A Rutherford County School Board member with a history of railing against vouchers used public money to travel to Washington, D.C., to warn a U.S. senator about Betsy DeVos.
The trip was late last month, according to records Tennessee Watchdog obtained through a request for Aaron Holladay’s travel expenses.
The trip came about a week before the U.S. Senate confirmed DeVos as education secretary.
She’s an advocate of school vouchers.
An invoice for Holladay’s trip shows he spent $976 in taxpayer money for a four-night stay at D.C.’s Marriott Marquis Hotel, although another bill lists the cost at $1,117. Records also show Holladay spent an additional $695 in taxpayer money to register for a National School Board Association meeting at the hotel that same week.
An itinerary describes the meeting as a forum for school board members and public school advocates to discuss “academically and economically disadvantaged students in traditional K-12 settings.”
“Staying somewhere else would have required additional funds for commuting to the hotel,” James Evans, spokesman for the Rutherford County School System, said when asked whether the school system looked at less expensive places to stay.
Evans said 700 school board members from around the country attended the meeting.
Wayne Blair, a colleague of Holladay’s on the school board, accompanied him. Evans said Blair didn’t use any of the school system’s money during the trip. Blair is president of the Tennessee School Boards Association. No one at the TSBA immediately returned repeated requests for comment.
While in D.C., Holladay and Blair met with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, to learn about a federal education initiative called the Every Student Succeeds Act, which former president Barack Obama signed into law in 2015.
During the meeting, Murfreesboro’s Daily News Journal says, Holladay and Blair warned Alexander about DeVos.
“We wanted to give him an understanding of the backlash the Feds would expect if they took an elitist stance on vouchers,” the paper quoted Holladay as saying.
As Tennessee Watchdog reported in 2015, Blair organized a meeting at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro, where he called upon teachers to get politically active against school vouchers. He did this despite warnings he was breaking Tennessee law by holding a political event on school property.
As captured on video, Tennessee Watchdog tried to cover the event, but the principal ordered our reporter off school grounds.
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