News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch has called public education a “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”
But this “transformation” of public education — from an institution that serves the public into one that serves private for-profit interests — has been in progress for decades, thanks in large part to ALEC.
ALEC boasts on the “history” section of its website that it first started promoting “such ‘radical’ ideas as a [educational] voucher system” in 1983 — the same year as the Reagan administration’s “Nation At Risk” report — taking up ideas first articulated decades earlier by ALEC supporter Milton Friedman.
In 1990, Milwaukee was the first city in the nation to implement a school voucher program, under then-governor and ALEC alum Tommy Thompson. ALEC quickly embraced the legislation, and that same year offered model bills based on the Wisconsin plan. For-profit schools in Wisconsin now receive up to $6,442 per voucher student, and by the end of the next school year taxpayers in the state will have transferred an estimated $1.8 billion to for-profit, religious, and online schools. The “pricetag” for students in other states is even higher.
In the years since, programs to divert taxpayer money from public to private schools have spread across the country. In the 2012-2013 school year, it is estimated that nearly 246,000 students will participate in various iterations of so-called “choice” programs in 16 states and the District of Columbia — draining the public school system of critically-needed funds, and in some cases covering private school tuition for students whose parents are able and willing to pay.
But promised improvements in educational outcomes have not followed. “If vouchers are designed to create better educational outcomes, research has not borne out that result,” says Julie Mead, chair of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin. “If vouchers are such a great idea,” after twenty years in effect, “they would have borne fruit by now.”
The ALEC education agenda also fits into the organization’s broader attack on unions: by lowering teacher certification standards and funnelling public money to non-unionized private schools, ALEC undermines teachers unions, which guarantee fair wages and working conditions and are a major political force that have traditionally backed the Democratic Party. More…