By Amanda Litvinov / photo by neptunecanada
If a children’s book were written about ALEC, the group that bills itself as an association of conservative lawmakers and supporters, it might be called “The Very Greedy Octopus.” It would read like one of those creepy 19th-century fairly tales that most parents would never, ever read to their young ones—it’s just too scary.
For nearly four decades, the American Legislative Exchange Council has been working in the shadowy deep to rewrite the nation’s laws in favor of the wealthiest corporations and CEOs, no matter the loss to working families, communities of color, the environment or public education. One sad chapter in the book would tell how that sneaky, selfish octopus saw a school of fish and thought, “Hey, these schools are everywhere—how can I cash in?”
That’s right: ALEC has made it a top priority to fundamentally change the nation’s public school system, not only to divert taxpayer dollars to money-making ventures, but also to squeeze the life out of the unions that protect educators’ ability to advocate for students. Education-focused ALEC bills are tailored state to state, but many push to:
- Privatize education through charter schools, voucher programs and tax incentives, obscuring these programs’ true purpose with positive names like “parent choice” and “innovation schools”
- Clear the way for online (often for-profit) at-home schooling options that benefit corporations, not students
- Reduce local control of schools by school boards and parents, and increase the influence of the private sector
- Use “marketplace standards” to evaluate educators and students, which means more standardized testing and reporting
- Obliterate the unions that help keep our tax dollars working for students and schools
Trampling public education is just part of the story of ALEC—it has lots of other arms out there, and one has a chokehold on voters’ rights. The group’s efforts to disenfranchise those most likely to vote ALEC members out of office through laws meant to confuse and disqualify them on Election Day are well documented.
But this greedy octopus might finally have reached too far. After exercising unprecedented influence in the 2010 midterm elections, ALEC coordinated an attack of shocking anti-collective bargaining bills across the country. The eventual results were a public uprising and new scrutiny. In Wisconsin, 1.9 million people signed petitions that put Gov. Scott Walker on notice: He faces a recall election this June. In Ohio, a citizen veto overturned the part of SB 5 that would have stripped public employees of collective bargaining rights. The backlash prompted other lawmakers to back off of some of their worst anti-worker proposals, and spurred new efforts to reveal ALEC’s involvement.
Broad public awareness of ALEC multiplied exponentially when it was revealed that the group is behind the “Stand Your Ground” gun law meant to protect the man who shot unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in February. Intense media coverage and anti-ALEC petition campaigns have flourished since the incident.
Over the past week, some of ALEC’s powerful corporate members (Kraft, Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds and Intuit) have pulled out of the group. You can sign onto a petition asking more corporate members—who pay up to $25,000 each year in dues, providing nearly all of ALEC’s $7 million annual budget—to stop supporting ALEC’s destructive agenda.
And now some legislators are breaking those ties, too. Yesterday Rep. Mike Colona (R-MO) said in a statement that ALEC “is not the innocuous, bipartisan organization it purports to be. Their agenda is radical and wrong for Missouri. I was a member and saw firsthand the sort of extreme legislation they push on state legislators around the country. I disagree with ALEC’s extremist agenda and encourage my colleagues in the Missouri General Assembly to end their affiliations with the group.”
Keeping the spotlight on ALEC’s power grabs is an important step in loosening its grip. The Center for Media and Democracy offers tools on its truth-seeking website, alecexposed.org, that everyone can use to better understand how ALEC operates and to track ALEC-sponsored bills in their state.
You can co-author the ending to this story: Help us make sure the Very Greedy Octopus gets his comeuppance!
- Sign our petition asking lawmakers to close the very corporate tax loopholes that groups like ALEC have worked so hard to create.
- Go to alecexposed.org to see whether your state legislators are members; if so, pressure them to resign their memberships. (Remember, access to lawmakers is what keeps corporations involved.)
- Forward articles about ALEC, and share them on your social media networks to help expose how ALEC wields power over public schools and the middle class.
Sign up for our weekly EdVotes email, to keep an eye on ALEC and get other major news on politics and public education.