By Amanda Litvinov
As its inner workings have been revealed over the past few months, one thing is clear about the American Legislative Exchange Council, the radical conservative “bill mill” that gives powerful corporations access to lawmakers: The group makes no apologies for putting the needs of Corporate America, and the wealthy citizens it comprises, before those of middle class America.
The same could be said of presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Earlier this week, Romney finally got around to introducing some details of his education policy —and much of what he said might as well have been churned out at a meeting of ALEC’s education task force.
Here are top priorities they share:
- Promote a nationwide voucher program. Funneling public funds to private schools and for-profit charters through voucher schemes has been an ALEC priority for decades—and they’ve been successful in states like Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia to name only a few. In his education policy speech, Romney said that if he were president, federal education funds would be linked to students, with parents deciding where their child goes to school, be it a public, charter or private school.
- Eliminate teacher certification requirements. ALEC’s Alternative Certification Act asserts that any professional can teach K-12 classes with virtually no preparation, and it’s a theme woven into its other education bills. Romney similarly believes there is too much “unnecessary certification” getting in the way of professionals from other fields might want to give the teaching thing a go.
- Make it more difficult for middle class families to afford higher education. Their tactics may differ, but the result would be the same: More and more, college would become a luxury of the upper class. Romney would repeal the law signed by President Obama that eliminates banks as middle men on federally guaranteed student loans and uses those savings to increase Pell Grants, strengthen community colleges and make it easier for students to repay their federal student loans. (Romney revealed his lack of perspective on college affordability earlier on the campaign trail, suggesting that borrowing money from parents or attending outrageously priced for-profit colleges might be solutions for those who cannot easily afford higher education.)
ALEC has generated model legislation that would give tax breaks to families wealthy enough to have college savings accounts—which many middle class families cannot afford. Other model bills would direct public funds to private universities through higher education vouchers.
- Upend educator unions. Union busting is high on ALEC’s overall agenda (a favorite topic of conversation at its economic task force meetings), and language attempting to limit educator unions’ ability to negotiate crops up in several K-12 education bills. Romney, meanwhile, says standing up to organized labor and taking so-called “right to work law” national is a day-one priority.
So what’s it like for educators when top decision makers sign off on anti-public education legislation? Just ask a teacher from a state where ALEC-friendly lawmakers and governors have already had their way.
“Wisconsin has been slowly going private for years,” says Milwaukee kindergarten teacher Tiffanie Lawson. “And these for-profit charters are not held to the same standards that we are–we’re talking about teachers who don’t have teaching degrees. We’ve seen so much corruption with money going to the choice and charter schools that should be going to the public schools.” (Read more about ALEC’s shocking degree of influence in Wisconsin in the Center for Media and Democracy’s recently released “Wisconsin: The Hijacking of a State.”)
“We see students who leave our schools to go to these charters come back to us,” said Lawson, “because they realize they’re not getting the education they deserve and that the public schools offer what they need: the support, the services. And we need the resources to keep all of that going for our kids.”