Tag Archives: ALEC

ALEC and Indiana’s Voucher Program

A friend recently sent me a rather eye-opening article by three Ball State University researchers. It appeared in an academic journal aimed at school superintendents: The AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice. (No link available.)

The title was provocative: Hoosier Lawmaker? Vouchers, ALEC Legislative Puppets, and Indiana’s Abdication of Democracy. Few scholarly articles have titles quite that…combative, but the data was compelling (and the four pages of references were impressive).

Indiana has the nation’s largest voucher program, a result the article attributes to the excessive influence of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) in the state. ALEC is a corporate lobbying organization, and its educational task forces are funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, the DeVos Foundation, the Friedman Foundation, Koch Industries, Sylvan Learning and several others; it’s fair to say–as the authors do– that the intensely ideological organization believes “competition is the only legitimate organizing principle for human activity.”

Some 25% of Indiana legislators are members of ALEC, which has been “a legislative force working silently behind the scenes in the Indiana Statehouse.”

The article traces the growth of Indiana’s school voucher program through its abandonment of initial enrollment caps, and the jettisoning of the early rule that children would not be eligible for vouchers unless they’d attended a public school for at least one year. Today, 55% of children using vouchers never attended a public school, and children who enroll in private preschools that accept vouchers are “automatically enrolled” in Indiana’s “choice scholarship” program.

The program is no longer limited to poor children, either: 31% of voucher families could afford private school tuition without state subsidies.

State support for vouchers in 2016-2017 totaled 146.1 million dollars. Between 2011 and 2017, Indiana has spent 520 million dollars on vouchers–and those are dollars that would otherwise have supported public schools. (To add insult to injury, the General Assembly has not required financial reporting by voucher schools–although public schools must disclose their finances.)

In the U.S., 80% of children in private schools are in religious schools; in Indiana, that number is 98%.

So much for the law and the money and the overwhelming influence of ALEC and religion: how are voucher schools performing?

Not very well.

Research shows “persistent, statistically-significant negative impacts” in math, and no improvement over public schools in reading. According to the report, almost 25% of these schools earned F grades from the state in 2015-16, compared to 5% of public schools ; every single online school got an F.

Then there’s segregation. Indiana’s voucher program has “become increasingly affluent and white,” which shouldn’t surprise us, since these schools “set their own admission standards and can reject students for any reason.”

There is much more–none of it reassuring.

Indiana’s voucher program is driven by the libertarian ideology of ALEC and the religious zealotry of Mike Pence and (later) Betsy DeVos–not by considered policymaking by school boards elected to make those policies. The program is draining resources from  schools that serve all children, and redirecting those resources to religious institutions that may or may not be teaching real science and accurate American history.

My biggest problem with these programs is in their underlying assumption that education is just another consumer good–a set of skills to make one’s child competitive in the marketplace. Certainly, schools should provide those skills, but in the U.S., public education is also, in Benjamin Barber’s felicitous phrase, “constitutive of a public.” It is an essential element of democracy, especially in a country as diverse as ours.

Our democratic institutions and norms are currently under unprecedented attack from a feckless Congress and a lunatic in the White House–this is no time to shortchange the public schools, no time to abandon e pluribus unum for profit-making ventures offering tribal truths and substandard educations.

ALEC’s Little Brother

Most readers of this blog know about ALEC–the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is an arm of corporate America, and writes “model” legislation for lazy legislators (most of them beholden to those corporations for sizable campaign contributions) to introduce as their own. Once ALEC began to receive a good deal of public scrutiny, it began to bleed members, but it is by no means incapacitated.

Now, ALEC has a municipal-level sibling. 

American City County Exchange (ACCE) was spawned by ALEC in 2014 to spread ALEC’s ideas about “limited government, free markets, and federalism” down to the most local levels of government.

The linked report, from the Mayor of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, describes what he learned about the organization from a meeting he attended:

ALEC leaders intend to hire a membership/fundraising director and researcher in 2017 and make ACCE a profit center by 2018. This, presenters said, will require ACCE to solidify relationships with traditional allies, such as the bail-bond and telecommunications industries. ACCE must also find new allies, including those who would privatize historically municipal services, often by adding technology that is easily replicated but new to municipal clients.

For example, we heard presentations from “smart cities” vendors selling information and communications technology at the meeting, in a sales pitch format called a “workshop” by ALEC.

The priorities of ACCE, as one might expect, mirror those of ALEC: privatization of government functions, evisceration of public unions…the group is evidently working hard to expand both its membership and the number of corporate sponsors, but it is already cranking out cookie-cutter “model” ordinances intended to move local governments toward their goals.

Sometimes, just keeping track of the corporatists and crony capitalists is exhausting.

 

True Colors

Can you stand one more post about Mike Pence?

Yesterday, a friend shared an email she received from our former Indiana Governor and current Trump toady/VP candidate.

The fundraising plea came as Pence spoke to ALEC, telling the corporate interest group that “I was for ALEC before it was cool!” (Ahem–breaking news, Mike: it still isn’t cool.) ALEC has been behind state-level voter ID measures, draconian immigration-enforcement laws and “Stand Your Ground” legislation–not to mention an anti-environmental agenda centered upon denial of climate change and support of fossil fuels. Those positions have prompted a number of  companies–including Google, AOL, Yahoo, Yelp, eBay, BP and Facebook–to leave the organization.

Pence has always had close ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers. Other positions he has taken since joining the Trump ticket, however, represent a dramatic change from previous postures. For example, Mr. Conspicuous Piety seems positively eager to support a twice-divorced, foul-mouthed, belligerent buffoon who models behaviors inconsistent with both the culture-war positions for which the Governor was previously known and the civility he actually practiced.

(Speaking of civility: For sheer chutzpah, its hard to top Pence’s recent criticism of Democrats for “name calling.” Psychiatrists have a word for that: projection.)

What really sent me over the edge, however, was the text of the fundraising email shared by my friend.

Friend,

I can’t wait until we have an America we can both be proud of again.

When we have a President who looks out for Americans first.

A President who rips up trade deals that kill American jobs. A President that builds a wall and places our National Security first. A President who will Make America Great Again!

I can’t wait until we have a leader like Donald Trump as our next President.

If you can’t wait either, then I need you to donate today so we can make that happen.

In fact, Donald Trump told me that up until Sunday, he is going to personally match your donation dollar-for-dollar, up to $1 million.

So friend, if you are like me and you can’t wait until we have a President who puts America first, then let’s work together to take our country back today.

Since this plea was written in a foreign language–Lapdog–I hope you’ll permit me to translate.

Friend,

I know I used to be a proponent of free trade, but I’m carrying water for Donald Trump these days, so now I’m all for ripping up trade deals. I’m flexible.

I know I’ve spent years  preaching American exceptionalism, but Donald says America is weak and in terrible shape, so I am obediently parroting that line, too.

On the important issues, after all, Donald and I have long agreed.

Donald and I agree that we need to Make America Great Again because a President who is African-American could not possibly put America first. We need a President more like Putin. Strong.

Donald and I also totally agree that we need to take the country back from the minorities and immigrants and uppity women who are ruining it. We need to return to the good old days, when just being a straight white guy entitled you to run things, and those “others” knew their place.

And I hope you noticed my reference to Donald’s money. That’s the proof that he is qualified to be President. (And don’t go drawing negative conclusions from his refusal to make his tax returns public. If he says you don’t need to see those returns, then you don’t need to see them.) Being a rich white guy is how he knows he’s superior to everyone else, and entitled to be President, even though he is admittedly a monumental, delusional ignoramus.

One thing Hoosiers have learned since Donald Trump swooped in and saved Mike Pence from looming electoral defeat: these two truly deserve each other.

Maybe We SHOULD Run Government Like These Businesses…

Political Animal had an interesting item a few days ago, pointing out that American businesses are increasingly uncomfortable with the supposedly “business-friendly” strategies being pursued by the GOP.

It isn’t just business’ pushback against retrograde anti-LGBT measures, either; recently, 51 New York millionaires asked Governor Cuomo to raise their taxes, and there has been a mass exodus of large corporations from ALEC–mainly as a response to that organization’s denial of the reality of climate change.

Most recently, several corporations have expressed concern about participation in this year’s GOP convention–at least, if Trump looks likely to be the nominee.

The discomfort of savvy businesses with the increasingly radical positions espoused by Republican officeholders has led President Obama to pursue an interesting strategy:

When President Obama initiated his “pen and phone” strategy, a big part of the effort was aimed at convincing the private sector to do what Congress refused to tackle: raise the minimum wage, embrace paid family leave, hire veterans, ban the box, implement policies that mitigate climate change, expand access to broad band, etc. The President’s recent trip to South by Southwest was a call for engagement of the tech industry in addressing challenges like improving access to voting and countering ISIS recruitment strategies online. Interestingly enough, he’s had more success with these efforts than he has with Republican legislators.

If these trends continue, we may finally be seeing what some in the punditry have long been predicting– collapse of the never-comfortable alliance between the pro-market, pro- business, “country club” Republicans who are generally fiscally conservative and socially moderate (or even socially liberal), and the Religious Right extremists who have come to account for so large a portion of the GOP base.

The 2016 election may be the last for the GOP in its current iteration. We can only hope that–once the smoke clears–America ends up with a responsible, adult center-right party that can engage productively with the Democrats’ center-left philosophy, and once again give conscientious citizens a thoughtful and meaningful policy debate.

 

Research Can Be Eye-Opening: ALEC Edition

Recently, a reader asked me to write something about ALEC–the American Legislative Exchange Council. I didn’t know much about the organization, so I consulted Dr. Google.

Here’s how ALEC’s official site describes the organization:

The American Legislative Exchange Council is America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators. Comprised of nearly one-quarter of the country’s state legislators, business and thought leaders, think tank scholars and individuals, ALEC provides a unique forum for diverse groups to exchange ideas and develop real, state-based solutions that encourage growth, preserve economic security and protect hardworking taxpayers.

Sounds good. But as it turns out, a wee bit inaccurate. A significant number of ALEC members are not legislators, but corporations, and virtually all of its funding comes from those corporations, whose interests–unsurprisingly– it serves.

ALEC is neither “diverse” or non-partisan. There is one Democrat out of the 104 legislators holding “leadership” positions, and Its website listed speakers at a recent meeting: Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz. Other featured speakers at ALEC events have included: Milton Friedman, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle, George Allen, Jessie Helms, Pete Coors, and Mitch Daniels.

The site listed people to whom ALEC has given awards: Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George H.W. Bush, Charles and David Koch, Richard de Vos, Tommy Thompson, Gov. John Kasich (currently portrayed as the “moderate” running for President), Gov. Rick Perry, Congressman Mark Foley, and Congressman Billy Tauzin. 

So much for diverse opinions…

All that was from ALEC’s own site. Other sources described the organization as a corporate bill mill.

Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC’s operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy’s ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.

Heavily funded by the Koch brothers, ALEC’s bills undermine environmental regulations and deny climate change; support school privatization; undercut health care reform; defund unions and limit their political influence; restrain legislatures’ abilities to raise revenue through taxes; mandate strict election laws that disenfranchise votersincrease incarceration to benefit the private prison industry, among many other issues.

The good news is that after the 2010 elections, ALEC’s success in getting GOP legislators to introduce bills written to benefit their corporate members raised the organization’s profile. In the ensuing public outrage, a number of major corporations severed their ties with ALEC. Google, Microsoft, Visa, Merck, General Motors, Walgreens, Amazon, McDonalds, Coca Cola…even Walmart has left. And the exodus continues.

I wonder how many would have left if the organization had remained in the shadows.