Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Inside ALEC's Education Task Force: Private Players Manipulating Public Education

The author infiltrated ALEC's inner sanctum -- and what she saw was chilling.
EDITOR'S NOTE: On Monday. we published this video of educator-activist Sabrina Stevens confronting members of ALEC's education task force over their destructive plans for America's schools. Below, she shares more about her experience inside the doors of ALEC's highly secretive proceedings.

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”   --Frederic Bastillat
It’s one thing to know that corporate and elitist special interest groups have bought themselves premium access to the inner workings of what’s supposed to be our government.
It’s another thing entirely to actually watch them in action.
Last week, after discovering that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was having a policy conference and task force meetings here in Washington, DC, I decided it presented a good opportunity to bring a grassroots message to some of the people playing a key role in the privatization of public schools. While there are many front groups and individuals who play a role in this process, one of the key reasons the privatization movement has been so successful is because of its unparalleled access to the state lawmaking process, which ultimately sets a huge proportion of the context in which all of our other actions take place.
My original plan was simple: make a banner; snag a Friday morning RootsCamp session time on education reform; get people to sign said banner as we talked through new ways of thinking about solutions for the schools and communities we love; then crash the ALEC conference with the banner, get video of said crashing, and tweet my little fingers off.
But I didn’t get the session time I needed to do that, and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience ALEC firsthand. On a purely practical level, yes, I’d spent time making that banner and planning to attend RootsCamp. But on a moral level, I’m fed up with the privatizers getting to go about their business completely undisturbed, while trampling all over our ability to do the same. So come hell or high water, I was going to say something to ALEC, it was gonna be on video, and that was that. (This whole “having my chosen career stolen from me ” thing has made me really stubborn .) I prepared a statement about the value of public schools on the fly, committed it to memory, did a few last-minute preparations, and headed with a friend over to the Grand Hyatt.
Once there, I tried to do my best job of blending in, and it actually worked. I walked straight through the doors, and was never asked to leave. A little more at ease, I decided, “Well, if I’ve actually figured out a way to get and stay in, why not observe a while?” I made it in just before they closed the doors (quite tightly,I’d later find ), and settled into an available seat.
ALEC’s education task force, like all the others, is a mix of state-level elected officials (their so-called “public” members), as well as “private” members: lobbyists from for-profit companies, and lobbyists from corporate-funded think tanks. After greeting each other, Committee Chair and Iowa State Representative Greg Forristall called for some opening remarks from Indiana State Rep. Cindy Noe, who proceeded to tell the room about how wonderfully their new education policies were unfolding in Indiana. Nevertheless, she called on the organization to start looking beyond affecting the structure of the education system, and into looking more closely at the content of what's taught in schools. "If we're not careful," she charged, "we will end up with a full generation of secular humanists, of multiculturalists-- with kids who don't know real American values ."

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