ALEC policies threaten to leave more students in poverty


by Brian Washington/image courtesy of World Bank Photo

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Almost half of all students who attend public schools—48 percent—reside in low income households, with an alarming number living at or below the poverty line. Some of those students are in Tracey Pratt’s class in the Cambridge Public School District in Massachusetts, where she says students coming from impoverished homes are usually at a deficit before they even enter the classroom, which makes learning difficult.

“The students don’t have the same level of preparation for school,” said Pratt, a sixth grade math teacher, who says students from low-income families, as compared to those from wealthier homes, are entering Pre-K and kindergarten at a disadvantage and have a hard time catching up. “Their parents don’t have the same money or same resources as other families—whether it’s being able to pay for a tutor for a child that needs support or having enough free time available to help a student access services that are at school.”

MA educator Tracey Pratt
MA educator Tracey Pratt

However, according to a new report, the poverty rates for Cambridge public school students—which stands at 45 percent (as measured by the amount receiving free and reduced price lunch)—and those across the nation could get much worse, thanks to a concerted, national effort by the most powerful political lobbies in the country to reduce the wages, benefits, and rights of working people. The report shows that the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC, is using its members, conservative state lawmakers and the business lobby, to get state legislatures across the nation to approve laws in favor of the rich, multi-national corporations, and fat-cat CEOs.

Gordon Lafer, a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which released the report on Thursday, points out that ALEC, which has led the attack on teachers, police officers, nurses, and other public employees and their unions in states like Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, calls itself the “champion” of hardworking taxpayers and non-union private workers. However, Lafer warns, don’t be fooled.

“They advocate abolishing the minimum wage, making food stamps and unemployment insurance something that you have to work off at minimum wage or work for free if there is no minimum wage,” said Lafer. “The people who are affected by these things are the vast majority of American workers who don’t have a union.”

If ALEC’s concerted effort to get anti-worker laws approved through state legislatures across the country is successful, more families will be forced into poverty—which will ultimately mean more children in poverty and more students facing an uphill battle in the classroom.

“Yes, I don’t think there is any question about that,” said Lafer. “All of these things, as well as the attacks on unions, are things which will drive up poverty.”

Lafer image
EPI Research Associate Gordon Lafer (third in from the left) discusses his finding in a new report about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Some of the reports key findings highlight several instances where ALEC has triumphed over American workers and the middle class and include the following:

  • Four states have passed laws restricting the minimum wage;
  • Four states have lifted restrictions on child labor; and
  • Sixteen states have imposed new limits on benefits for the unemployed.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers in legislatures nationwide are considering ALEC-backed bills that, if approved, would accomplish the following:

  • Strip workers of overtime rights;
  • Repeal or restrict rights to sick leave;
  • Undermine workplace safety protections;
  • Make it harder to sue employers for race or sex discrimination;
  • Make it harder for employees to recover unpaid wages; and
  • Ban local cities and counties from establishing minimum wages or rights to sick leave.

At the same time it’s pushing legislation to undermine the economic stability of hardworking taxpayers, ALEC and its allies—including big corporations looking to turn a profit on the backs of public school students and chambers of commerce in several states—are doing all they can to close the door on one of the most viable options to climb out of economic despair—a quality public education.


ALEC is driving many of the flawed K-12 polices that rob public schools of valuable funding and strip educators of their voice to advocate for and teach what is best for students. These policies include plans to enact voucher schemes that siphon off public funding for private schools, for-profit charters, the parent trigger, and proposals to link high-stakes student testing to teacher salaries.

According to Lafer, these groups say they’re interested in helping poor and urban students but nothing could be further from the truth.

When you look at the things that impact educational performance, one of the strongest things, by far, when you look at statistical studies, is poverty,” said Lafer. “And so (for ALEC) to be pushing education reform and saying they’re for solving the education gap while advancing these policies that will make poverty worse is totally hypocritical or incompatible.

Meanwhile, the threat of more children entering poverty leaves Pratt concerned about the future of her students and the struggles that lie ahead for them.

“Every child wants to do well in school, and every parent wants their child to do well,” said Pratt. “But if you go home and there’s no food in the house or not enough to eat, that is going to prevent you from doing your best in the classroom and will ultimately put your level education in jeopardy.”

Sign our petition and take a stand against ALEC and the big corporations trying to undermine our students and their families.

Reader Comments

  1. When did our country abandon social responsibility for greed? I have been teaching in inner-city schools for years , but it is getting more and more difficult to do my job. My current class is dealing with the rise in violence due to the financial stresses, 22% are homeless, and others are suffering the consequences of their parents poor decisions. I can’t understand how the ALEC supporters can blame 5-year-olds for their position in life! Although I will never give up my mission to give my students a chance for a better future, I would love to have at least one night of sleep without worrying about them!

  2. The Koch Brothers are not trying to destroy the middle class. That is the wrong way to approach their actions. Look at what they are supporting; restricting minimum wages, lift restrictiopns on child labor, limit unemployment benefits, no overtime rights, restrict sick leave, underming work place saftey rules, restrict abiltyu to sue for sex discrimination, restrict ability to recoup unpaid wages, and get municipalities to restrict minimum wage and right to sick leave. All mentioned in the article. These are business decisions to improve the bottom line also known as increasing profits. The effects are what they would call unintended consequences. All they want to do is increase their profits. The society that assents to those action items is antibusiness therefore that society must be constrained from implementing such actions. It is of no consequence that people will be affected. If you don’t like the working conditions go someplace else. There are more standing in line to get your job.

    It is your viewpoint that these actions are for the good of the worker that is wrong. All the worker is there for is to produce something that will increase the profit of the owner. The worker does not need these things because it takes from the owner and therefore it is wrong to allow such in the workplace. We must remember the owner is more important than the worker.

    When we understand this truth we will be better off as were the Russian serfs until the late 19th century. Why should the owners have any other opinion? The rise of the middle class only took from the owners. It produced nothing of its own other than more takers. This must be stopped because it offends the owners.

    1. You need to take courses in Russian history. The Russian peasants were never well off not even before the 19th century.

    2. It would be interesting to see how much productivity the “owners” would have without the workers. This total misses the point that we are all interdependent and need to give respect and justice to all. Fair wages, fair compensation for extra work, social support for when we have personal tragedies.

    3. You sound like a typical Republican. Attitudes like yours are the reason that big business must be controlled so that the workers receive some decent fruits of their labors. People are not for using. Jesus turned over the tables of the Pharisees in the temple courtyard because they were abusing the working people. Capitalism is not, in itself, bad. However, getting rich because you are not treating others fairly is unbiblical and just plain wrong. Businesses should be required to provide fair pay for work and not treat workers as though they are slaves just because there are limited choices in where they can work.

  3. The goal of ALEC and what I would call the right wing is to continue to dummy down the populace, increase poverty and strife, make education a for profit “Industry”, and make empty promises of “tax cuts” which the “sheeples” love to drool over. When you have a large part of the electorate believing such promises of prosperity through corporate tax cuts and loopholes because they are linked on a platform with issues such as abortion, sexual orientation and gun control you end up how where are now.

    1. Of course. They see all that tax money available for the taking and so they determine to get it by providing an inferior product that costs less. That is why the charter and voucher schools do not hire real teachers, who would demand their rights and cost more and also why they avoid taking special needs students.

  4. The present democratic education policies go right along with this! Neither side is doing students any favors. They all mostly send their children to private schools – much smaller class sizes. Anyone who says that doesn’t make a difference has no idea what they are talking about. Their agenda is not the same as the general public and it should be very obvious by now: no child left behind was bad enough; the new system just takes it to the next impossible level. If the present regime cared they would at least deal with class size – 50 to 60 students in a class is not right and it’s been going on too long.

  5. Let’s face it – the goal of ALEC is to strip public schools of funding. Mind you,they keep enacting numerous unfunded mandates & expect educators to work miracles & make all students, no matter what their life experience achieve at the same rate & level. Not possible. Learning cannot be forced & malnourished brains & bodies make it very difficult to catch up in the classroom. These are human beings, not widgets or human doings. Poverty brings with it a whole host of emotional, mental & physical ills. And if those are not addressed first & foremost, learning takes a back seat. Let’s talk Maslow’s hierarchy. Let’s talk about the fact that emotion drives attention & attention drives learning. If you have kids who are sick, depressed, anxious, have toothaches & no dental care, they cannot focus to learn. As educators, that makes our jobs even more difficult. I know, I am a school counselor & can’t keep up with all of the kids with mental health issues due to more & more families in crisis. These kids are merely trying to survive day to day life. Homework takes a backseat. ALEC needs to get real & come off of their high and mighty high horses & get in the trenches with us. We are no the enemy.

    Further, when ALEC members want to take away union workers rights & not allow them to collect union dues, they lose bargaining power & political power. We are the enemy according to them. Yet, they can continue to spend millions lining the pockets of their political cronies w/agendas that harm children, families & working class individuals. They want to keep us poor & dependent on them. Worse yet, they want public schools to fail to prove they were right & then they can move toward privatization of public schools which will further benefit their corporate friends & political cronies.

    We unfortunately have come to a time in America where we have the haves & have nots. There are little if any middle class Americans left. Those who have the money have the power & they are predominantly older white male politicians, lawyers & judges who make all the rules & enact the laws, even though we vote against things like taking away union rights. We vote it down, but they who have the power & money backing them, just write new bills to override what we voted & voiced our opinions on. Our votes mean little if anything anymore.

    I don’t know what the answer is anymore, but educators & public workers are not the enemy. As for myself, I will continue to help children in crisis & do what I can to comfort them & help their families cope with their new normal lives in America, a country where we are barely free & fighting as best we can to remain brave amidst a harsh & politically corrupt environment on both sides of the fence. Too bad that grown men who make decisions for our country can’t compromise for the good of everyone. We are supposed to teach our children how to compromise, resolve conflict, not bully others & live with integrity & honesty, yet the example they have in our country’s highest office can’t even do that. They are a poor example & in my opinion some of the biggest bullies in the land today. Shame on them.

    1. You can’t blame just ALEC now. They didn’t make the new rules; Dems did. They’re in this together. We will wake up too late to this, especially people who are blaming only one party.

    2. Also, most people in education are still thinking the politicians on both sides want you to do your job. Stand back & take a look. They don’t care. The agenda is for you not to be able to do it. They are well aware of the problems. They created those, too.

  6. The catch is, once families are pushed into poverty, they become the poor, and Americans condemn the poor. Poverty usually breaks up families, and single-parent families in poverty are dealt with contemptuously. Since they’re no long middle classers, we write them off as being deserving of hardships.

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