AFT Member Helps Expose Corporate Agenda for Education

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AFT member Jim Randels, a veteran New Orleans public school teacher, was a featured speaker at an Aug. 3 news conference designed to expose the anti-worker, anti-democratic laws being pushed through state legislatures around the country by a conservative group funded by huge corporations.

The news conference was held in New Orleans to coincide with the annual corporate board meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has drafted much of the damaging legislation that newly elected governors and state legislators have embraced since the 2010 elections.

One of ALEC's stated legislative priorities is to privatize public education, making education a profit center rather than a public good. That, Randels noted, "is dangerous to the American way and to the education of our children." The "ALEC way" turns parents into consumers who have to search the market for their children's education rather than citizens committed to building high-quality public schools, he said.

Among those joining Randels at the event was Brett Bonin, a New Orleans school board member and active Republican. "I'm very concerned about this group writing legislation for adoption by state legislatures without public input," he said, adding that ALEC's agenda appears to be to defund public education so it fails and can be taken over by private interests. "This is not a good thing."

Other speakers addressed elements of the ALEC agenda that are focused on issues other than education. Nicole Schulte talked about her experience in Wisconsin trying to get a voter ID card for her 19-year-old son, which proved far more difficult and expensive than what the law actually requires. ALEC-written voter ID legislation, which is popping up in states around the country, will end up disenfranchising students, the elderly and low-income citizens, Schulte said.

Todd Landfried from Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform discussed the negative impact that anti-immigration laws—modeled after S.B. 1070 in Arizona—have had in every jurisdiction where they have been adopted. The result of these laws, he explained, is increased unemployment, lower tax revenues, uncertainty for employers in industries such as agriculture and construction, and greater strains on public assistance programs. Rather than states and localities passing legislation that is politically expedient, Landfried said, Congress needs to address the issue in a thoughtful, comprehensive way.

The final speaker, the Rev. Dr. Willie Gable Sr., pointed out the irony of recent Louisiana legislation, which prohibits mandates that require individuals to purchase health insurance—this, in a state that ranks at the bottom of most public health indicators in the country. "Our citizens do not have adequate healthcare," he said. "If they don't have it, we all will pay for it later, and we will pay more."

The New Orleans media event is part of a broader effort to bring to light the impact of ALEC in state legislatures around the country. A new website, ALEC Exposed, from the Center for Media and Democracy includes much more information. In addition, the nonprofit group Common Cause has released a new report on ALEC titled "Legislating Under the Influence." [Dan Gursky]

August 3, 2011