What is ALEC?
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is known for drafting conservative model legislation in states on a range of issues including gun rights, tax reform, and education. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will appear at ALEC’s annual meeting Thursday, July 20, 2017 in Denver.
Ask a conservative, and they’re likely to describe ALEC as a membership organization that brings together private industry leaders and Republican state lawmakers to draft soundly conservative policies. Ask a liberal, and they’re likely to say ALEC is a shadowy group of corporate types pushing a destructive, far-right agenda.
But regardless of political persuasion, there are two points most would agree on: ALEC is successful at influencing policy in statehouses, and its focus on private school choice dovetails perfectly with DeVos’ education priorities.
Three Types of School Choice Programs
Education Savings Accounts
Favored by Trump and Devos
Devos and Trump Plan for Tax Credits
Politico reports that the Trump administration is considering a plan to install a $20 billion federal tax credit scholarship program that would have the federal government reimburse wealthy individuals and corporations dollar-for-dollar for money they “donate” to students to attend participating private schools instead of public schools.
Unlike the most commonly understood voucher programs, where the state directly reimburses a private or religious school for tuition costs, tuition tax credit proposals offer tax credits to individuals and corporations who donate to a nonprofit “school tuition organization.” The nonprofit then pays for a student’s tuition, and the government repays the donors by either decreasing the amount of tax they owe by the amount of their donations, or by increasing their tax refunds.
The proposal tracks ALEC’s cookie-cutter “Great Schools Tax Credit Act” which has been adopted in some form in 17 states. As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) detailed in a 2016 report, this bill was one of the most popular of the 172 ALEC model education bills introduced in states. Bills to introduce or expand this tax credit were introduced in 13 states in 2015—Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, South Dakota, and Texas.
The DeVos group, Alliance for School Choice, has long funded ALEC’s Education Task Force and has been a driving force in the ALEC school privatization agenda, sponsoring bills, conducting workshops and pushing bills in the states.
Using Taxpayer Money to Fund Religious Schools
Some states’ Constitutions bar the creation or expansion of vouchers, especially for religious schools. Even voucher advocates in those states don’t believe they will be able to get away with using taxpayer money to essentially subsidize religious education if the separation of church and state is taken seriously. So ALEC is pushing tax credits as a way around this problem and to achieve the diversion of public funds to private institutions by other means.
For instance, Arizona has one of the largest and most costly education tax credit programs in the nation. The state’s program allows parents to set up “empowerment scholarship accounts” that provide families with debit cards worth about $5,200 a year to use on tuition at private and religious schools. Since public schools in Arizona ordinarily get about $4,200 per pupil from the state, each $5,200 debit card costs the state general fund an additional $1,000 for every child who leaves a public school for a private or religious school. The program includes 256,000 students and costs about $100 million per year.
When states first introduce vouchers and tax credit schemes, they often limit the idea to low-income students or students with special needs and frequently market the notion as a civil rights ticket for disadvantaged kids. Trump has picked up on this talking point calling education the “the civil rights issue of our time” when he talks about vouchers. But in recent years, ALEC has decided to drop the pretense that vouchers have anything to do with social and racial equity, and is now pushing vouchers for the middle class—a project which, if pursued in enough numbers, will progressively erode the public school system and increase the segregation of students based on race and economic standing, say experts. Indeed, vouchers were first introduced in states as a means of circumventing desegregation.
edweek.org, July 18, 2017 and June 9, 2017
prwatch.org, March 3, 2017
What can we do?
- Join Senator Warren’s Devos watch: https://www.warren.senate.gov/devoswatch/
- Trump’s budget includes $20 billion to expand school choice in the form of tax credits.
- Call MOCs to protest this form of circumventing the separation of church and state and ask them to:
- Continue to support HR 416 – Raising Accountability to Improve School Excellence Act
- Continue to oppose HR 610 – To distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools. and Hr 899 – To terminate the Department of Education.