ALEC and Friends

December 6, 2012

It should be obvious to anyone interested in education policy that all of the action these days is happening at the level of the states, and that the action is being directed by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, for those who haven’t heard, is the nexus between dozens of large corporations and state legislators. The corporation lobbyists write the bills they want passed and a collection of ALEC task forces hand them over to the ALEC membership—state legislators—who carry them home to be introduced and frequently passed in largely Republican dominated state legislatures.

Why do the legislators carry water for the corporations? I never cease being amazed at how cheaply legislators’ support can be purchased. Junkets to fancy resorts, a few cigars, fine dining, and a chance to rub elbows with Fortune 500 CEOs who someday just might remember the name of a cooperative politician from South Dakota or Alabama.

Bill Moyers’s recent exposé of ALEC and its operations shined some light on operations that almost entirely take place behind doors closed to the public. ALEC’s membership is composed of about 2,000 dues-paying state legislators and a hundred or more large corporations. ALEC’s role in voter suppression efforts in the 2012 presidential election was so repugnant to some corporations that they pulled out of the organization. They earlier saw nothing repugnant in any of ALEC’s main thrusts: privatization of public institutions, tort reform to limit corporate liability, and union busting. Look for some to quietly re-enter ALEC when the dust settles from the election.

ALEC’s impact on state education policy has been considerable. They have focused on online courses and online schools. Their member legislators have dutifully carried back to their home states bills that remove limits to the number of charter schools in a state, that permit charter schools to be entirely online (cyber-charters), and that require a certain number of online courses for any high school student to graduate. These bills are written by lobbyists for Connections (now owned by the publishing conglomerate Pearson) or K12 Inc.

Moyers referred to Arizona as a “wholly owned subsidiary of ALEC.” And indeed it is. This is just another reason why one must look to the desert to see the direction of the nation’s education policy. Arizona has 15% of its Kindergarten through grade 12 public school population in charter schools. It is home to two of the largest cyber-charters in the nation. Of the 90 senators and representatives in the Arizona legislature, more than half (49) are members of ALEC. (This is in contrast to the Colorado legislature where only 15 of its 100 members belong to ALEC.) Two-thirds of the AZ Republican leadership serve on ALEC task forces.

State education policy is being written in the ALEC Education Task Force. Now the title “task force” connotes a small working group that comes together, thinks a problem through, and floats its ideas to a larger body for consideration. How many members of ALEC serve on the Education Task Force? 114 — One-hundred-and-fourteen! Of course, the ALEC task forces are working groups in name only. In reality they are conduits through which corporations funnel their self-serving legislation to states.

The tally of ALEC Education Task Force members by states follows:

California, Washington, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Vermont and about 10 other states have no members on the ALEC Education Task Force. Many states with a heavy presence on the Task Force currently wish to secede from the U.S.

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Education in Two Worlds

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Gene V Glass

Gene V Glass is currently a Senior Researcher at the National Education Policy Center and a Regents' Professor Emeritus from Arizona State University. Trained originally in statistics, his interests broadened to include psychotherapy research, evaluation methodology, and policy analysis. He was...