I have blogged many times about the passage of the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 and how the good folks of Alabama were told repeatedly that this was “all about poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip codes.” So we set up a mechanism for handing out “opportunity scholarships,” which is today’s way of spelling “voucher,” and tell big business that they can get tax breaks by supporting private schools instead of sending their taxes to the state to support public schools.
Then we come along earlier this year and finally admit that what we said in 2013 was untrue when we redefined what AAA was all about.
But Alabama is not the only one “coming out” on this issue, other states are as well. The real players in all of this are the American Legislative Exchange Council and the American Federation for Children, two longtime voucher proponents. Though no one has ever verified who wrote the accountability act, a graduate class at Auburn did research showing that about 80 percent of the language in the bill was also in similar legislation in other states. And a sitting Republican state senator asked me one day at lunch who wrote the accountability act. So if a member of the supermajority does not know who wrote it and you find the same language in bills in other states, it is a safe bet that it did not originate in Alabama.
And the American Federation for Children spread its influence to Alabama last year when they set up an affiliate known as the Alabama Federation for Children that raised $350,000 from out-of-state millionaires to spend on legislative races.
You can get much more detail in this article.
Here is some of what you will find.
School vouchers were never about helping poor, at-risk or minority students. But selling them as social mobility tickets was a useful fiction that for some twenty-five years helped rightwing ideologues and corporate backers gain bipartisan support for an ideological scheme designed to privatize public schools.
But the times they are a-changin’. Wisconsin is well on its way toward limitless voucher schools, and last month, Nevada signed into law a universal “education savings account” allowing parents to send their kids to private or religious schools, or even to home-school them—all on the taxpayers’ dime. On the federal level, a proposed amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would have created a multi-billion-dollar-a-year voucher program was only narrowly defeated in the U.S. Senate.
With vouchers gaining momentum nationwide, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is meeting in San Diego this week, has decided to drop the pretense that vouchers have anything to do with social and racial equity, and is now pushing vouchers for the middle class—a project which, if pursued enough in numbers, will progressively erode the public school system and increase the segregation of students based on race and economic standing.
At the American Federation for Children’s National Policy Summit held in New Orleans, lobbyist Scott Jensen—who, before being banned from Wisconsin politics for violating the public trust served as chief of staff to governor Tommy Thompson, and was a prime mover behind the first voucher program in the nation—admitted that vouchers were really all about “pursuing Milton Friedman’s free-market vision” even though the ideological agenda was nowadays sugarcoated with “a much more compelling message … of social justice.”
Alabama is simply another front in the continuing battle to harm public schools. Considering that in the last 30 months we passed the accountability act, passed a charter school bill, amended the accountability act and have now appointed someone with absolutely no history of supporting public education to a seat on the state board of education, all signs are that we are in lockstep with other states in this war.