Thoughts on the Gates Foundation grant to ALEC

I’d be inclined to cut the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation some slack over its controversial $376,635 grant to the American Legislative Exchange Conference. But it’s hard, when the foundation spokesman keeps making comments that suggest the foundation has no idea what ALEC is, or does.

ALEC is an organization of conservative state legislators and their corporate supporters, which develops “model bills” that the legislators take back home and try to pass into law. Indiana’s school voucher law is an example.

Recently ALEC has come in for heavy criticism over its support of “stand your ground” laws like the Florida statute that almost let Trayvon Martin’s killer off the hook; and voter identification laws that seem designed to suppress voting by groups that are likely to vote Democratic. Businesses such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Kraft Foods and Wendy’s have cut their ties with ALEC in response to protests from Color of Change and other organizations.

The Gates Foundation awarded the grant late last year, saying it would go to educating ALEC’s members on teacher effectiveness and education funding.

When the grant was criticized, foundation press secretary Chris Williams posted a defense on the Gates Foundation blog, Impatient Optimists, explaining that the foundation uses its grants to engage with all sorts of organizations, including ones whose agendas it doesn’t share.

The explanation sounded reasonable, except for this statement: “Our grant to them does not indicate support for its entire agenda. We have made similar grants to the National Conference of State Legislators, a membership organization mostly composed of progressive state lawmakers …” Continue reading

ALEC model bill provided the framework for Indiana voucher measure

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. Continue reading