This article is excerpted from an extensive academic study done by researchers with New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.
Please note that everything posted in (this) maroon-colored italics is written by this editor, and is not part of the study. All red and bold highlighting in this post is also done by this editor.
The term “neoliberalism” is used repeatedly in this study. For those not familiar with this term, CorpWatch provides the following explanation:
The main points of neo-liberalism include:
- THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment, as in NAFTA. Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers’ rights that had been won over many years of struggle. No more price controls. All in all, total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. To convince us this is good for us, they say “an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth, which will ultimately benefit everyone.” It’s like Reagan’s “supply-side” and “trickle-down” economics — but somehow the wealth didn’t trickle down very much.
- CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR, and even maintenance of roads, bridges, water supply — again in the name of reducing government’s role. Of course, they don’t oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business.
- DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits, including protecting the environment and safety on the job.
- PRIVATIZATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatization has mainly had the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.
- ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF “THE PUBLIC GOOD” or “COMMUNITY” and replacing it with “individual responsibility.” Pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves — then blaming them, if they fail, as “lazy.”
You get the idea. There is nothing liberal about neo-liberalism.
Privatizing Schooling and Policy Making: The American Legislative Exchange Council and New Political and Discursive Strategies of Education Governance
In this article, we examine the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) within larger policy networks composed of new policy entrepreneurs – venture philanthropists, think tanks, private “edu-businesses” and their lobbyists, advocacy organizations, and social entrepreneurs – among others. These new policy networks have come to exert an impressive level of influence on public policy in the last 30 years in the United States. We describe and analyze several model education bills that ALEC has promoted and describe the strategies it employs. We found that these strategies, which are employed by corporate leaders and largely Republican legislators, are aimed at a strategic alliance of neoliberal, neoconservative, libertarian, and liberal constituencies with the goal of privatizing and marketizing public education.
In rapid succession, laws were passed in three different states that caused national protests. In Wisconsin, the new law was aimed at limiting the rights of public sector unions; In Florida, it was the Stand Your Ground law that made George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin household names; and in several states voter ID laws were passed that some claimed were a thinly veiled attempt to take Democratic voters off the roles. Journalists around the country began connecting the dots and identified a little known organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), as a central culprit in all three cases.
What they often did not say was that ALEC did not act alone, but rather was part of a large and proliferating network (what we have been calling “The Cabal”)of new policy actors who have over the last four decades worked largely behind the scenes to accrue significant policy influence at the state and national levels. Still, the fact that ALEC was highly influential in setting new policy agendas in multiple states across policy sectors points to the importance of studying its successful political and discursive strategies. While not as controversial as other of ALEC’s task forces, its Education Task Force is quietly sponsoring bills in state legislatures that promote a particular set of education policies informed by a freemarket, libertarian ideology.
New neoliberal policy networks have three interconnected goals:
- a critique of and attempt to change public perception of current policies and the creation of a new “common sense”;
- the creation of new policies that dismantle the current infrastructure of embedded liberalism and its replacement by libertarian, free market-friendly policies;
- and the privatization of the policy process itself.
These three goals form the basic conceptual framework for our analysis of ALEC.
The central questions that guided the study were the following:
- Which issues has ALEC focused on in education over the last 20 years?
- What are the themes that tie ALEC’s model bills together and what is the nature of the knowledge regime ALEC is promoting?
- What political and discursive strategies does ALEC deploy to effectively promote its neoliberal ideological agenda?
We also analyzed the content of the model bills to identify which issues ALEC’s Education Task Force was taking up and ALEC’s overall political goals within the education sector. ALEC’s espoused political goals are clearly expressed on their website and throughout their publications, but an analysis of the model bills reveals how these espoused ideals are expressed through the actions of corporate leaders and legislators as they produce the model bills. While ALEC’s espoused mission statement is clear about its grounding in free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty, a wholistic coding of the model bills of the Education Task Force found that bills tended to cluster around three main themes:
- the privatization of public assets, or, in other words, the transfer of state taxpayer dollars from public schools to private non-profit or for-profit education corporations;
- opposition to teachers unions, tenure, and certification; and
- the transfer of new managerialist principles to the public sector.
These themes represented over 90% of ALEC’s model education bills. There was one other smaller cluster:
- the promotion of conservative and moral social values.
The last, while present, is notable for the small number of bills that focus directly on moral or religious issues. This is not surprising if one considers that ALEC primarily promotes corporate interests, which tend more toward free-market, neoclassical economic issues. While we will discuss some of the model bills in this section, Appendix A contains a more complete table of model bills organized by themes.
This is a much better write-up of the Koch Brothers’ influence on education than the Huffington Post piece I curated some days ago. For those of you who want detailed information, please follow the link below to read the full article and appendices.
For more great content, follow Ron Rabatsky on Twitter (@ExposingALEC)