ALEC clears path for for-profit charter companies to cash in after school closures


by Félix Pérez

Memphis, Tenn., is no stranger to school closures. The Shelby County School District closed four schools in 2012 and 2013 each. And the district, despite a wave of parent- and clergy-led protests and a petition that generated 6,000 signatures, voted last month to close nine schools and combine two others.

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At a recent school board meeting, the Rev. Dwight Ray Montgomery said, “If Dr. King were here today, he’d be standing where I’m standing today, unafraid.”

In Newark, N.J., parents and educators are organized and speaking out against a proposal by the state-appointed superintendent to close or consolidate more than a dozen schools.

Last week, special education teacher Marie Blistan, testifying before the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools, called the plan “misguided, top-down and illegal.”

The proposal “poses a threat to the very notion of universal public education designed to serve every school-age child in New Jersey,” said Blistan, vice president of the New Jersey Education Association.

Whether in Memphis, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, or Chicago, communities hit by school closures bemoan the loss of a longstanding neighborhood asset. Residents say school board members and local elected officials give short shrift to displaced students, many of whom have to walk long distances through dangerous neighborhoods to reach their new schools, some of which have poor records on academics, discipline and safety.

In Chicago, where some 100 schools have been closed since 2001 and 88 percent of the affected students were black, students commute to their new schools through gang areas using “safe passage” routes designated by the police department.

Aside from the less-than-anticipated savings realized by school districts and the likelihood that many students are moved to academically underperforming schools, critics of school closures take issue with the influx of out-of-state for-profit charter school companies that benefit financially from distressed communities and siphon money from underfunded public schools. In many instances, these for-profit schools are not accountable to parents or school boards, have mixed records of academic success, and are exempted from many of the standards and requirements with which public schools must comply.

NJ special education teacher Marie Blistan testifies against Newark plan

The preferential status given to for-profit charter schools can be traced in large measure to the American Legislative Exchange Network (ALEC). ALEC, a corporate bill mill in which politicians let corporations vote on what bills to pass behind closed doors, with no public input, has promulgated several model bills in recent years that carve out special status for-profit charter school corporations at the expense of neighborhood public schools. Examples include:

  • The Virtual Public Schools Act

This “model” legislation states that “virtual” or online schools must be provided equitable treatment and resources as any other public school in the state. These schools would receive state per-pupil funding for each student without having to provide the services provided in traditional brick and mortar schools, including transportation and extracurricular activities. The senior vice president of Connection Academies, owned by British media conglomerate Pearson and one of the nation’s largest providers of online schools and classes, serves as the corporate co-chair of ALEC’s education task force.

  • The Special Needs Scholarship Program Act

This act stipulates that the maximum scholarship granted to an eligible student shall be equivalent to the cost of the educational program that would have been provided for the student in the resident school district, although the participating school is not required to abide by the student’s Individualized Education Plan.

  • The Innovation Schools and School Districts Act

Upon designation of a district of innovation, each innovation school and each innovation school zone in the school district shall be allowed to waive any provisions of a collective bargaining agreement.

  • Next Generation Charter Schools Act

This “model” legislation has taxpayers subsidize “charter” schools, from federal, state and local sources, while exempting these charter schools from complying with any of the legal requirements that govern public schools, such as teacher and principal qualification standards, intramural and extracurricular program requirements, or even construction or safety rules.

  • Parent Trigger Act

ALEC’s “Parent Trigger Act” would allow a small group of parents to close a school for current and future students and turn the school into a charter school or require the state to use taxpayer dollars for vouchers to subsidize private tuition.

  • Education Accountability Act

Under this act, a three-fourths vote of the state legislature or a majority vote of residents within the affected jurisdiction is required to have private schools abide by any regulation pertaining to health, safety, or land use imposed by any county, city, district, or subdivision of the state.

There is growing concern among some states that for-profit charter school companies have a fundamental conflict of interest: Are they more concerned about their stockholders or the education of children? New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Tennessee have banned them from operating schools.

Meanwhile, school closures continue to disrupt communities. “When you close a school, you’re disinvesting in that population,” said Jitu Brown, an organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization in Chicago.

Reader Comments

  1. Public schools belong to We, the People. Demand your elected public officials properly fund the public’s schools.

    Push to repeal lobbyist written ALEC education bills; they are a real threat to the American dream and our democracy. Equal opportunity for all will cease to exist if we don’t demand public education must be strengthened and properly funded.

    Get organized…the power is in We, the People! Stand-up for public education…demand that your elected officials do the same or vote them out of office!

  2. All of the hand-wringing over charter schools is missing a crucial point, that those alternatives wouldn’t be necessary–and so sought after–if people were satisfied that public schools were indeed providing the education expected. But the problems are societal, and public schools must accept everyone, a requirement that charter and like schools do not. Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of funding–public schools must deal with students coming from backgrounds and environments that money to the schools can’t reform. Being able to select and discipline in ways public schools can’t makes s siginificant difference. Unless and until the cultural and societal problems are addressed, the student population public schools face won’t change, the problems will persist, and alternatives will be pursued. Who wants their children in a school replete with behavioral problems, classmates who’d rather be on the street? Before continuiing to bash charter/select/private schools, take the time to personalize: Where would you send your own children if you were faced with a failing public school but had the opportunity to enroll them in an alternative one?

    1. Richard, Your reasoning is absolutely correct. Your failing public school is filled with failing students. These students are failing because there community has failed them. Putting these high risk students into a new venue will not change the outcome. Remember the resources used to create the new ‘backyard’ came from the same education budget. Fix the problem st the source. Tom

    2. I taught in “at risk” schools for 31 out of 41 years. There were many fine kids that went on to become lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, or to own their own businesses. But you never hear those schools or staffs given credit for those successes. But they are always blamed for the failures. Politicians do not believe that students should be expelled, retained, or even disciplined because they do not have to deal with these kids. Parents are not held responsible for their failures but teachers are. Look carefully at the sizes of education classes in colleges. Are they rising? The answer is “no.” So what happens when private schools are asked to take all students? I think we know that answer. In Indiana the former governor and his “less than honorable”(in my opinion) Sec. of Education had the perfect chance to work in any one of many “failing” schools. Did they take that opportunity? Neither one would even consider working under conditions in public schools that they were responsible for having. So stop treating public school teachers with such disdain. Their numbers may be shrinking!!

    3. This post clearly outlines difficulties the public educational system has in providing equal learning opportunities. This poses a real challenge to our country and to individual parents seeking the best learning environment for their children. While our hand-wringing will continue, i hope we don’t wash our hands of the public schools, adding an even higher concentration of problems that will grow and remain as the better students leave. Realistically that is what will happen. Charter schools do not have to accept all students,(they can choose) they are not held to state requirements, but they get state funds. Why should public taxes subsidize these schools. How is that equitable? I want a great education for my children but refuse to send them to a school that does not have to be accountable.

  3. For starters we could stop building palaces for the school administrators. In my small town they built a very expensive building along with a really fancy school building. The high school is building an olympic sized swimming pool. In 2009 they built a 10 unit tennis court. The school adminstrators have bought up many expensive pieces of property two of which were closed auto dealerships. They sell bonds to build these palaces and they are paid off with our taxes which shuold go to educate our children and pay teachers a decent salary.

    When I attended schools in San Francisco in the 1940’s and 1950’s, we were happy with old buildings. After WWII, they started bringing in portable school buildings which were more than adequate. We never complained.

    1. John Best has the right idea. Too much of the money appropriated for schools stays in the administrative level. In the 50’s and 60’s when I attended school, our administrators had cheap metal desks and inexpensive file cabinets. By contrast, the principal of the school where I now teach has expensive mahogany furniture, Oriental rugs, and custom draperies, a computer, printer and copier for his exclusive use, and a costly stereo sound system. Meanwhile, our library has replaced one of two librarians with an untrained clerk. At the system level, such elegant offices are the norm, not the exception, and quite a few drive new cars owned, fueled, and maintained at county expense. Yet some of our math teachers have over 30 students in a single class. No wonder parents refuse higher taxes to fund schools! They can see where the money goes, and it’s not to kids!

  4. ALEC does not want to fix the public school system. They ultimately want education privatized.

    One reason for the privatization is for some of their corporate members like K12 to make more money. Education is a huge business, and think of the value of the real estate.

    But they also want to control what kids learn. Like they still do in repressive countries like North Korea, if they control the news/information people get and control how they look at things, they get control of the country for their extreme right wing agenda to be put into place. The merger of state and industry–fascism.

  5. A must read for everyone, including legislators is “The Reign of Error” by Diane Ravitch. She explains very clearly why public education is so important and how “reformers” pushing charter schools and vouchers are so dangerous!

  6. These actions are typical of the move to privatize the public school system of America. It is part of the trash teachers and starve public schools plan by ALEC. MSDinnen, retired 35 year public school teacher

  7. All schools should be required to follow the same guidelines, not just public schools. Charter schools should also need to follow all government regulations same as public schools; otherwise where is the equity and the accountability for those children’s education and guarantee of a free public vacation that is equitable for all regardless of income level or location.
    Shame on those who are pushing these types of legislation. Is greed the only thing that motivates this country?

  8. I believe in public schools. Closing them and/or giving preferential treatment to charter schools is not the solution. ALL children deserve a fair education and not want tainted by political agenda or profiteering. If a public school is failing then fix it. It is easy to do. Step 1 Hire MORE teachers so pupil/teacher ratio comes down and each child can get the attention they need. Step 2. Hire MORE teachers for ESL and Title 1 – a child will act out if they either don’t understand due to second language or because they have an unsupportive and often terrible home life. 3. Hire MORE teachers that are trained in behavior management to help children figure out better ways to respond to challenging situations.

    1. Your solution only fixes half the problem many school districts that are facing closures would love to hire more teachers and they see that they are not adequately staffed for all the needs of their students, however the BIG issue is funding! Where do they get the money to stay open?

      1. If you stop feeding funds to the corporate reform monster of High Stakes Testing, high cost data bases,unnecessary one to one technology which is unreliable anyway, and hefty administrative payroll there is PLENTY of money to fund more teachers.

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