Scrappy Parents Group Exposes Corporate Takeover of Education in Minnesota (and Elsewhere)

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August 8, 2011; Source: Minnpost | Parents United for Public Schools is a grassroots group of Minnesota parents that tracks legislation and coordinates action on education issues. It was founded in 2002 and has a five-person staff that works out of an office in St. Paul.

This little David of an organization is targeting a mighty but secretive Goliath: ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Backed by corporations like Reynolds America, ExxonMobil, and Pfizer, ALEC quietly recruits state legislators around the country to push a low-tax, deregulatory agenda designed to dismantle public services. That little dust-up that’s still playing out in Wisconsin? ALEC is right behind Governor Scott Walker on that one.

On its website, Parents United has put together a trove of information on ALEC’s plans for education in Minnesota, which include vouchers, public funding for private schools, and reduced teacher certification standards. They link to an online Wikileaks-style archive of dozens of model bills that ALEC is pushing in statehouses around the country—part of its legislative “whack-a-mole” strategy designed to ensure that teacher unions won’t be able to address everything at once.

State legislators can join ALEC for a nominal yearly fee, but tax records indicate that the real dough comes from corporations, which collectively give as much as $6 million a year. (Its 990 report doesn’t give a detailed breakdown of funding sources.) At any of the three yearly conferences that ALEC hosts, corporate honchos can sit down with lawmakers and craft model bills to cut taxes, privatize public services, and gut regulations. The legal eagles at ALEC have set it up so that none of this counts as “lobbying,” so there are no public reporting requirements.

Parents United smartly lists the 24 Minnesota legislators that have already joined the ALEC team, including the chairs of all three education committees in the Minnesota legislature. Their comprehensive website includes sample letters to lawmakers, updates on bills currently being drafted, and an extensive issues library to keep citizens informed about the going-ons at the legislature.—Chris Hartman