Have you ever wondered what is truly behind the anti-teacher and anti-education rhetoric that continually flows out of Jackson? Have you ever wondered why it seems that over the past few years the state legislature and the governor have declared war against teachers and education in general across the state? Have you ever wondered what is truly behind the push to privatize public education? The answer to these questions is probably one of the best kept non-secrets in Mississippi, but every Mississippian needs to know about this not so secret, secret. They need to understand that the crusade to link parent choice to privatizing Mississippi public education has not happened by chance nor did it happen overnight. It is actually a part of an agenda that was put into place a little over forty years ago aimed at privatizing education across the United States; an agenda that has been called radical, dangerous, and a threat to American democracy. Some people may not believe what I am saying, but if you are an educator, you need to heed what I am about to disclose and understand whether you like it or not, you are at war. The war I am talking about is a long burning ember that has erupted into a full scale blaze that threatens the very existence of public school education not only in Mississippi but across the nation.
First, I must admit I was in the dark as much as anyone else until about three years ago. I was talking to a friend who was a high school principal in Louisiana at the time, and as usual we were discussing the good and bad about education in our states. We were rocking along nicely exchanging stories when my friend asked me what I thought about ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. My response was an unknowing, “Who?” He laughed and said, “Get ready. They already have a strong foothold in your legislature, so you need to pay attention. This group is probably the greatest threat to public education in history.” Despite my friend’s on-the-money warning, I did not pay much attention even when he told me a central theme to ALEC’s education agenda was privatizing public schools. I just did not believe at the time that privatizing public education in Mississippi held a lot of merit or even if it did, that such a notion had a “snowball’s chance in hades” of taking root here. I still believe I was right about the lack of merit, but boy, was I ever more wrong about that snowball.
That snowball’s chance has exploded in the face of Mississippi’s public school educators. ALEC and its Mississippi legislator members are running roughshod over the public schools by ramrodding charter schools, vouchers, tax deductions for private school tuition and home-schooling expenses, and special education vouchers down the throats of local school districts by declaring public schools in Mississippi are “educationally bankrupt.” Claiming their actions are in the best interest of Mississippi children, they are in effect funneling public tax dollars into private schools (vouchers) and into private for profit ventures (charter schools). To bring this about, ALEC has brought state legislators and corporations together to form an education task force that drafts model bills that are intended to be introduced at the state level. At the state level, ALEC members or those affiliated with the organization in the house and senate insert applicable state language into the model bill that in effect makes the bill look like original legislation introduced by local politicians. This is not only happening in Mississippi, but it is happening in state after state across the nation. A common strategy is to introduce education bills in mass to prevent opponents of the bills from blocking all of them at one time. If you look back at the number of education bills that have been introduced in Jackson over the past two or three years, it is easy to see that this strategy has been in play in Mississippi for quite some time. The bottom line is that this organization is undermining public education by draining public education dollars from the public school system to subsidize private schools and private tutoring as well as lining the pockets of for-profit corporate run charter schools.
What I am about to say may offend some, and cause others to scream party partisanship on my part. However, I can assure you that I have little regard for the failed political platforms of either the Republican or Democrat parties or for the platform, whatever it may be today, of the so called Tea Party. However, be that as it may, simply stated, ALEC is a marriage between large corporations and conservative Republicans in the house and the senate (ALEC membership is overwhelmingly Republican). These large corporations buy seats on the education task force where they can receive tax breaks for donations, privately vote on model legislation, and generally influence the task force with their corporate agendas. On the other hand, the conservative Republicans get to flaunt their brilliance for policy innovation without disclosing their bills were first crafted by the corporate world for the purpose of expanding their profit margins at the expense of Mississippi taxpayers (I have listed resources at the conclusion of this blog that provide lists of Mississippi legislators who are or have been affiliated with ALEC). Renowned education historian, Diane Ravitch, clearly sums up the role ALEC has in the current crusade against public education when she says,
“This outburst of anti-public school, anti-teacher legislation is no accident. It is the work of a shadowy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Founded in 1973, ALEC is an organization of nearly 2,000 conservative state legislators. Its hallmark is promotion of privatization and corporate interests in every sphere, not only education, but healthcare, the environment, the economy, voting laws, public safety, etc. It drafts model legislation that conservative legislators take back to their states and introduce as their own “reform” ideas. ALEC is the guiding force behind state-level efforts to privatize public education and to turn teachers into at-will employees who may be fired for any reason. The ALEC agenda is today the “reform” agenda for education.”
But why would anyone or any organization want to destroy public education? What is their motivation? In February 2012, Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead wrote about the dismantling of the public school system in Phi Delta Kappan. In that article, they said,
“The motivation for dismantling the public education system—creating a system where schools do not provide for everyone—is ideological, and it is motivated by profit. The corporate members on ALEC’s education task force include representatives from the Friedman Foundation, Goldwater Institute, Evergreen Education Group, Washington Policy Center, and corporations providing education services such as Sylvan Learning and K- 12, Inc. All stand to benefit from public funding sent in their direction.”
If this is indeed true, and current legislation in the Mississippi legislature certainly seems to support that it is, then we can only assume that if corporations stand to profit from privatizing public education, maybe some of their membership stands to profit as well.
When it comes to politics very little ever happens by chance, and the current state of affairs with education politics in Jackson is no different. The only “chance” in play in Mississippi is the chance that Mississippians are taking by not paying attention to what is happening in the Mississippi senate and house chambers. I have always been a believer in capitalism, but I never thought I would live to see the day that some in our state legislature would be transformed from serving children to serving private for profit greed. It is time Mississippians started paying attention and responding with their votes before it is too late.
©Jack Linton, March 2014
Resources you may be interested in reviewing:
This is a partial list of Mississippi politicians that are known to be involved in, or previously involved in, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It is a partial list. You may wish to call your state legislator and ask if he or she is a member of ALEC.
American Legislative Exchange Council – website
You may want to look at some of their model education bills. You might be surprised to see some of the same bills that have been introduced in Mississippi recently.
What You Need to Know About ALEC: The now embattled organization has been working to destroy public ed for the past forty years. Here’s what you need to know about how they’re doing it.
By Diane Ravitch
A Smart ALEC Threatens Public Education: Coordinated efforts to introduce model legislation aimed at defunding and dismantling public schools is the signature work of this conservative organization.
by Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead, Phi Delta Kappan