ALEC puts its fangs to education
By Amanda Litvinov / photo by gsbrown99
If you’re a fan of vampire stories—and lately we’re surrounded by them on the big screen, the small screen and in print—then you’re well aware that those bloodsuckers are hard to get rid of. They shape shift. They do their damage in the dark. And just when you think they’re vanquished, they swoop in and attack their next victim.
If you’re an educator, a parent, a student or anyone who cares about public education, you should know that ALEC, the radical conservative lobbying group, is eyeing your throat. The American Legislative Exchange Council has been drawing drams of lifeblood from the public school system for decades, but now that it has disbanded its controversial Public Safety and Elections Task Force (read “More Guns and Fewer Democratic Voters Committee”) it is expected to redouble its efforts to decrease local control of schools by parents and elected school boards, privatize public school jobs, funnel public dollars to private entities, and limit or destroy the collective bargaining rights educators rely on to advocate for students.
So, here are some lessons learned from Buffy and all the other vampire slayers that might help us prepare for battle.
1. The first step in ridding your community of vampires is to reveal their identities. That’s key to defanging ALEC, too.
Working in near secrecy since the 1970s, today ALEC gives nearly 300 powerful corporations access to roughly 2,000 state legislators, who are compensated to attend meetings. At task force meetings, lawmakers and corporate lobbyists sit side-by-side and vote on model legislation that the lawmakers then introduce and push back home. (The next ALEC education task force meeting takes place in Charlotte, N.C., later this month—stay tuned to EdVotes to find out more.) When they’re successful, the end result is laws that put the interests of corporations before those of schools and families.
“We don’t go to the polls to elect corporations and CEOs,” said Arizona middle school teacher Erin Kirchoff. “It’s our job as citizens not only to vote, but to hold the people we put into office accountable.”
Hear educator Erin Kirchoff tell how ALEC undermined public schools in Arizona.
Take Kirchoff’s advice: Find out whether your elected officials have ALEC ties, and if you don’t like what you see, remind them who they represent—you, not corporations. Then spread the word; the more you help colleagues, parents and other voters understand how ALEC operates in the shadows, the less successful the group will be at haunting the halls of our legislatures. (Share this article on your social networks, please!)
2. The best way to stun a vampire is to drag him into the bright light of day. We must do the same with bad education policy.
The Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause and other groups have made great strides in revealing how ALEC operates. On ALECexposed.org, you’ll find a slew of model legislation that until now was accessible only to ALEC members, including a whole section on education policy. Here are a few examples:
- The Virtual Public Schools Act demands that online schools receive the same resources as brick-and-mortar public schools, although they provide only a fraction of the services that traditional schools do. The for-profit companies running these virtual schools could also subsidize students’ home Internet access, creating an incentive for poorer families to opt into such a program. Who is best served by such legislation? Students or the online education companies that helped write this bill?
- The Parental Choice Scholarship Tax Credit Accountability Act. Behind the long name is a simple mission: to find every possible way to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize for-profit schools through vouchers disguised as “scholarships.” This bill specifies that a separate agency should be created to regulate those scholarships if the state’s Department of Education is “hostile” to subsidizing private schools.
3. Remember: Not everyone bitten by a vampire is lost. Likewise, most in the ALEC circle are redeemable.
Sometimes decent people fall in with the wrong crowd, but if they’re saved in time they can go on to do great things. It’s up to us to keep the pressure on lawmakers and corporations known to be supporting ALEC’s nefarious doings, and tell them to use their powers for good!
To date, 34 lawmakers from 12 states have withdrawn their memberships. One of the first was Rep. Mike Colona (R-MO) who said ALEC ”is not the innocuous, bipartisan organization it purports to be…. 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.”
4. Protect yourself! Garlic and holy water won’t work in this case—but arming yourself with knowledge will.
The slew of terrible education policies that crept and crawled through state legislatures after the 2010 elections was no coincidence. It was a coordinated attack that ALEC spent years orchestrating. Check out this excellent primer by University of Wisconsin-Madison professors Julie Underwood, dean of the school of education, and Julie F. Mead for a deeper understanding of how ALEC undermines public education and how companies like virtual education providers Connections Academy and K-12 Inc. have wrangled their way to a pretty sweet deal. Mwahahahaha!
Finally, prepare to wield one of your greatest powers: “Make sure you’re registered to vote,” says teacher Erin Kirchoff. “Do your research, go to the polls, and no matter what party you’re registered with, vote for pro-public education candidates. We need to elect people who will work for children and schools, not against them.”
- Sign up to receive our weekly EdVotes email to keep tabs on ALEC and all the issues that affect public education.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been hard at work for decades. Its members are organized, well-funded and connected–too bad they aren’t using their powers to do what’s right for students and schools. Read More