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Topic: [ncsm-members] UW Profs: ALEC's threat to public education
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] UW Profs: ALEC's threat to public education
Posted: Feb 21, 2012 11:41 AM
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From The Capital Times [Wisconsin], Monday, February 20, 2012. See
. Reference to this article on EDDRA2 listserve, Tuesday, February
21, 2012.
Campus Connection: UW profs shed light on ALEC's threat to public education

By Todd Finkelmeyer

University of Wisconsin-Madison professors Julie Underwood and Julie
Mead are expressing concern over the growing corporate influence on
public education in an article published Monday. [download the
article at the website]

In particular, they are highly critical of the American Legislative
Exchange Council (ALEC) [see ], which connects
conservative state legislators with like-minded think tanks,
corporations and foundations to develop "model legislation" that can
be enacted at the state level.

Underwood is the dean of UW-Madison's School of Education, while Mead
chairs the ed school's department of educational leadership and
policy analysis. The two make their opinions known in an article they
co-authored for the March issue of Phi Delta Kappan magazine, which
serves members of the PDK professional organization for educators.
[see article at ]

Underwood says much of the information in the article is an outgrowth
of research she conducted while helping get the
website up and running last summer. [see ]

"At that time I was looking at a lot of (ALEC) model legislation that
had been leaked and I've continued to look at this kind of
legislation since then," she says. "So this (article) is my research."

Underwood and Mead start their piece by noting the range of similar
bills proposed in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio early in 2011 that
"sought sweeping changes to each state's collective bargaining
statutes and various school funding provisions." Each state is headed
by Republican governors and has Republican-controlled state

"What was going on?" Underwood and Mead write. "How could elected
officials in multiple states suddenly introduce essentially the same

The answer, they argue, is ALEC. And the UW-Madison professors are no
fans of the organization's motives, writing that "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."

Citing past research and articles, Underwood and Mead write that
model legislation from ALEC seeks to "influence teacher
certification, teacher evaluation, collective bargaining, curriculum,
funding, special education, student assessment, and numerous other
education and education-related issues. Common throughout the bills
are proposals to decrease local control of schools by democratically
elected school boards while increasing access to all facets of
education by private entities and corporations."

Privatization takes many forms, the authors note, including vouchers,
tax incentives for sending kids to private schools and charter
schools operated by for-profit organizations.

"Today, ALEC calls this approach 'choice' and renames vouchers
'scholarships,' but its aim is clear: Defund and dismantle public
schools," particularly low-income and urban schools, the authors

The most noteworthy ALEC-backed piece of education legislation in
Wisconsin is the Milwaukee school voucher program for low-income
children. Implemented in 1990, it was the first such program in the
nation and was pushed through by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, an early
ALEC member. Some have long argued this move is the first step in
ALEC's goal of privatizing public schools.

The state's voucher program, which provides taxpayer funds for
families to send their children to private schools, was expanded by
Gov. Scott Walker in the state budget passed last June.

Just this past week, Assembly Republicans refused to vote on a bill
that would restrict the expansion of Wisconsin's school voucher
program. [see
] (To view's extensive list of ALEC-backed education
bills, click here -

Underwood and Mead write that this "motivation for dismantling the
public education system -- creating a system where schools do not
provide for everyone -- is ideological and motivated by profit."

Underwood and Mead add that "champions of public education have a new
set of questions to ask whenever legislation is introduced:

"Is the sponsor a member of ALEC?

"Does the bill borrow from ALEC model legislation?

"What corporations had a hand in drafting the legislation?

"What interests would benefit or even profit from its passage?"

No matter what one thinks of ALEC's policies, the authors contend
ALEC provides corporations with unprecedented access to, and power
over, state legislators.

"It's interesting to me that (ALEC) has managed to stay below the
radar and secretive for many, many years," Underwood said in a phone
conversation. "It piques my curiosity. Why have they worked so hard
to be secretive all of these years?"

ALEC gained notoriety in Wisconsin in March 2011 when UW-Madison
professor William Cronon examined in a blog post "who's really
behind" Republican efforts to attack public employee unions, require
identification to vote, and scale back environmental laws, among
other measures. His conclusion? ALEC.

A short time later, Cronon let the world know his emails were the
target of an open records request from the Republican Party of
Wisconsin, a move that garnered national headlines and was criticized
by some as an attempt to intimidate a professor for offering his
perspective on political issues. At the time, the open records
request and blowback seemed to shake Cronon, but Underwood says she
isn't particularly concerned about any potential fallout from her

"Well, this is my research and these are my thoughts," she says.
"I've been a public school advocate my entire professional career. I
realize there are certain people who are going to disagree with me.
But I think this is important information for people to know and
think about."

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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