should. Also, schools are incredibly underfunded. We need to fix those things. School choice is like putting a bandaid on a bullet wound.

    4. Number9

      AND, back to the McDonald’s analogy:

      This is what competition is doing to the restaurant industry:

      It is SO about money.

      School choice is about money too.

      I do not want my kindergartener to learn at a kiosk. I want her to have a human being who loves her as a teacher.

      Don’t get me wrong, kiosks have their place…at the DMV for instance, but can you see how competition could get to this point with our schools? This is not extremism or dooms-daying. When our schools become about profit, which is where school choice will eventually lead, this WILL happen. It will only lead to profiteering. It is not about people.

      Mississippi is at a critical juncture. This is a defining moment. We have to use the upcoming elections to send the message that we demand people to be above profit for public education.

      My final thought for the night is about how school choice makes a fruit basket turnover of communities. Neighbors won’t attend the same schools. This is happening already to an extent. My next door neighbor’s children attend private schools. Mine will attend public. However, school choice will force this on a much larger scale. Siblings might not even attend the same schools. Schools have been places for forming friendships and relationships in the past. When our kids are attend schools “all over the place,” we will lose those relationships, and relationships are important to citizenship. If corporate America can further weaken communities in this way, they can gain complete control. They can further drive profits into their own pockets and out of the pockets of the other 99%. The connectedness of communities are the only things standing in their way. If they gain any more control, the middle class will completely disappear. Poverty will become more widespread. People will suffer.

      I cannot sit for the suffering of people.

      Let’s please continue to discuss these issues and confront the problems.

      No more sheeple.

    5. Londra Hunter

      The fact that you made an analogy with corporations describing public éducation, lends power to this article. What is the point of charter schools in A-Leval districts like Desoto county? This is à master plot that has a chilling climax of deceit. Education is the only bubble in U.S. economy yet to burst. Corporations want money, not educated Mississippians. Average private school parents in Mississippi are not rich. If so, why pillage public school money? Corporations are pirating already underfunded public schools. Study the system; follow the money.

  2. Bootlegger/Vicksburg motel

    Pearl Mississippi has a GREAT school system and not to worry. What about the school districts in the State of Mississippi that have failed our children miserably? Should these children not have the opportunity to receive the education the Pearl School District offers?

    1. jacomans (Post author)

      Are you suggesting every student in Mississippi emigrate to Pearl? I don’t follow.

      1. Bootlegger/Vicksburg motel

        I am only suggesting charter school option to any child that cannot receive education excellence from the public school system. We were very lucky that both of our children had the quality public school education. No, I am not suggesting every student emigrate to Pearl or our Rankin County schools.
        I am certainly not defending the “Carpetbagger”

        1. jacomans (Post author)

          When we get every public school in Mississippi to “adequate” funding and they still are failing, I wholeheartedly agree with you.

        2. Lynne

          Just keep in mind that in “school choice,” the only one with a choice is the charter school. They decide who gets in and who stays in. SPED students, at-risk students, etc. aren’t likely to get in, and any student allowed in who doesn’t do well academically or behaviorally can be punted right back to the (now even more underfunded) public school. And then we are comparing a school that gets to hand pick students (like a private school) to the public school that has to take every child living in its district. Look at New Orleans and Chicago, where the basic right to an education is now in question for many students who have no public school to attend and cannot get into a charter school. Follow the money because that is what is important to Empower MS and it’s contributors. They are looking to profit off of education, and whether or not tneir work is good for our children or our society is of no consequence to them.

    2. lhp

      Every child deserves to be able to attend a quality school in his/her neighborhood without having to sign up for regimented (inmate) discipline and hyper-extended school days in a charter school.

      Part of the problem is that in the United States, we accept that we have poor children and poor schools. While we will always have schools that serve poor children, there should be no poor schools. All children deserve the same opportunity that students in Pearl, Clinton, Brandon, Madison have. The problem is that the adults don’t make that happen. The facilities and staffs in the poor schools resemble third world conditions here in Mississippi, and apparently, most Mississippians are okay with that as long as their children are safely ensconced in high quality schools themselves.

      As long as the United States accepts that poor children will languish in underfunded, run-down schools with ineffective staffs, we will continue to lag behind countries where the child poverty rate is nowhere near 22% (33% in Mississippi, 66% for Mississippi minority children). Our country is only as strong as our weakest link, and Mississippi is a truly weak link indeed.

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  8. Rev. Kenneth Thrasher

    Legalized discrimination is what this is. It solves the issue of whites who do not want their children to go to school with black children. After all, in the south, that is when many of these “private” schools started: INTEGRATION. That’s why the governor is leaving it up to each individual school which child they will accept. It is not truly school choice for all Mississippians. It is school choice for white Mississippians. If this lie from the pits of hell passes, predominately white private schools will cheer because they will no longer have to worry about tuition being paid. The private schools win, and the poor black child is left out again. Oh! And the only black children will be accepted are the athletes and the few from prestigious black families. Just sit back and watch.

  9. Selah

    What? A Turkish muslim priest????

  10. Selah

    What lurks behind the muslim priest’s agenda???

    1. jacomans (Post author)

      I don’t have the answer to that.

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  14. Lela Powe

    Let me spell this out more.
    For a decade Mississippi gop has underfunded education by hundreds of millions EVERY year. The politicians are salivating at the prospect of charter schools so they can profit personally. Charter schools have been making campaign contributions, lobbying to get their foot in the door. Politicians see the dollar signs in campaign contributions and being able to buy into for profit charters FOR PROFIT.
    I was told by the state that I had to have a college degree in education and pass a test to get a teaching license in order to teach in the public school system.
    Charter schools do not require a college education or teaching license for their “teachers”.
    Charter schools do not have to offer food or transportation or take in special needs children or problematic students.
    Charter schools do not have to meet the standardized tests requirements that public schools do.
    When a parent “chooses” a charter the tax dollars will follow the student. When the parent realizes that the charter is not working better or the charter kicks the child out for whatever reason the tax money stays at the charter school until the end of the school year. Meanwhile, the child returns to the public school that is REQUIRED to take ALL children.
    The public school is now even more underfunded. The classroom size has doubled because the public school had to lay off teachers.
    The state gop says “see?! Public schools are failing! We needed more charters!”
    Systematic sabotage.
    Also, charters can close down, refunds given.
    Nationwide layoffs of teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, librarians, administrators….
    Now the gop has also cut the safety net programs like unemployment, food stamps, affordable insurance and housing… Millions of public school employees out of work with preexisting conditions, mortgages, families…
    There is no win for for the students or the educators or the parents.
    The only ones who profit are the charter companies and politicians who are laughing all the way to the bank because you believed them and allowed them to destroy one of the best things the US has going for it. Tax paid education taught by teachers with education degrees, breakfast, lunch, sports, music, counselors, transportation, special education, libraries, … That have to perform according to standards set up by the state.
    I have already shared articles on how trump’s education appointee, DeVos, sabotaged the Michigan public school system and personally profited to the tune of billions. Please read them.


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