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ALEC Legislator Retires a “Charter School Millionaire” from ALEC’s Top-Rated School Choice State

September 5, 2019

This is a post about how school choice works (and pays off) ALEC-style.

ALEC stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC describes itself as follows:

The American Legislative Exchange Council is America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism. Comprised of nearly one-quarter of the country’s state legislators and stakeholders from across the policy spectrum, ALEC members represent more than 60 million Americans and provide jobs to more than 30 million people in the United States.

However, the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” website reveals more about ALEC’s workings than ALEC prefers for people to know:

ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through the secretive meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporate lobbyists and state legislators vote as equals on ‘model bills’ to change our rights that often benefit the corporations’ bottom line at public expense. ALEC is a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists and can get a tax break for donations, effectively passing these lobbying costs on to taxpayers.

Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve “model” bills. They have their own corporate governing board which meets jointly with the legislative board. (ALEC says that corporations do not vote on the board.) Corporations fund almost all of ALEC’s operations.

Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills.

ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization. We agree. It is as if a state legislature had been reconstituted, yet corporations had pushed the people out the door.

More than 98% of ALEC’s revenues come from sources other than legislative dues, such as corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations. Each corporate member pays an annual fee of between $7,000 and $25,000 a year, and if a corporation participates in any of the nine task forces, additional fees apply, from $2,500 to $10,000 each year. ALEC also receives direct grants from corporations, such as $1.4 million from ExxonMobil from 1998-2009. It has also received grants from some of the biggest foundations funded by corporate CEOs in the country, such as: the Koch family Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Koch-managed Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Scaife family Allegheny Foundation, the Coors family Castle Rock Foundation, to name a few. Less than 2% of ALEC’s funding comes from “Membership Dues” of $50 per year paid by state legislators, a steeply discounted price that may run afoul of state gift bans. For more, see CMD’s special report on ALEC funding and spending here.

ALEC produces a periodic (often annual, but not always) state report card on American education. It has done so apparently since the mid-1980s; in 2018, ALEC published its 22nd such report. The 22nd report card includes the assigning of a “GPA” to each state, “based on six factors: state academic standards, charter schools, homeschool regulation burden, private school choice, teacher quality, and digital learning.

Oh, and,Because the Education and Workforce Task Force at ALEC focuses the most on private school choice and charter schools, those factors were given double weight in the calculation over overall rank and grade. The weighted grades were converted into a GPA average and an individual rank.

So, the less satisfied ALEC is with a state’s push for charters and vouchers, the doubly-upset ALEC is with that state and the weightier the ALEC scowl in its choice-favoring state grading system– which shows in its 2018 state education rankings.

The top five states in ALEC’s 2018 rankings are Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Georgia, and DC.

But it takes some time to build up to that school-choice-favoring scowl.

According to ALEC’s 15th education report card, published in 2010 and using testing and financial data from 2006-2008, the state rankings were quite different; Arizona was ranked 33rd; Florida was 36th; Indiana was 23rd; Georgia was 44th, and DC was 51st. Too, school choice did not figure into ALEC’s grades at all at that time. But the likes of Jeanne Allen‘s Center for Education Reform and the Friedman Foundation did make it into the pre-appendix end of the report, with the goal of prodding ALEC-led legislators toward ever-expanding school choice.

And now, back to 2018 and ALEC’s favored school-choice state, Arizona.

Arizona is the only state that received an ALEC “A” in both “school choice” and “charter school” categories, which shows ALEC’s valuing Arizona’s school choice free-for-all. 

No other state is ALEC-double-A-worthy. From ALEC in 2018, Indiana received a B+ in school choice and an A in charter schools, and Florida, an A in school choice and a B in charter schools. But that’s it for the ALEC A-B School Choice/Charter Honor Roll. Fourth-ranked Georgia already hitting a C in charter schools (though it did garner an ALEC “B+” in “school choice”).

Ballotpedia offers some background on charters and vouchers in Arizona, and AZ Central offers this startling, detailed, 2018 study of the “big business” of Arizona charter schools. Below are a few summary excerpts, with links:

BASIS SCHOOLS seeks big donations to pay its teachers: There are 20 Basis schools in Arizona with more than 900 teachers. They all are part of Basis Charter Schools, a tax-exempt non-profit corporation.

But none of the teachers actually works for Basis Schools.

Long before the groundswell of demands for higher teacher pay in Arizona, the high-profile charter school found a novel way to boost teachers’ income: push parents to pay.

AMERICAN LEADERSHIP ACADEMY founder makes millions on schools: American Leadership Academy has grown to a dozen campuses with more than 8,000 students in Florence, Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek and San Tan Valley.

Because of Arizona’s light regulations for charter schools, the school’s founder has made about $37 million on real estate deals associated with the schools — though he disputes the figure. The taxpayer money was allocated to the businessman’s charter schools and then awarded to his companies through no-bid contracts.

PRIMAVERA online charter school CEO takes $8.8 million payout from for-profit charter company: By most academic measures, Primavera online charter school is a failure. Its student-to-teacher ratio is 215-to-1 — 12 times the state average — allowing little or no individualized attention.

On recently released state standardized tests, less than a quarter of its students passed math and about a third passed English, both below the state average. And 49 percent of Primavera students end up dropping out, 10 times the state average.

But by another measure, Primavera is an unmitigated success: making money.

This one is stunning even by “Wild West,” Arizona (lack-of) standards for its blatant self-dealing:

 EDDIE FARNSWORTH, school operator and lawmaker, set to make millions after Charter Board vote: The East Valley charter-school owner was poised for a payday of up to $30 million after the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools approved the transfer of his for-profit charter-school chain to a newly formed non-profit company.

The board OK’d Farnsworth’s request to transfer the charter from the for-profit Benjamin Franklin Charter School, which operates four campuses, to a Queen Creek non-profit company with the same name.

That move will allow Farnsworth, a longtime GOP state representative, to sell the campuses — paid for with state tax dollars — to the non-profit company.

According to Sourcewatch, Farnsworth was a member of ALEC, serving on its Civil Justice Task Force.

In August 2019, Farnsworth retired from the Arizona legislature as a “charter school millionaire.”

An ALEC-school-choice happy ending, eh?

salesman

______________________________________________________________________

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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4 Comments
  1. Edward permalink

    Mercedes, have you ever been able to find a copy of the education policy guide that ALEC published in 1985? I’ve been curious to know what insight that manual gives away, not being able to foresee the educational and political landscape to take shape 25 years down the road. I had tried hunting down this document some years ago with no luck.

  2. Edward permalink

    The ALEC guidebook is titled _Education Source Book: The State Legislators’ Guide for Reform_. Authorship is ostensibly attributed to Nanette Barrett.

    https://www.worldcat.org/title/education-source-book-the-state-legislators-guide-for-reform/oclc/11948243/editions?referer=di&editionsView=true

  3. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    long.
    These rating games are just that, but….”games are only trivial if their purposes are.”
    ALEC ratings for Arizona serve the interests of persons who want to privatize public education.

    As you may know, EdWeek has an annual “Quality Counts” report. These reports serve the interests of persons who have a vested interest in standardized education. The Quality Counts report is based on an average of ratings from three main sections.

    The first section, “Chance for Success,” is based on education, social, and economic metrics gathered for each state. In the second section, ratings are based on data about “School Finance.” The third section massages data about “K-12 Achievement.“ These ratings make use of multiple sources of data, including the Gates-funded “Data Quality Campaign,” and U.S. Census.

    Mercedes post on the high rating ALEC gave to Arizona caused me to look at Arizona’s Ed Week ratings.

    “Arizona finishes 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with an overall score of 69.1 out of 100 points and a grade of D-plus.” (The website shows how the “100-point scale” is converted to a single letter grade.)” “The nation as a whole posts a grade of C.”

    This overall rating is concocted from the three separate categories of metrics for each state and the District of Columbia. In the Chance-for-Success category Arizona “earned” a C and ranks 43rd among the states. In School Finance, the EdWeek system ranks Arizona 47th and awards Arizona a D-minus For the K-12 Achievement Index, Arizona finishes 29th (as if this is a race) with a grade of C-minus.

    The EdWeek rating scheme says that the “average state” earns a C-plus. The idea of an “average state” is about as meaningful as stating that the average family size is 2.6 persons per household.
    The mythical “average state” earns a grade of C in School Finance and K-12 Achievement. SOURCE: Education Week Research Center, 2019 .https://www.edweek.org/ew/collections/quality-counts-2019-state-grades/highlight-reports/index.html

    There are other rating schemes. The US New and World Report rates high schools. For Arizona, the top high schools are BASIS charter schools.
    https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/rankings-overview

    The GreatSchools.org website (EIN 94-3311628) offers ratings as well. The website serves the interests of its funders and advertisers who lease data for a fee or who pay fees to boost page views—while claiming to be for “parents.” https://www.greatschools.org
    The funders of GreatSchools ratings push charter schools: Walton Family Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Carnegie Corporation of New York*, Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, The Leona M. and Harry B. Hemsley Charitable Trust, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Additional funders are: America Achieves, The Charles Hayden Foundation, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation*, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation*, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, EdChoice, Heising-Simons Foundation, Innovate Public Schools, The Joyce Foundation, Excellent Schools Detroit, The Kern Family Foundation, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, and Startup:Education. See also the convoluted methodology https://www.greatschools.org/gk/ratings-methodology/

    The Family Engagement Lab in Oakland, CA is a 2017 nonprofit subsidiary of GreatSchools.org. It is supported by the foundations noted with an (*) for GreatSchools as well as the New Schools Venture Fund, Kenneth Rainin Foundation and Stuart Foundation.

    During the 2018-2019 school year, the Family Engagement Lab partnered with the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) to pilot a family engagement tool, FASTalk. FASTalk sends parents text messages with at-home literacy activities aligned to what students are doing in the classroom.

    I am not sure about the “alignment” because specific curriculum materials are part of this program and many not be standaized for every school in Louisiana. The privacy policy at this website and at GreatSchools are worth reading. They show that data-gathering on users is routine. http://www.familyengagementlab.org

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