Friday, March 22, 2013

Why Don’t Our Elected Representatives Write Their Own Legislation?


Today, a committee in Georgia Senate will discuss the Parent Trigger Bill which has already passed the House. The bill will enable disgruntled parents of low performing school to fire the teaching and administrative staff and turn the school over to a for-profit charter management company paid with school district money.

House Bill 123 bill did not originate in Georgia. A similar parent trigger bill is before the Florida legislature. And you guessed it, the Florida bill did not originate in Florida. The same can said of the parent trigger bill in Oklahoma. If you wonder just what the parent trigger bill really is, follow this link to Fund Education Now, an amazing website created by three parents and education advocates whose understanding of school reform research is far beyond what our legislators use to improve education.

As these Florida education advocate say, “something is being done to public education” and its important that politicians who are making it possible for public funds for education to move to the corporate sector realize that they are going to be challenged.

The bills were written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a republican right-wing bill mill. The parent trigger bills moving in and out of the legislatures in Georgia, Florida, and Oklahoma were written by AlEC. The legislators in these states only had to fill in the dates, the name of their states, and sign the legislation as if it were their own. ALEC is a corporate-funded organization that works behind closed doors to create model bills that in the end favor corporate interests over the interests of the public sphere. It’s goal is to promote the privatization of government services and that includes the public schools.

Schools and universities would call this plagiarism. Maybe it’s simply copying with permission. In either case is shows complete disregard for the citizens they represent. To some extent, the legislators are being dishonest, especially when they try to rationalize or explain the reason for the bill. They tell us that they are on the side of parents and their children, when in fact they are using children for the financial gain of private charter firms.

These elected legislators have no integrity in the way they are performing their responsibilities. In this case, the law they are trying to pass is not based a real or perceived need at the local school level. If it was, we would have data on the number of disgruntled parents who are marching and rallying to fire the staff and hire a charter management company. It’s simply not happening.

Why don’t they write their own legislation? Groups, such as ALEC, do all the work. The thinking of these legislators is shallow. All they have to be able to do is read from a menu of model bills on the ALEC website, select a bill that they like, meet with national organization representatives and their lobbyists, and then send the bill to a house and senate committee in their own state.

In the case of the Parent Trigger act, Parent Revolution and ALEC have parent trigger model legislation on their websites. You can read the Parent Revolution bill here, and the ALEC bill here.

Model Bill Menu–A One Stop Service Station for State Legislators
The American Legislative Exchange Council says it provides a “unique opportunity for legislators, business leaders and citizen organizations” to develop model policies based on academic research, existing state policy and proven business practices (American Legislative Exchange Council 2013). It’s a goldmine for legislators who take the side of corporate interests over the citizens they represent. If a legislator is a member of ALEC (there are about 2,000 state representatives on the roll), then you must realize that only 2% of the budget of ALEC comes from these legislators dues, and the rest comes from corporate sponsors. There are so many corporate sponsors to list. Here is a link to a page where you can scroll through the hundreds of corporate sponsors.

On this page, you can get access to brief descriptions of model bills, acts and amendments. There are about 600 model bills on this page! I decided to scroll through the hundreds of bills, and select some that relate to education. I’ve also included several model bills that impinge of science and environmental education.

As you read through the bills that I’ve selected, it is clear that ALEC is in the business privatizing schools, and undermining teachers. As I wrote in an earlier post, there is a clear attempt to commercialize education and exploit children and schooling further undoing the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.

Over on the Center for Media and Democracy , in an exposé outlining the way ALEC is undermining education in a democratic society. Following are some ways that ALEC is working to undermine public education.
Look for these in the bills that follow:

   Offering vouchers with universal eligibility
   Tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools
   Preying on parents with children with special needs by using federal funds to subsidize untested for-profit schools
   Segregating children on the basis on disabilities, race, and parental income.
   Removing charter school authorization from local school districts and giving it to a state appointed commission
   Staffing schools with uncertified teachers with little experience
   Making it almost impossible for teachers to get tenure by basing it on student test score improvement
   Supporting right-wing ideology by requiring courses that are propaganda forums
   Promoting climate change denial

1.              Charter School Growth with Quality Act–establish a state charter school commission to serve as charter authorizer. This act became law in Georgia last year with the help of outside billionaires sending money to the pro-bill organization headed by the legislator who pushed the bill through the Georgia legislature. The bill reinstated a commission that the Georgia Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional. It was a get back by the republicans who had their feelings hurt. The bill was opposed by John Barge, the republican Superintendent of Education. Barge was called a turncoat and liar by members of his own party. He’s to be admired.

2.              Civil Rights Act–affirmative action programs would be void.

3.              Education Savings Account Act–enables public funds from the school district to be used to in any program chosen by parents for their children

4.              Endangered Species Resolution–urges Congress to amend the Endangered Species Act to require a stronger role for the states and stronger consideration of the social and economic consequences of protecting species

5.              Environmental Literacy Improvement Act–this is a good one. Teaching about the environment must be designed to “acquire” knowledge, taught in a “balanced” way (you know, if evolution, then evolution must be examined critically), not designed to change any student behavior, attitudes or value (this is the best one–what is the purpose of learning?) By the way, this is the bill that created an Environmental Education Council, except no one can be on the committee if they have expertise in environmental science!).

6.              Environmental Priorities Act–An assessment of all environmental priorities based on “good science” and “sound economics” shall be undertaken by people without a background in environmental science; the Environmental Priorities Council will have 2 politicians, a state administrator selected by the Governor, a member of the chamber of commerce, and an economist. No members should have backgrounds in environmental science. Remember, the ALEC bills are based on “academic research.”

7.              Founding Philosophy and Principles Act–A bill requiring all students to take and pass a course in America’s founding philosophy based on The Creator-endowed rights of the people. It appears to be endorsing a propaganda type course, and for me it glaringly omits the key words used in the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act, and that is “critical thinking.” The content of this course is not be questioned. The bill promotes right-wing ideology.

8.              Founding Principles Act–basically the same as the previous act requiring students to learn that in a short time, the 13 colonies became the greatest and most powerful nation on earth. More right-wing ideology.

9.              Free Enterprise Education Act–this is another humdinger. A course in economics (no complaint here), but based on the idea that to get out of the Great Recession, which was caused by illegal and immoral behavior of well-educated adults in the financial and housing industry, students must take a course that tells them how the free enterprise system works! Ideology at work again.

10.                      Great Teachers and Leaders Act–teacher tenure will be based on student growth on academic tests, and tenure can be removed if the teacher has two consecutive bad years. This bill endorses unsubstantiated claims that teacher effectiveness can be measured using student academic test scores. It is an anti-teacher and anti-adminstrator bill that further supports the degradation of public school educators. Shame on any legislator that supports this bill.

11.                       Hard Science Resolution–you must read this one. This bill requires that any government regulation have a strict and absolute basis in hard scientific fact and cut any arbitrary and imprecise regulations that might harm the free-maker competition and consumers.

12.                       Higher Education Transparency Act–In this bill, colleges and universities must make available on their website all syllabi, curriculum vitae of each instructor, a budget report, distribution of last grades, and the college must also submit a report to the governor. All of this information is already available on higher education institutions websites. This is a bill that encroaches on academic freedom, and adds a new role for the governor, and that is to evaluate undergraduate courses in paleontology!

13.                        Indiana Education Reform Package–It calls for charter schools, school scholarships (vouchers), teacher evaluations and licensing, teacher collective bargaining (none), turnaround academies and textbook act.

14.                       Parent Trigger Act–Enables parents or teachers (50% +1) take over the school and replace it with a charter school. The movement is deceptive and fraudulent and is simply a way to open the doors of struggling schools to charter management pirates.

There you have it. Only 14 of the more than 600 bills on the ALEC website. It no wonder that our legislators don’t write their own legislation. They don’t have to. All they have to do is: Go Ask ALEC.
What is your opinion about state legislators making use of the model bills on the ALEC website, and then introducing them in their own state legislature as if they were the authors, and that they were introducing the bill to resolve an important state issue?

ReferencesAmerican Legislative Exchange Council. (2013). Model Legislation. In American Legislative Exchange Council. Retrieved March 19, 2013, from

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