Alabama Just Tip Of A Big, Big Iceberg

Two weeks ago I attended the third annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Raleigh, NC.  This group was created by Diane Ravitch as a way for local education activists across the country to connect.  I served on their first board.

Some 400-500 people from all corners of the US gathered to hear speakers, attend workshops and compare notes.  As always, the primary benefit of such events is networking, so I came back with a handful of business cards and have been in touch with some of these folks already.

The session that most interested me was one where people from different states discussed what is happening to public education back home.  It was as if each handed out the same set of notes.

Education savings accounts, attacks on education pensions, VAM, vouchers, charters, achievement school districts, merit pay for performance, reduced education funding, changes in tenure, eliminating pay for advanced degrees, cutting back on professional development for teachers, endless campaigns to vilify public schools, virtual schools.

Like a broken record for speaker after speaker.  And two things these states have in common 1) their legislature is controlled by a GOP supermajority and 2) the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the common denominator.

ALEC was born in 1973 in Chicago.  It claims 300 corporate members and 2,000 legislative members.  Corporations pay up to $25,000 a year in dues.  The organization has regular events where corporate lobbyists and state legislators meet to discuss positions on various legislative priorities.

The group certainly has its detractors, one being the Center for Media & Democracy which describes ALEC as a “pay to play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists and can get a tax beak for donations, effectively passing these lobbyist costs on to taxpayers.”

The Center for Media & Democracy uses this web site to track ALEC activities.  Here you find that the ALEC task force on Education and Workforce Development will hold their spring meeting May 6 in Pittsburg.  They will meet at the Omni William Penn hotel where the cheapest room is $249 per night.

You can also find info about one of their model bills known as The Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act.  Language in much of this bill mirrors that in the Alabama Accountability Act.  For instance, they both discuss scholarship granting organizations.

Presently both the ALEC bill and the Alabama bill say that corporate donations to scholarship funds to private schools can not exceed 50 percent of the corporation’s tax liability  However, ALEC now wants to increase this to 100 percent..

Rep. Terri Collins, who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, is state co-chair for ALEC.  Wonder where she will be this Friday?

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