Educational Profiteering as Educational Reform
It’s not too difficult to connect the many dots left across the educational landscape by those who seek to profit from what Bruce Baker calls the ‘reformy movement.’ (Read Dr. Baker’s blog at www.schoolfinance101.wordpress.com) I’ll be writing more about the profiteers in the future, and if you are paying attention to moderate and progressive criticism of the current educational reform movement, you won’t have any trouble seeing the profiteers tucked inside lots of otherwise benign looking covers. One of the least visible but most powerful and, I think, most damaging corporate sponsors of the for-profit grab at public education is the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC.
ALEC’s Threats to Public Education
ALEC has its fingerprints and keyboards all over conservative legislation in almost every state. Many people have written about their influence and funding sources, particularly progressive analysts who are deeply concerned about their ability to promote legislative agendas while hiding their funding sources under non-profit status. The Center for Media and Democracy has a web page called ALEC Exposed on which they provide links to the various ways ALEC is funded, and how they use their influence to promote their very conservative agenda, part of which is outright attacks on public education and support for vouchers and charter schools. The Center for Media and Democracy is progressive, so expect a hard series of negative links on ALEC.
You can Google ALEC and find lots of information—in Wikipedia, for example, you can read of numerous efforts to highlight ALEC’s ability to secretly exert corporate influence across a range of contemporary business, social, environment and educational issues. You will discover reports of a lawsuit to strip ALEC of it’s tax exempt status, newspaper articles about ALEX, a Nation magazine article in 2011–” ALEC Exposed” at http://www.thenation.com/article/161978/alec-exposed# which became the Center for Media and Democracy’s web expose, and more.
ALEC and its Education Task Force
One of its nine task forces is education. The kinds of state legislation ALEX pushes is written by corporations and is intended to further the influence of the education related business that comprise members and funders. The depth of ALEC’s involvement in education wasn’t clear to me until I read an Education Week online reprint of an opinion piece from Phi Delta Kappa International, written by Julie Underwood, Dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Julie Mead, chair of the Educational Leadership and Polity Analysis department at the same university. Underwood is also a former general counsel of the National School Boards Association. You can see the abstract and get a copy of the full article for a small charge here http://www.kappanmagazine.org/content/93/6/51.abstract if you can’t find the March 2012 copy of Phi Delta Kappan magazine.
In “A Smart ALEC Threatens Public Education,” the authors report on the manner in which bills in various states were written by corporations and presented to state legislatures by elected state politicians who are not open about the bills’ authors. They highlight ALEC’s own Report card on American education: “Ranking state K-12 performance, progress, and reform,” a 2010 ALEC publication, as they describe the group’s agenda, which includes decreasing local control of schools, increasing access to education by private entities and corporations, introducing market factors through several anti-union legislative proposals, and legislation to encourage school boards “to outsource their auxiliary services.”
ALEC’s privatization efforts are somewhat better known: They promote vouchers, charters, and tax incentives through legislative language they provide to their state politician members. They also promote more testing and reporting, reduced influence of school boards on charters, virtual schools, and broad support for privatization. With K-12 Inc. a (former) major partner and writer of legislation promoted in Tennessee, for example, the authors show how corporate ALEC partners work to promote themselves through ALEC’s secret connections. They note that the significant expansion of vouchers, tax deductions for private school tuition, and charters in states like Arizona, Indiana, Georgia, Louisiana, and Oklahoma are taken directly from ALEC’s legislative playbook.
Oppostion to ALEC is growing
Some of the corporate partners/members of ALEC with educational for-profit interests have included Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which promotes vouchers and charters; Kaplan, K-12 Inc., Scantron, The News Corp, which is Rupert Murdock’s entree into the educational business through multiple tentacles, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and Reed Elsevier, a multinational publisher. There is a growing awareness of ALEC’s influence in the states, and as the public learns more about the corporations who are funding ALEC, activists have been pushing for corporate disengagement. As of November 2013, 56 corporations or nonprofits have left ALEC, including Kaplan, Scantron, Reed Elsevier, and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, named above. The Gates Foundation once funded ALEC with a grant but is no longer providing financial support. A list of former supporters who have responded to pressure at http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Corporations_that_Have_Cut_Ties_to_ALEC shows that citizen activism has had some effect on corporations who understand that ALEC membership may not be in their public interest.
The more that we who support public education can expose the profit motives of many in the reform movement, the better. I am a capitalist, and I made a good living in education, but I have a sense of honestly and fairness that suggests public education is a uniquely American opportunity that should not be perverted by the profit motive. Schools should remain a public trust, and when profiteers warp reality, distort data, and outright lie about our schools for their own gain, my social studies background and focus on data-driven decision making makes my hackles rise. ALEC triggers an immediate revulsion. To understand the motives of so-called reformers, Follow the money!