The Press Herald reports that a national conservative group filed a civil rights complaint against Portland Public Schools (“National conservative group files civil rights complaint against Portland schools,” Jan. 10). Parents Defending Education isn’t parents and certainly not about defending education. It’s an obedient servant of right-wing interests that are working to destroy public education. 

Parents Defending Education’s “complaint does not provide specific examples of any individual who is being excluded from” Portland Public Schools’ BIPOC Community Circle “but references an article linked to on the Portland schools’ website,” according to the Press Herald. WGME-TV (Channel 13) said it was scheduled to interview the organization’s president last week, but she canceled at the last minute.

Parents Defending Education didn’t contact the Portland school district about its complaint. The district learned about it from the media. If you spot a problem and want to solve it, you contact the school district. Instead, Parents Defending Education engineered a hit and run

Legal experts told The Boston Globe, regarding an earlier salvo of Parents Defending Education attacks, that “the complaints likely will go nowhere,” and indeed, it appears none of them have. But they create media attention and promote chaos and disruption; those are the real goals. 

After Parents Defending Education filed a lawsuit (settled on terms favorable to the town) against Wellesley, Massachusetts, the town’s school superintendent told The Globe he received “obscene” and “awful” emails from people connected to the group. Parents Defending Education generated another story, picked up by the online publication Breitbart, misrepresenting how two school principals in Newton, Massachusetts, both persons of color, were handling lessons about the verdicts in the trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and the men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery. The Globe reported that the principals then received “racist and confrontational” messages.  

Too bad Parents Defending Education President Nicole Neily ducked that WGME-TV interview; she has a lot to explain. Neily previously told The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch that “We just all work from home . . . We’re all working moms.” She’s actually a communications and political professional who, according to Parents Defending Education’s publicly available Form 990 tax return for 2021, was paid $195,000 that year. According to SourceWatch, Neily has worked with several entities affiliated with billionaire Charles Koch: the Franklin News Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, the Independent Women’s Forum and Speech First.  


Neily is also a “volunteer instructor” at the Leadership Institute, which handles trainings and conference activities for Moms for Liberty, an organization of anti-LGBTQ and book banning fame. Parents Defending Education is also allied with No Left Turn in Education, whose Maine chapter head has wreaked havoc in the state. 

The Form 990 shows that the moms working from home started up in January 2021 and raised almost $3.2 million that year. Donors Trust, a dark money operation associated with the Koch network, donated more than $20,000. The Achelis & Bodman Foundation which funds voucher and charter school programs and targets public education, contributed $25,000. Searle Freedom Trust, another right-wing donor with ties to Donors Trust, contributed $250,000.

Parents Defending Education paid the elite conservative law firm Consovoy McCarthy $800,000. It paid four consulting firms specializing in fundraising, digital marketing, polling and public relations, another $800,000.  

Raising and spending like that is not a common experience for moms working from home.

Ideologically, these groups believe public schools are harmful and they want to destroy them along with democratically elected school boards and teachers unions. Education will be privatized and profit making will ascend. 

But first Parents Defending Education and its allies have to destroy public education. Don’t let them do it. 

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