Putting Education Reform To The Test

Report Says ALEC Has Growing Influence In Florida Education Policy

Mladen Antonov / AFP

Protesters carry posters reading "I am Trayvon Martin" during a rally in downtown Washington DC on March 28, 2012. Protesters gathered outside the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) headquarters to protest against the laws protecting the "justifiable homicide" first approved in Florida.

The conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council has a growing footprint in Florida, particularly education policy, according to a new report by a coalition of liberal-leaning advocacy groups.

From the report’s executive summary:

This corporate‐funded 501(c)(3) organization…has unprecedented access to lawmakers and to the composition of the bills they pass into law. Out of Florida’s 160 state legislators, 60 have had ties with ALEC since 2010 through dues records or records of its task forces where corporate lobbyists vote as equals with legislators on “model” bills behind closed doors.

ALEC’s website says it “works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.”

The groups behind the report don’t see it that way. They include Progress Florida, Florida Watch, People For the American Way, Center For Media and Democracy, Common Cause.

The report shows ALEC’s influence on Florida education first by targeting the use of school vouchers for students who wish to leave failing schools:

ALEC sees private school vouchers as a way to radically privatize the public education system. Under the guise of “school choice,” ALEC pushes bills with titles like “Parental Choice Scholarship Act” and the “Education Enterprise Act” that establish private school voucher programs.

ALEC has also been an active supporter of online education corporations, despite the negative results of such programs.

Matthew Ladner, one of ALEC’s most prominent advisors on education policy and a former education advisor to (former Florida governor) Jeb Bush, recently received a “Lifetime Bunkum Award” from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado for promoting false and misleading information in pushing ALEC’s school choice agenda.

The anti-ALEC groups are particularly concerned about “model legislation.”

They say ALEC provides its Florida members with talking points, issue alerts, and press release templates to support or oppose legislation. The report found that model legislation designed by ALEC has sometimes been introduced in Florida “word for word.”

The group also hosts regular meetings to discuss policy and provides scholarships for lawmaker to attend. ALEC is meeting in Salt Lake City this week.

The ALEC Exposed website claims more than 800 “model bills” and resolutions have been secretly voted on by corporations and politicians through ALEC.

Examples cited of the Florida Legislature’s use of ALEC model legislation:

  • The Parent Trigger Act (narrowly failed in 2012) – For all public schools where more than one‐half of the parents or legal guardians of students sign a petition requesting the local educational agency to implement one or more of three interventions, the local agency shall implement the option requested by the parents.
  • Virtual Public Schools Act (approved in 2011) – Provide families with an alternative choice to access additional educational resources in an effort to improve academic achievement. Must be recognized as public schools and provided equitable treatment and resources as any other public school in the state.
  • Great Teachers and Leaders Act (did not pass 2011) – A council makes recommendations regarding teacher evaluations.

The groups behind the report are pressuring corporations and non-profits tied to ALEC to pull their support.  They say ALEC’s agenda includes support of “stand your ground” gun laws and the purging of voter rolls.

“In response to ALEC’s extreme agenda, 26 for-profit corporations – including Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and Kraft – four non-profit groups and over 50 lawmakers have dropped ALEC in recent months,” the groups wrote in a press release. “This report concludes that Florida-based corporations and Florida ALEC members should do the same.”


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