(NOTE: This article was originally posted at Res Ipsa Loquitor on July 28, 2013.)
According to Cashing in on Kids: 139 ALEC Bills in 2013 Promote a Private, For-Profit Education Model, a special report published by the Center for Media and Democracy, in the first half of this year, “at least 139 bills or state budget provisions reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) education bills have been introduced in 43 states and the District of Columbia.” The report states that thirty-one of those bills and provisions have already become law.
In September 2012, In the Public Interest published a report titled Profiting from Public Dollars: How ALEC and Its Members Promote Privatization of Government Services and Assets which also addresses the subject of ALEC and its agenda that promotes the privatization of public services.
Excerpt from this report:
The American Legislative Exchange Council has been a major force in pushing for the privatization of public services and assets. This organization, which boasts of having more than 2,000 members, brings together state lawmakers, corporations, and conservative think tanks in an effort to push an agenda of “free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.”1 As ALEC succinctly laid out in its 2011 publication, State Budget Reform Toolkit, “policymakers should embrace privatization and the competitive contracting of government services…”2
This agenda directly benefits many of its corporate members, who hope to increase their revenues and profits by dismantling public services and taking over the work through lucrative government contracts.
Last August I wrote a post titled Stateside Louisiana: School Vouchers and the Privatization of Public Education. In it, I quoted the Washington Post:
A recent article in the Newark Star-Ledger showed how closely New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “reform” legislation is modeled on ALEC’s work in education. Wherever you see states expanding vouchers, charters, and other forms of privatization, wherever you see states lowering standards for entry into the teaching profession, wherever you see states opening up new opportunities for profit-making entities, wherever you see the expansion of for-profit online charter schools, you are likely to find legislation that echoes the ALEC model.
Rupert Murdoch, CEO of NewsCorp, has reportedly called public education “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” Brendan Fischer, author of the Center for Media and Democracy’s special report, said that the transformation “of public education — from an institution that serves the public into one that serves private for-profit interests — has been in progress for decades, thanks in large part to ALEC.”
ALEC boasts on the “history” section of its website that it first started promoting “such ‘radical’ ideas as a [educational] voucher system” in 1983 — the same year as the Reagan administration’s “Nation At Risk” report — taking up ideas first articulated decades earlier by ALEC supporter Milton Friedman.
Fischer names a number of “ALEC corporations” that could “reap” financial rewards from ALEC’s privatization agenda. One of those corporations is Amplify, “the newly-created education division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, parent company of Fox News. News Corp is on the ALEC Education Task Force. In 2010, News Corp hired former New York City chancellor Joel Klein to run its education division, which includes the for-profit education company formerly known as Wireless Generation. The firm has big plans for a specialized ‘Amplify Tablet’ that would provide lesson plans, textbooks and testing to cash-in on new ‘Common Core’ required state standards.”
David Folkenflik (NPR) said that Murdoch “views the digital tablet as part of a push to modernize the educational system.” He added that Murdoch has “another goal in mind as well.” That goal, according to Folkenflik, is the anticipated revenues from the educational arm of his corporation that could help “shore up the finances of his newspaper and publishing division as it is split off later this year from the conglomerate’s vast holdings in television and entertainment.”
In his ThinkProgress post titled In Schools Across The Country Are Considering Education Bills Crafted By Corporate Front Group, Alan Pyke said that—in addition to ALEC—for-profit companies are able to “exercise substantial political influence” via federal campaign contributions. On July 15th, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, had received nearly one quarter of his 2013’s second quarter substantial fundraising contributions from the for-profit education industry.
Yes, there’s corporate money to be made in the education business—even as school districts struggle to pay their bills and keep current staffing levels.
In a piece titled No, iPads do not make teachers obsolete! that David Sirota wrote for Salon earlier this month, the author asks the following question: “Why are cash-starved school districts sending public funds to Apple — while laying off teachers?” Why…indeed?! In his article, Sirota tells of school districts that are spending huge amounts of money in order to provide every student with an iPad.
Indeed, following smaller districts from across the country, the Los Angeles Unified School District — the second largest in the nation — just generated big headlines by becoming one of the 600 districts handing over public money to Apple in exchange for iPads.
How much money, you ask? In Los Angeles, many millions of dollars. If that sounds a bit vague, that’s because it is, thanks to the hard-to-estimate total costs of all the variables in technologizing schools. In L.A., for instance, school officials approved an initial $50 million in bonds (read: public debt) to finance the first stage of its iPad-for-every-student program. However, according to the Los Angeles Daily News, those officials quietly acknowledge that the plan will cost a whopping half-billion dollars when fully implemented.
One has to question why school districts are spending/planning to spend so much money in technology for their students when there is no proof that it will improve education…or that it is actually cost effective.
As respected education consultant Lee Wilson notes in a report breaking down school expenses, “It will cost a school 552% more to implement iPad textbooks than it does to deploy books.” He notes that while “Apple’s messaging is the idea that at $14.99 an iText is significantly less expensive than a $60 textbook,” the fact remains that “when a school buys a $60 textbook today they use it for an average of 5-7 years (while) an Apple iText it costs them $14.99 per student – per year.” As Lee notes, that translates into iBooks that are 34 percent more expensive than their paper counterparts — and that’s on top of the higher-than-the-retail-store price school districts are paying for iPads.
In Selling Out Schools (November 2011), Lee Fang wrote:
While most education reform advocates cloak their goals in the rhetoric of “putting children first,” the conceit was less evident at a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, earlier this year.
Standing at the lectern of Arizona State University’s SkySong conference center in April, investment banker Michael Moe exuded confidence as he kicked off his second annual confab of education startup companies and venture capitalists. A press packet cited reports that rapid changes in education could unlock “immense potential for entrepreneurs.” “This education issue,” Moe declared, “there’s not a bigger problem or bigger opportunity in my estimation.”
Moe has worked for almost fifteen years at converting the K-12 education system into a cash cow for Wall Street. A veteran of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he now leads an investment group that specializes in raising money for businesses looking to tap into more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money spent annually on primary education. His consortium of wealth management and consulting firms, called Global Silicon Valley Partners, helped K12 Inc. go public and has advised a number of other education companies in finding capital.
Moe’s conference marked a watershed moment in school privatization. His first “Education Innovation Summit,” held last year, attracted about 370 people and fifty-five presenting companies. This year, his conference hosted more than 560 people and 100 companies, and featured luminaries like former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, now an education executive at News Corporation, a recent high-powered entrant into the for-profit education field. Klein is just one of many former school officials to cash out. Fenty now consults for Rosetta Stone, a language company seeking to expand into the growing K-12 market.
We, the common people, are left to wonder why so many school reformers and politicians who claim there is little or no money for more classroom teachers…for raises for educators…for school libraries…for art and music programs don’t even bat an eye when school districts propose spending mega-millions of tax payer dollars on technology…or charter schools…or online learning programs.
Cashing in on Kids: 139 ALEC Bills in 2013 Promote a Private, For-Profit Education Model (The Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch)
For-profit Education (Open Secrets)
Selling Schools Out (The Investigative Fund)