Monday, June 24, 2013

Moyers and Company Exposes ALEC

Louisiana Public Broadcasting this weekend featured a Moyers and Company expose' on ALEC. (Just click in the link to get to the program) Bill Moyers, a highly respected reporter, hosted this excellent program unveiling the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council in creating and promoting model legislation passed for the benefit of some of the largest US corporations. The program is titled The United States of ALEC - A Follow-up. This program includes a great explanation about how the privatization of schools in Louisiana and other states was planned and implemented by ALEC and its friendly member legislators and governors. The program explains how this high pressure lobbying organization also gets around most state laws on reporting of lobbying activities and retains a tax exempt status.

If you care about public education, please consider viewing this hour long program. If your time is limited, the section that describes the privatization of education begins at about 24 minutes into the program and runs about 7 minutes. But the whole thing is well worth your time.

The list of model laws promoted by ALEC included much of the privatization laws passed recently in Louisiana.

Of special interest to Louisiana taxpayers is the lavish funding of virtual, for-profit private schools such as K12 and Connections Academy. Even though it costs only a fraction of the MFP per pupil allocation to provide courses by computer to Louisiana public school children, ALEC lobbyists made sure that private online courses got 90% of the MFP funding that is given to public brick and mortar schools. BESE member Chas Roemer made the motion to pay these two private companies 90% of the MFP allocation without research or competitive bidding to determine the true cost.

ALEC was able to get around the voucher funding issue, which has been ruled unconstitutional in Louisiana, by designating the two virtual schools in Louisiana as state approved charter schools.  The Moyers program points out that all the model ALEC legislation promoting the funding of virtual for-profit schools was developed by representatives of K12 and Connections Academy, the very companies that are benefiting from no-bid contracts to provide such services in Louisiana!

BESE has never attempted to insure proper pupil-teacher ratios for virtual courses. It was discovered recently in Florida that students taking private Internet courses supplied by k12 often had a pupil teacher ratio of as much as 250 students to each teacher. Some of their staffing practices in Florida were recently still under investigation.

Most of the data we have seen from other states indicates that most students get a very poor education from these virtual charters. There is usually a huge amount of churn in their enrollment. This means that many students neglect to sign in for much of the class time required, do not complete assignments and often end up dropping out and sometimes returning to public schools after the private company has received much of the public school funding for the student. This happened in alarming numbers in Colorado.

What's really scary is that many students may not formally drop out of a virtual school, but remain on the rolls of the virtual academy even if they are not regularly signing in. In public schools we enforce the mandatory attendance laws. Roll is taken every day, and if a student misses several days in a row he/she is tracked down by the school or by visiting teachers to make sure he/she attends school or gets instruction at home if he/she is ill. But in a virtual school roll is not taken. Some of these students may be roaming the streets and getting in trouble instead of sitting at their computer as expected. Mandatory attendance does not apply to virtual schools and we have heard of no plans by the DOE to monitor attendance in either the virtual academies or the course choice programs that are scheduled to start this year.

Here in Louisiana, the virtual school performance as measured by LEAP testing has been far below the average for all other public schools. Wayne Free of the LAE has asked several questions of the DOE about attendance, average student counts per teacher and teacher qualifications and certifications at the two virtual for-profit charter schools  and the answers he got were "No responsive documents or data available." It is really amazing that with all the money being spent by our DOE on public information officers, that basic information critical to all Louisiana taxpayers is just not available.

Meanwhile if you want to know who is really calling the shots on much of the school privatization issues, just view the Moyers and Company video. It should be required viewing for all the taxpayers of Louisiana.

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