Cashing in on Kids: 172 ALEC Education Bills Push Privatization in 2015 | Charter Schools & "Choice": A Closer Look |

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By Brendan Fischer and Zachary Peters, PR Watch


"ALEC's agenda would transform public education from an accountable institution that serves the public into one that serves private, for-profit interests. (Photo: School Money via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

Despite widespread public opposition to the corporate-driven education privatization agenda, at least 172 measures reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bills were introduced in 42 states in 2015, according to an analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of and (A PDF version of this report may be downloaded here.)


One of ALEC's biggest funders is Koch Industries and the Koch brothers' fortune. The Kochs have had a seat at the table - where the private sector votes as equals with legislators - on ALEC's education task force via their "grassroots" group Americans for Prosperity and their Freedom Partners group, which was described as the Kochs' "secret bank."


The Kochs also have a voice on ALEC's Education Task Force through multiple state-based think tanks of the State Policy Network, ALEC's sister organization, which is funded by many of the same corporations and foundations and donor entities.


ALEC's Education Task Force is also funded by the billionaire DeVos family, which bankrolls a privatization operation called "American Federation of Children," and by for-profit corporations like K12 Inc., which was founded by junk-bond king Michael Milliken.


ALEC's education task force has pushed legislation for decades to privatize public schools, weaken teacher's unions, and lower teaching standards.


ALEC's agenda would transform public education from a public and accountable institution that serves the public into one that serves private, for-profit interests. ALEC model bills divert taxpayer money from public to private schools through a variety of "voucher" and "tuition tax credit" programs. They promote unaccountable charter schools and shift power away from democratically elected local school boards."...




..."Other Koch-ALEC Educational Priorities in 2015

Other ALEC-influenced bills introduced in 2015 include legislation to:

  • Promote the creation of taxpayer-subsidized charter schools through the Next Generation Charter Schools Act, introduced in three states - Maryland, Utah, and West Virginia - which exempts charter schools from complying with the legal requirements that govern traditional public schools, such as teacher qualification standards. This legislation also creates an appointed, state-level charter school authorizing board, safeguarding charter schools from local accountability.
  • Shield charter schools from democratic accountability through bills such as The Innovation Schools and School District Act, introduced in three states - Connecticut, Mississippi, and Texas. This legislation removes local accountability by giving state-level officials - rather than elected local school boards - chartering authority for schools that do not follow the legal obligations of public schools, including possibly waiving provisions of teacher collective bargaining agreements.
  • Send taxpayer dollars to unaccountable, for-profit online school providers through the Virtual Schools Act, introduced in five states (Alabama, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Virginia), the Statewide Online Education Act, introduced in three states (Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia), and the Course Choice Program Act, introduced in five states (Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin). These bills promote an education model where a single teacher remotely teaches a "class" of hundreds of isolated students working from home. The low overhead for virtual schools certainly raises company profits, but it is a model few educators think is appropriate for young children. Even the Walton Family Foundation, no friend to public schools, has documented the failure of online schools in 2015.
  • Allow schools to revoke tenure for teachers through the Great Teachers and Leaders Act, introduced in three states - New Mexico, New York, and Oklahoma. This bill allows these schools to let go of teachers, despite seniority or contracted tenure, and purports to base these decisions on "performance," mostly measured through "student growth."
  • Limit teacher tenure through the Career Ladder Opportunities Act, a version of which was enacted in Idaho, which modifies teaching contracts and pay scales to base them upon teaching "performance," potentially demonstrated in part by student test scores.
  • Create mandated curriculum supporting ALEC's rhetoric about "federalism" in the Founding Principles Act, introduced or expanded in six states - Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, New York, South Carolina, and Texas. This bill requires the teaching of a semester-long course on the "philosophical understandings" of America's founders that appears geared toward indoctrinating children with conservative views.
  • Require the government to facilitate and fund sending students to any school in the state through The Open Enrollment Act, introduced or expanded in three states - Arkansas, Florida, and Rhode Island. These "open enrollment" programs are an alternative to voucher programs and have a similar fiscal impact on state education budgets.


Drivers of the School Privatization Agenda in ALEC

Some of the interests funding ALEC and driving the effort to undermine universal public education include:

The Kochs' Americans for Prosperity (AFP) group. AFP has long been a member and funder of ALEC's education committee and has been active in promoting ALEC policies in the states, lobbying in favor of measures like vouchers in Wisconsin and holding rallies in Oklahoma to support the Special Needs Scholarship Act. AFP has also launched "issue ads" to support ALEC modeled school reforms.

Members of the State Policy Network (SPN) are also key drivers of the ALEC agenda in the states. SPN is a network of state-based "mini-Heritage Foundations" that provide academic cover and the appearance of local grassroots support for ALEC policies - even though the groups are working in a coordinated fashion. For example, SPN affiliates like Colorado's Independence Institute, Arizona's Goldwater Institute, Florida's James Madison Institute, and others are part of the ALEC Education Task Force. SPN was created to help ALEC's national agenda look local, as CMD has documented.

K12 Inc., the nation's largest provider of online charter schools, in which low-paid teachers manage as many as 250 students at a time and communicate with their pupils electronically. The corporation, co-founded by famed Wall Street junk bond king Michael Milliken, is on the ALEC Education Task Force and its lobbyist Lisa Gillis has Chaired ALEC's Special Needs Subcommittee. On top of other studies showing that full-time virtual schools are not appropriate for most children, the conservative Walton Family Foundation commissioned a study from Stanford University in 2015 which found that, over the course of a school year, students in virtual charters learned the equivalent of 180 fewer days in math and 72 fewer days in reading than their peers in traditional charter schools, on average.

The 501(c)(4) American Federation for Children and its 501(c)(3) wing the Alliance for School Choice are key drivers of the school privatization agenda in ALEC. The groups were organized and are funded by the billionaire DeVos family (heirs to the Amway fortune); Richard DeVos has received the ALEC "Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award" and Betsy DeVos chairs AFC. AFC's top lobbyist at ALEC is disgraced former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was convicted of three felonies for misuse of his office for political purposes and banned from the state Capitol for five years (though the charges were later reversed and dropped as part of a plea deal).

The Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, one of the top school privatization funders in the country, has spent more than $31 million promoting "school choice" nationwide between 2001 and 2012. For decades, Bradley has also been a major ALEC funder bankrolling ALEC operations and key reports. The foundation has over $800 million in assets and has been headed for many years by Michael Grebe, Governor Scott Walker's longtime campaign co-chair (he is retiring in mid-2016)."...


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