A Florida Killing, Virtual Charter Schools: ALEC at Its Worst

Hanna Skandera’s business buddies at K12 Inc. got a shout-out in the New York Times today, in a column by Nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman about the dangers of corporatizing politics and the real reason a man in Florida could get away with killing an unarmed teenager in the street. 

“(I)t’s tempting to dismiss this law as the word of ignorant yahoos,” Krugman writes of the now-infamous “Stand Your Ground” law that says it’s legally OK to shoot a person if you can claim you felt threatened. “But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.”

Krugman says the law is “virtually identical” to a template given lawmakers nation-wide by the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, as it’s known, is a beast familiar to anyone who’s been following New Mexico’s political machinations. ALEC wined and dined many of New Mexico’s Republican legislators during the recent 30-day session, and ALEC authored the education bill, backed by Gov. Susana Martinez and education secretary-designate Skandera, to let K12 Inc. open “virtual” charter schools, where students take classes by computer from their homes. 

Why is that a bad idea? For one, it violates a section in New Mexico law which says “a charter school shall be nonsectarian, nonreligious and non-home based public school.” 

For another, K12 is a multimillion-dollar corporation whose staff is only a little more than one-quarter teachers, while the other 72 percent is sales and marketing. That’s an interesting choice as partner-in-education for a governor who so often squawks about using tax dollars to pay for classroom instruction, not administration. 

K12 is being sued for shareholder fraud, and a New York Times expose on K12 published late last year called it “a company that tries to squeeze profits from public school dollars by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload and lowering standards.” K12 gets “an average of $5,500 to $6,000 per student from state and local governments,” the Times reported. But that money comes upfront, and often students who start the programs don’t finish. 

“With retention a problem, some teachers said they were under pressure to pass students with marginal performance and attendance,” the Times said. 

K12 Inc. donated $5,000 to Gov. Martinez’s campaign for governor, of course, and Skandera and others in the PED have been operating in the shadows to help the company establish itself in our state. K12 and Skandera have both been intimately involved with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s flimsy education reform model, slowly being implemented in New Mexico. 

From Krugman: “(S)ome of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.”

He goes on: “And in case you were wondering, no, the kind of privatization ALEC promotes isn’t in the public interest; instead of success stories, what we’re getting is a series of scandals. Private charter schools, for example, appear to deliver a lot of profits but little in the way of educational achievement.”

The insinuation here is not that we’re heading toward a New Mexico where Stand Your Ground killings become a fear for minority teens in hoods. (Let’s hope not, anyway. Nothing really surprises anymore.) The insinuation here is that a line can be drawn from that incredible act of legislatively sanctioned murder and the forces working to privatize public education in our schools. 

Trayvon Martin’s death is an extreme case, but is it really so extraordinary? Let corporations write our laws and there are going to be consequences, including the empowerment of gun-toting vigilantes, and including students being funneled into phony private education entities that don’t actually give them the tools they need to grow into productive adults.  We are paying, and will continue paying, for the corporate corruption of our political system. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican earlier this year ran a terrific article by Steve Terrell about ALEC, whose worshippers in the New Mexico legislature include Rep. Yvette Herrell (Alamogordo), Sen. Clint Harden (Clovis), Rep. Nate Gentry (Albuquerque) and Sen. Bill Burt (Alamogordo). Those are all Republicans. 

Terrell’s story concludes on this note: “(B)oth sides agree that ALEC’s influence could grow here if Republicans win enough seats in November to control the Legislature.” 

That notion should terrify those of us normal New Mexicans, who don’t get a cut. “And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing,” Krugman writes, “it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.”

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