Take a look at this legislation that describes how a state will provide “choice scholarships” to help pay tuition for students who transfer from public schools to private schools, including religious schools.
Is it the voucher bill that the Indiana legislature passed in 2011? It almost could be – the two are remarkably similar. But in fact it’s model legislation, last revised in 2009 and produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded organization for conservative state legislators.
Why have virtually identical teachers’ union-bashing, education-privatizing measures appeared in state after Republican-controlled state, including Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Louisiana and Pennsylvania? ALEC and its model bills are part of the answer.
Founded in 1973, ALEC has made itself the go-to source for right-wing lawmakers who share its agenda of unfettered capitalism and states’ rights. It’s not surprising that Republicans in Indiana, with the state’s limited legislative support staff, would turn to a well-funded outfit like ALEC for guidance and support.
Indiana State Rep. David Frizzell, R-Indianapolis, was installed two weeks ago as ALEC board chairman. Two other Indiana Republican legislators chair ALEC issues committees. Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, a Republican, was a keynote speaker at the ALEC national meeting in Phoenix.
Frizzell told the Evansville Courier & Press that the education “reforms” adopted by Indiana this year could influence future ALEC model bills. Maybe, but there’s no question that ALEC model bills influenced Indiana’s education legislation, not only on vouchers but on charter schools and teacher evaluation.
ALEC has generally flown below the radar, but that changed this summer when The Nation magazine and the Center for Media and Democracy launched a project called “ALEC Exposed.” They posted hundreds of ALEC model bills, which reportedly had been leaked to an anti-ALEC activist.
More recently, public education supporters expressed alarm when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave ALEC $376,635 to “educate and engage its membership” on education reform issues.
For a lot of folks on the left, ALEC has joined the pantheon of super-villains, right up there with the Koch Brothers and Dick Cheney. In fact, there’s nothing sinister about how ALEC operates; it’s fairly open about what it is and what it does (if not the substance of its model bills). And there’s nothing to stop unions, environmental groups and others on the left from taking a similar approach (except maybe an absence of deep-pocket funders).
It is a bit questionable, however, that ALEC can claim to be non-partisan. Its positions and activities align closely with those of the right wing of the Republican Party.
Even Tony Bennett is apparently too moderate for the group’s taste. According to Education Week, the Indiana superintendent was unable to dissuade ALEC’s education task force from adopting model legislation opposing the Common Core Standards. The Indiana State Board of Education adopted the standards in August 2010, and Bennett has been an active supporter of the initiative, which is also backed by the Obama administration and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.