by Brian Washington
When the Indianapolis Indians, the city’s Minor League baseball team, plays its game at Victory Field tomorrow, players will see a bunch of people in the stands taking part in a celebration of public schools by wearing bright red shirts that read across the front, “#ProtectPublicEd”.
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The shirts are designed to be noticed—which is also what teachers and education support professionals want state residents to do this week in regards to a meeting that’s underway at the downtown J.W. Marriott. That’s where the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is hosting state politicians from across the country at its closed and secretive annual meeting.
What you need to know about ALEC
ALEC is all about “pay-to-play.” It wines and dines politicians who belong to ALEC with meals, trips, and other junkets and then sends them home with copies of bills they’ve agreed to push through their state legislatures.
Keep in mind, these bills, which ultimately become law, are not designed to benefit students, educators, or middle-class families. Instead, these politicians betray the voters and working Americans who make up their districts to create laws that benefit the conservative, wealthy donors and corporations who make up ALEC’s membership.
ALEC’s actions have caused many to take a closer look at how it operates and now you can add the U.S. Department of Defense to that list. The DoD is looking at an event the group wants to hold Saturday at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh and whether it’s appropriate for the base to be used by ALEC.
ALEC’s “Indiana Package”
“We just happen to have so much of their (ALEC’s) legislation that has passed here that it does not surprise me at all that they would find a meeting place in Indianapolis,” said Valerie Doud, a high school science teacher who’s attending Friday’s celebration at Victory field. “The ALEC package of bills that passed here has taken so much funding away from our public schools.”
In 2011, then-Governor Mitch Daniels signed into law a number of so-called ALEC education reform bills that many now refer to as the “Indiana Package.” Among other things, these new laws created a voucher program, the largest in the nation at that time, which drained hundreds of millions away from public education students and allowed taxpayer dollars to be used at private schools.
The program was expanded later under the state’s current Governor, Mike Pence, who is now on the GOP’s presidential ticket as Donald Trump’s vice-presidential running mate.
“He (Pence) carried on the torch,” said Dee Emmons, a high school English teacher in Howard County, who says state lawmakers and Pence amended the program so that now more students qualify to get a voucher—even those belonging to families already paying to send their kids to expensive private schools. “And in Indiana, our vouchers can be used at private religious schools as well.”
Pence also made it possible for private companies to rake in millions of taxpayer dollars to run corporate charter schools, another staple of ALEC’s education reform agenda. ALEC charters are not accountable or transparent to students, parents, or the general public.
For those living outside the state of Indiana, you’ll recall that Pence also drew national criticism recently for backing and signing into law legislation that made it legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians. He’s scheduled to speak at ALEC’s meeting on Friday.
ALEC “reforms” hurt students, public education
Last year, the Indiana Education Department released data showing that during the 2013-2014 school year the state’s ALEC-backed voucher scheme had syphoned away more than $45 million from public schools in the top ten districts hardest hit by the program. And educators say, unfortunately, students are paying the cost.
“They (students) have seen an increase in class sizes,” said Doud. “They have seen fewer options for classes that are offered that might cost extra funding for technology and things like that.”
“They have also seen a decrease in funding for transportation. So some students find it difficult because they have to ride the buses longer.”
The data also showed that 51% of those students using vouchers during the 2013-14 school year had never attended a public school and voucher use among African-American and Hispanic students, the program’s target audience, was on the decline.
Educators standing against ALEC
This week, educators are joining forces with parents, labor leaders, and other pro-public education activists to turn up the heat on ALEC. Yesterday, they held a rally on the lawn of the State Museum, where hundreds of people listened to several speakers and then marched to ALEC’s meeting place at the Marriott.
Meanwhile, in addition to tomorrow’s public school celebration at Victory field, today there’s a Twitter storm to raise awareness about ALEC and its destructive agenda via social media. Those who want to participate and show support for students, educators, and public schools are asked to use the hashtag #ProtectPublicEd.
When all is said and done, Doud and Emmons hope this mini-campaign will do more than capture the public’s attention.
“My hope is that it peaks their interest enough to do a little more research and ask some questions,” said Emmons. “My hope is that at some point our voter base will have enough knowledge to turn these (ALEC) legislators out of our State House and get some people in who will pass legislation to protect our children and public schools.”
“The key for me is to help peel away that cloak of mystery, that secretiveness, that has allowed ALEC to get away with a lot of things,” said Doud. “Instead, I want people to see them for what they really and truly are and what they believe—that our public schools should be run for profit.”