ALEC dictates Wisconsin’s public school policy

State Rep. Chris Taylor

On the heels of a passed state budget that leaves our K-12 public schools without ample and consistent funding, I recently headed back to where the school privatization push began — the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC.

ALEC and its members have become more powerful than citizens’ voices at the state Capitol. Despite urgent pleas from Wisconsin school superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and students for consistent and adequate K-12 public education funding, Republican legislators chose to dump more money into an unaccountable private voucher school system.

Since Republicans took over state government in 2011, they have cut $1.2 billion from public K–12 education. Under the latest budget, 55 percent of school districts will get less general student aid than they did during the last budget cycle. The state will spend $1,014 less per student than it did in 2008.

Yet for private schools, the scenario is very different. The state eliminated caps on the number of voucher schools that can operate in the state, which will divert an additional $600–$800 million from public schools over the next decade. The state also authorized private schools for special-needs students without requiring specialized instruction, teacher training or up-to-date legal protections.

At ALEC’s recent conference, state legislators were urged to push farther for universal vouchers. ALEC called for eliminating income or eligibility limits, as well as for funding parity for unaccountable, independent charter schools.

The most far-reaching model bill that the ALEC Education Taskforce proposed calls for creating education savings accounts. One such bill was recently adopted in Nevada.

Under the bill, public money is deposited into individual student accounts that parents can spend on any educational system they choose. According to the lead sponsor of Nevada’s ESA law, it will impact 94 percent of public school students and open the floodgates to private schools.

The new generation of ALEC’s school privatization policies reduces state oversight and accountability measures, contains no income cap and provides the same level of state and local funding per pupil that public schools receive.

ALEC is targeting suburban, middle-income families to sell its education agenda by attacking public education for allegedly failing not just low-income students, but middle-income as well. State legislators have been drafted as the foot soldiers to promulgate this message.  

ALEC and many Republican legislators in Wisconsin have no vision for public education, because they do not want it to exist. But there is a way to stop ALEC’s destructive policies. With 78 percent of Wisconsinites opposed to public education cuts, it starts with you.

ALEC had a piece of advice we should listen to — “Elections matter.” 

Chris Taylor represents the 76th Assembly District, which encompasses Madison. She’s the former policy and political director of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and led the organization to landmark victories for women’s health.