ALEC aims to take control of public school system

Published 11:22 am Friday, October 21, 2016

UNESCO, NASA, DAR, OPEC, ALEC … The alphabet soup that we use to tag groups could go on and on. Often the letters are used even when the speaker doesn’t know what they stand for. Likewise, the significance of one group or another usually eludes the audience.  Such might well be the case for the last one listed — ALEC.

My first thought on hearing the acronym was “smart aleck.” ALEC is that and far, far more because of its aims. ALEC is a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists and can get a tax break for donations.

It holds private meetings with corporate lobbyists and state legislators to develop ‘model bills’ to change rights that often benefit the corporations’ bottom line at general fund expense.   

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For almost 20 years, a key priority for ALEC has been the privatization of public schools through vouchers and charter schools.

A quick internet search will cough up the fact that most Mississippi legislators have a connection of some sort to the group. No less than the Speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, is on the state ALEC board of directors. The significance of that is that in his legislative role he controls the movement or sidetracking of all bills.

If you have doubts about the goals of this sub-surface, inner circle legislative group, just consider their agenda.  Should all the bills relating to this list be enacted, it is doubtful that any genuinely public schools would exist in Mississippi. Here’s the blueprint for the dissolution of public education.

— Take charter school authorization away from local school boards.

— Offer universal private school vouchers across district lines, empowering district dollars to be spent outside the district in private (read that, for-profit) schools.

— Give tax credits to parents who send children to private schools.

— Create the image that public schools are “educationally bankrupt.” This seems eerily similar to early days of witch hunts in this country. If one didn’t like a person, he simply accused them of being a witch. Hard to defend against such an empty charge.

— Start the voucher system for putting the spotlight on disabled children whose needs may not be met in a traditional public school environment. Private schools are not subject to the Disabilities Education Act and its stringent standards for child care by schools. One of the ploys is also to create private schools for “special” kids, such as foster children or children of military families.

— Create Tax-Credit Scholarships.

— Replace teacher tenure with performance and standardized testing. (A recent bill in the legislature would give an uncertified teacher in a private school two-to-three years to earn that credential while teachers in public schools must have it to be employed). Pity the student who takes longer than four years to graduate.  That is a no-no for this crowd.

But public K-12 schools are not the only targets for ALEC. At the college level there is a push to require universities to annually report to the legislature on “intellectual diversity.”  (That phrase may sound very familiar around here.)  Even subsidizing private universities by offering taxpayer-funded vouchers is on the table.

Keep in mind that the same Machiavellian legislators who want to do all this are the same ones who have underfunded the Mississippi Adequate Education Program — every year but two since it was enacted.  Also keep in mind that the Mississippi State Constitution says that all these measures to divert public school funds elsewhere are violations of that constitution.

Now comes news that the legislature is planning to adjust what the law says about MAEP. My reading of that is that the end result will be a new spigot plugged into the state budget that siphons more dollars away from public schools. In essence the move eliminates the anger that put Initiative 42 on a recent ballot.

A neat trick: simply rewrite the State law you’re violating in such a way that the violation goes away.

TJ Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.