By Larry Lee
The legislative supermajority in Montgomery would have us believe that when they conjure up education policy like the Alabama Accountability Act or the charter school bill they retreat to a darkened room with their Ouija board and magically re-appear with ideas they alone thought up.
But evidence increasingly shows this tale is as plausible as telling us that every night an army of fairies flutters across Alabama exchanging money for teeth first-graders leave under their pillow.
Case in point–the similarities between the charter school bill recently rejected by the state of Washington Supreme Court as unconstitutional, “model” charter legislation churned out the American Legislative Exchange Council and Alabama Senate Bill 45 passed last spring.
The American Legislative Exchange Council–better known as ALEC–was founded in 1973 and has come under fire because it blurs the line between corporate well-being and public well-being. It has been described as a “corporate bill mill” which supplies state lawmakers model legislation strongly supported by ALEC corporate funders.
One of their nine task forces deals with education policy. They support voucher programs like the Alabama Accountability Act, tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools and charters schools. In short, anything that results in more education privatization.
Senator Greg Reed of Jasper and Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur are the state ALEC chairs for the Senate and House. Collins chairs the House Education Policy Committee. Both Reed and Collins voted for the accountability act and charter schools.
So what is the connection between Washington state, Alabama and ALEC?
The Alabama charter bill sets up a politically-appointed Public Charter School Commission that has authority to approve charter school applications, or to over-rule local charter authorizers who may deny an application. Both Washington and ALEC legislation create charter governing commissions. All give appointments to the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House.
What are the duties of this Commission in Alabama?
The appointing authorities of the commission members shall strive to select individuals that collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance, strategic planning, management and finance, public school leadership, assessment, curriculum and instruction, and public education law. Each member of the commission shall have demonstrated understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a tool for strengthening public education
Here they are in Washington:
Members appointed to the commission shall collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance; management and finance; public school leadership, assessment, curriculum, and instruction; and public education law. All members shall have demonstrated an understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a strategy for strengthening public education.”
And the ALEC model bill:
Members appointed to the Commission shall collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance, management and finance, public school leadership, assessment, and curriculum and instruction, and public education law. All members of the Commission shall have demonstrated understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a strategy for strengthening public education.”
And we are supposed to believe all of this common language is coincidental?
Wayne Au is an associate professor at the University of Washington Bothell and has followed this issue closely. ” ALEC advocates that charter schools be governed by appointed boards with little-to-no accountability or oversight by the public because this establishes a chain of logic central to privatization,” he says. “Once we agree that public tax dollars can follow the child into educational institutions not governed by the public, then we have accepted the basic premise for voucher programs that use our tax dollars to pay for private schools. This has been a major goal of ALEC and other free-market conservatives who seek to dismantle public education and profit off our kids.”
Alabama charter proponents say they drafted SB 45 by taking the best of charter legislation in many states. But given the ties some legislators have to ALEC, as well as their track record of supporting bills Alabama educators oppose, one can’t help but question this claim.
We also must ask, if the Supreme Court in Washington says charter schools set up by a politically-appointed commission and governed by a local board that does not answer to taxpayers are not entitled to public funds, how does Alabama differ?
Why do Alabama legislators think people outside the state know more than our own professional educators do? And since when did “Alabama values” mean that we ignore the people of Alabama?