‘Stand Your Ground’ group pushes privatization of public education

(Update: Adding new report on ALEC-influenced bills; clarifying history of Stand Your Ground in Florida)

The group behind “Stand Your Ground” laws in a number of states has been mighty busy working to get laws passed in the area of school reform — and the aim has been the privatization of public education.

That group is the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, which likes to call itself a “nonpartisan public-private partnership” but is actually a corporate-backed enterprise that writes “model legislation” that its membership of nearly 2,000 conservative legislators use in states to pass laws that promote privatization in every part of American life: education, health care, the environment, the economy, etc.

Bill Moyers, in a program called “United States of ALEC,”  “the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of,” one with a “vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.”

As education historian and activist Diane Ravitch explained in this ALEC primer, the group, which had been quietly working for years, was put in the spotlight because it crafted “Stand Your Ground” laws, which got attention because of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. An ALEC spokesperson said in an email that in fact ALEC had nothing to do with Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law but rather “adopted a policy based on Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ in August 2005 and then subsequently sunset that policy in March 2012.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that he opposes these laws, which allow people who believe they are being threatened to defend themselves with deadly force. The jury that acquitted George Zimmerman of second-degree murder in Martin’s death was instructed by the judge that as long as Zimmerman was not involved in an illegal activity and had a right to be where he was when he Martin was shot, “he had no duty to retreat and the right to stand his ground.”

The Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit investigative group, has done a great deal of research on ALEC’s efforts to push the privatization of public education, attack veteran teachers and their unions. It just released a new analysis of ALEC’s education efforts, which you can read here, saying that “at least 139 bills or state budget provisions reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) education bills have been introduced in 43 states and the District of Columbia in just the first six months of 2013.” (You can see all of the bills here.)

The analysis says in part:

ALEC-influenced bills introduced in 2013 include legislation to, among other things:

 

*Create or expand taxpayer-funded voucher programs, using bills such as the “Parental Choice Scholarship Act” (introduced in three states). Under many state constitutions, the use of public dollars to fund religious institutions has been rejected on separation-of-powers grounds, but the ALEC Great Schools Tax Credit Act, introduced in ten states in 2013, bypasses state constitutional provisions and offers a form of private school tuition tax credits that funnel taxpayer dollars to private schools with even less public accountability than with regular vouchers.

 

*Carve-out vouchers for students with special needs, regardless of family income, through the “Special Needs Scholarship Program Act” (introduced in twelve states), which sends vulnerable children to for-profit schools not bound by federal and state legal requirements to meet a student’s special needs, as public schools must. A proposal in Wisconsin would have allocated up to $14,658 to a for-profit school for each special needs student.

 

*Send taxpayer dollars to unaccountable online school providers through the “Virtual Schools Act,” introduced in three states, where a single teacher remotely teaches a “class” of hundreds of isolated students working from home. The low overhead for virtual schools certainly raises company profits, but it is a model few educators think is a appropriate for young children.

 

*Offer teaching credentials to individuals with subject-matter experience but no education background with the Alternative Certification Act, introduced in seven states.

 

You can find a list of scores of ALEC model education bills from 2010 to 2013 here.

ALEC is holding its 40th annual meeting next month in Chicago. ALEC posts model legislation on its Web site, here.

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · July 17, 2013