It’s far too easy to label an idea as “reform.” Like art, government reform is in the eye of the beholder. And that often makes it too easy to attack your opponents as defenders of the status quo.
But before we bestow the title “reform” on any initiative, we should understand not just the details, but who benefits.
Governor Bobby Jindal’s so-called education reforms demand such scrutiny, in particular his private-school voucher plan.
For years, Jindal has been pushing vouchers — and belittling detractors. In his 2010 book, Leadership and Crisis, he ridiculed voucher opponents as “liberals [who] hysterically claim school choice would destroy public education,” but whose “real concern is their fear of the teacher unions.”
Jindal sounds like many self-styled education reformers: If you oppose his education plans, you’re in the pockets of the teacher unions.
But those who back vouchers – including the owners of for-profit schools and the well-paid administrators and board members of non-profit corporations — also have pockets. And some of them will undoubtedly profit from the millions of state dollars diverted from public schools into Jindal’s program.
As we peel back the curtain on this program, we find the very deep pockets of the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Major corporations supply ALEC’s funding and about two thousand state legislators belong to the organization, some from Louisiana.
The group held its annual meeting in New Orleans last year and gave Jindal an award.
Every year, bills are conceived and written by ALEC task forces. Those bills are shared with state legislators at ALEC conferences. Those legislators often introduce the bills verbatim. (This New York Times story from April does a good job of explaining how ALEC and its corporate sponsors push bills in state legislatures.)
And those bills may be putting money into the pockets of ALEC’s corporate members. I say “may” because ALEC won’t disclose its membership.
Think Progress has here a list of ALEC corporate members. No one, however, has done a better job covering ALEC’s Louisiana activities than reporter Tom Aswell in his excellent blog Louisiana Voice. Visit his site at this link and enter “ALEC” in the search box. You’ll be amazed at what he has uncovered.
One such bill was the Louisiana voucher program, which Jindal copied from ALEC.
Even the tactics in passing the laws seem to be devised by the organization. Wonder why such a flurry of education bills in the session’s early days? Turns out, an ALEC report advised lawmakers to overwhelm the opposition with a flood of proposals, which is exactly what Jindal did.
The ALEC document, Report Card on American Education, advised:
do not simply just introduce one reform in the legislature—build a consensus for reform and introduce a lot, like the ones proposed in this publication. Across the country for the past two decades, education reform efforts have popped up in legislatures at different times in different places. As a result, teachers’ unions have been playing something akin to “whack-amole”—you know the game—striking down as many education reform efforts as possible. Many times, the unions successfully “whack” the “mole,” i.e., the reform legislation. Sometimes, however, they miss. If all the moles pop up at once, there is no way the person with the mallet can get them all. Introduce comprehensive reform packages. (p. 108)
State education officials say their voucher plan didn’t come from ALEC. But the almost-identical language and provisions speak for themselves. Where did Jindal get the idea to call them “scholarships,” not “vouchers”? That came from ALEC, of course.
After an investigation, Gannett News Service in Louisiana concluded, “Reading Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education legislation — passed by the state Legislature in House Bills 974 and 976 and Senate Bill 581 — is akin to reading model bills drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council.”
Gannett identified the following striking similarities to Jindal’s bills:
> Louisiana’s voucher bill and ALEC’s Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act call for using vouchers for public school students to attend private schools.
> ALEC’s Parent Trigger Act and changes to Louisiana’s charter school bill allow parents to petition for an existing public school to be converted to a charter school.
> Louisiana House Bill 974 and ALEC’s Teacher Quality and Recognition Demonstration Act eliminate seniority as a consideration when school districts lay off employees.
> Louisiana’s revised charter school law no longer requires teachers in charter schools to be certified, but rather hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. In previous years, the state required certification of at least 75 percent of a charter school’s teachers. ALEC’s Next Generation Charter Schools Act calls for an elimination of state oversight of charter schools, including the issue of teacher certification.
A review of Louisiana’s legislation and that of other states shows minor changes in wording, but the same intent. For example:
> The teacher accountability bill signed into Louisiana law requires teachers to be rated annually on a scale of “highly effective” to “ineffective,” with 50 percent of that rating tied to student academic performance. That same wording is in recently passed legislation in Indiana, New Jersey and Florida.
In his book, Jindal argued that, “The best way to prevent corruption is to mandate transparency.” On the next page, he added, “The public has a right to know who is lobbying whom and for what.”
The 2010 version of Bobby Jindal was correct.
So, perhaps that version and his current incarnation might arrange a meeting sometime. They could discuss the origins and motives of legislation that will soon deliver millions to under-regulated private schools.
While they’re together, they might also discuss the real meaning of reform.
- Bobby Jindal’s sloppy woodworking (bobmannblog.com)
- Vouching for Failure in Louisiana Schools (esquire.com)
- Stop Governor Jindal’s Creationist Voucher Program – Zack Kopplin – Repealing the Louisiana Science Education Act (richarddawkins.net)
- Manufacturing Discontent: Vouchers should not be used to fund religious schools (lsureveille.com)
- The Louisiana Voucher Fiasco and the Romney/Jindal Nexus (thedemocraticstrategist.org)
- Why Bobby Jindal won’t be Mitt Romney’s running mate, in one word: Exorcism (bobmannblog.com)
- Why Mitt Shouldn’t Choose Bobby Jindal: My Memo to Gov. Romney (bobmannblog.com)