By Alan Pyke
Think Progress, July 18, 2013
School privatization laws crafted by corporate interests have been introduced in nearly every state in the first half of 2013, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. 43 states and the District of Columbia are considering school legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the umbrella organization that pushes state laws catered to business interests on a myriad of topics.
CMD’s report, “Cashing In On Kids,” details 139 separate ALEC-designed bills promoting for-profit education in the states and D.C. this year alone. Three states have considered school voucher programs, and 10 have taken up another ALEC measure that funnels public dollars to private schools via tax credits. Three states have considered the “Virtual Schools Act,” which spends taxpayer money on an online education model “few educators think is appropriate for young children.” So-called “Parent Trigger” laws designed by ALEC and the conservative Heartland Institute have come up in 12 states.
School vouchers do not generally raise student achievement, according to a Center on Education Policy review of years of research. CEP noted that even though most of that research has been funded by the for-profit education industry, it fails to make a convincing case for the superiority of privatized education. If kids are not benefiting, who is?
“Cashing In On Kids” notes that Wisconsin taxpayers have sent nearly two billion dollars to for-profit, religious, and online schools since Milwaukee became the nation’s first school vouchers city in 1990. School voucher programs in Florida, Georgia, and Oklahoma have sent taxpayer money to schools that teach creationism. In Louisiana, almost none of the private schools receiving voucher funds have maintained the separate accounts for public dollars which the law requires, making it impossible to audit their use of the funds. Just two schools have been properly audited, and one of them relies on uncertified teachers and “plopping students in front of televisions to watch lessons on DVDs.”
For-profit school companies exercise substantial political influence, not only at the state level through ALEC but via federal campaign contributions. The Center for Responsive Politics reported on Monday that the Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), got $116,000 from the for-profit education industry in the second quarter of 2013 alone. CRP data show the industry spent over $1.7 million in the 2012 elections, and over $7 million since 1989, on direct campaign contributions in congressional races. The industry spent more than $40 million lobbying Congress since the early 2000s. Restore Our Future, the super PAC dedicated to electing Mitt Romney during last year’s presidential election, collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from for-profit higher education companies.