AbstractPublic education has historically been in the public and political eye. Then came 2011 and the high profile and well televised protests in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. In each case Republican Governors and Republican controlled state legislatures had introduced substantially similar bills that sought sweeping changes to each state’s collective bargaining statutes and various school funding provisions. What was going on? How could elected officials in multiple states suddenly introduce such similar legislation? The answer: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has become a very efficient mechanism for corporations to exercise political power — and they have.Coordinated efforts to introduce model legislation aimed at defunding and dismantling public schools is the signature work of this conservative organization.A legislative contagion seemed to sweep across the Midwest during the early months of 2011. First, Wisconsin legislators wanted to strip public employees of the right to bargain. Then, Indiana legislators got into the act. Then, it was Ohio. In each case, Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures had introduced substantially similar bills that sought sweeping changes to each state’s collective bargaining statutes and various school funding provisions.What was going on? How could elected officials in multiple states suddenly introduce essentially the same legislation?The answer: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Its self-described legislative approach to education reads:Across the country for the past two decades, education reform efforts have popped up in legislatures at different times in different places. As a result, teachers’ unions have been playing something akin to “whack-a-mole” — you know the game — striking down as many education reform efforts as possible. Many times, the unions successfully “whack” the “mole,” i.e., the reform legislation. Sometimes, however, they miss. If all the moles pop up at once, there is no way the person with the mallet can get them all. Introduce comprehensive reform packages. (Ladner, LeFevre, & Lips, 2010, p. 108)ALEC’s own “whack-a-mole” strategy also reveals the group’s ultimate goal. Every gardener who has ever had to deal with a mole knows that the animals undermine and ultimately destroy a garden. ALEC’s positions on various education issues make it clear that the organization seeks to undermine public education by systematically defunding and ultimately destroying public education as we know it.
What is ALEC?Technically, ALEC (www.alec.org) is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. It describes itself as a nonpartisan membership organization for those who share a common belief in “limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty” (www.alec.org/about-alec). More than 2,000 state lawmakers pay ALEC $100 for a two-year membership. While listed as nonpartisan, ALEC’s members definitely skew to the conservative end of the political spectrum. For example, of the 114 listed members of the group’s Education Task Force, 108 are Republicans, and only six are Democrats.
Corporations, foundations, and “think tanks” can join ALEC, too. They pay up to $25,000 in yearly dues and can spend more to sponsor the council’s meetings. Corporate members can also donate to each state’s scholarship fund, which reimburses legislators who travel to meetings. The scholarships can exceed the amount of a legislator’s dues. Corporate members also can pay from $3,000 to $10,000 for a seat on a task force.
ALEC operates through nine task forces, each cochaired by a corporate member and a legislative member. Task forces are divided by subject and bring together conservative policy makers with corporate leaders to develop model legislation. In order for a proposal to become model legislation, both the public and private sides of the committee must agree — granting considerable power to the corporate side. Elected officials then take the model bills back to their states to introduce them as their own. Only legislators who are members may access the model legislation (http://www.alec.org/wp-content/uploads/2011_legislative_brochure.pdf). It is a very efficient mechanism for corporations to exercise political power — and they have.