Mackinac Center

Continuing Education and Privatization Disclosures in MI. Reveal “Skunks” at Work – Including ALEC

Continuing Education and Privatization Disclosures in MI. Reveal “Skunks” at Work – Including ALEC

An analysis of two recent articles from Michigan and why they are ALEC-related.

Analysis by Bob Sloan

Logo     ALEC’s attention to America’s education “reform” is focused and advancing state by state as they promote privatization of public school systems.  Vouchers, “parent trigger”, long distance learning, “vitrual schools” and a “Public-Private Fair Competition Act” are all ALEC model legislative bills.

    What all these “bills” have in common of late is that all of them are submitted, sponsored and supported by conservative Republican lawmakers from coast to coast…another commonality of late is that most of them can be found swirling ominously through the Michigan statehouse.

    Now Michiganders have discovered a secret group of individuals working to advance these ALEC-styled legislative franken-bills behind closed doors with members of Governor Snyder’s staff.  Members of this secretive cabal have dubbed their group the “Skunk Works”, referring to defense contractor Lockheed Martin’s secret program under the same name that developed fighter planes during and after World War II.  An article published Friday by the Detroit News reported on this strange development.

Lansing — A secret work group that includes top aides to Gov. Rick Snyder has been meeting since December to develop a lower-cost model for K-12 public education with a funding mechanism that resembles school vouchers.

“The education reform advisory team has dubbed itself a “skunk works” project working outside of the government bureaucracy and education establishment with a goal of creating a “value school” that costs $5,000 per child annually to operate, according to meeting minutes and reports obtained by The Detroit News.

What are some of pursuits of these group?

…explore using fewer teachers and more instruction through long-distance video conferencing. Each “value school” student would receive a “Michigan Education Card” to pay for their “tuition” — similar to the electronic benefits transfer used to distribute food stamps and cash assistance for the poor.

Students could use leftover money on the “EduCard” for high school Advanced Placement courses, music lessons, sport team fees, remedial education or cyber courses, according to an outline of the advisory team’s agenda…

“…ideology and political agenda of the creation of a for-profit and parallel enterprise market for schools. Part of its goal is to take down the education establishment: superintendents, school boards and teachers unions.

It appears this panel of Skunks were formed in December in response to failed GOP legislation related to charter schools:

“The panel’s quiet proceedings began in mid-December after GOP lawmakers abandoned controversial legislation in the lame-duck session that would have allowed corporations, municipalities and cultural institutions to run charter schools.

Who are some of the members of this education cabal? Besides Governor Snyder’s chief information officer, David Behen, who leads the group most are from the information technology field:

“The group consists of nearly 20 individuals, mostly from the information technology field, including Behen and the state’s chief technology officer, Rod Davenport. The group includes employees from the software and tech companies Vectorform in Royal Oak, InfoReady in Ann Arbor and Billhighway in Troy. Also involved is Tim Cook of the Huizenga Group, a Grand Rapids firm that owns and operates West Michigan manufacturing companies.”

Another member is well known Lansing attorney, Richard McLellan who has so far unsuccessfully pursued installing a school voucher system in Michigan to allow parents to use choose between private and public schools — with state tax dollars – something prohibited by the Michigan Constitution.  McLellan helped draft such legislation and proposed sweeping changes in November to the way Michigan schools are funded. McLellan is a director at the Oxford Foundation, which developed that plan at Snyder’s request.  He is also a co-founding member of the Koch funded Mackinac Center, another conservative think tank that has been pursuing similar efforts of privatizing Michigan’s public education.

Interesting note to the “plan” memo linked to immediately above…McLellan insisted that the Project “be conducted with maximum transparency.”  He apparently decided that such transparency would not be so “maximum” or sought at all with regard to the project involving the skunk works.  This group is so secretive, they were instructed to use alternative email accounts when corresponding.  “In January, participants were instructed in a memo to use “alternative” email accounts. Records show Behen, Davenport and two other Department of Technology, Management and Budget employees have since used private email addresses to correspond.”

‘McLellan said the other participants are justified in using private emails. “Well, they should,” he said. “It’s not a government project.  Isn’t a skunk works by definition unorganized, backroom?” he asked rhetorically.’

“Why are we using private email addresses? Because it’s just easier,” Behen said. “There’s nothing secret or anything about this.”

 

This panel originally included one educator, Paul Galbenski, Michigan’s 2011 Educator of the Year.  Galbenski left the group when he discovered the cabal “discussing a special kind of school being created outside of the Michigan public school system,” and began questioning his own involvement with such a group.

Galbenski was the only educator even briefly chosen to be on the panel.  A memo of the group stated that they wanted to avoid working with education consultants who are “wedded to the education establishment.

Behen said he “purposely didn’t put a bunch of teachers on (the panel)” to generate a different approach to delivering K-12 education through rapidly changing technology.

Michigan officials and authorities representing Governor Snyder and a private “foundation” and think tank such as Mackinac, have been found working secretly to completely alter the state’s education system – without any input from educators or educational consultants.  What could possibly go wrong?

So, here’s how this trick is supposed to work, for those of you in other states who would like to attempt something similar… You defund education to the point of collapse, and, then, pointing to the inevitable failure, you make the case that the only option left available is to essentially hand the whole thing over to corporate America. And you bring in an anti-public education operative with ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers, hiding behind the facade of a pro-education foundation with “Oxford” in its name, so that it sounds super smart, to support and adopt the whole enchilada.

In a related article from Progress Michigan, ALEC member MI. Rep. Greg MacMaster introduced a bill copied and pasted from the “Public-Private Fair Competition Act,” adopted by ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force and approved by ALEC’s Board of Directors in January 1995.

“The bill would prohibit public entities from competing against the private sector, and its definitions are so restrictive that it would allow corporations to take the state to court and force it to stop providing valuable public services. ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force includes the Tax Foundation (funded by the Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil), The Mackinac Center’s Richard Vedder, and other State Policy Network-funded groups including the Freedom Foundation, Goldwater Institute, and the Illinois Policy Institute.

If this legislation were to pass – along with the education initiatives proposed by ALEC, Mackinac Center, Oxford Foundation, etc. – Michigan’s education system would be privatized and fall under this provision.  The private “educators” would be able to sue any remaining state operated schools to force them into privatization.  Not only take the school system out of the hands of the state but force taxpayers to foot the bill for any litigation costs associated with “providing public services”…such as education.

ALEC is the legislative arm of this huge conservative, Koch-funded cabal.  Perhaps Michigan today presents us with the best and clearest example of both the agenda and mechanisms utilized by this network to wrench control, oversight and operations involving public services out of the hands of state government. The goal is to get their greedy hands on tax dollars being spent for education and other necessary services and divert much of that money to profits realized by ALEC’s corporate partners.

Just as Nevada is now ground zero for the war against prison labor displacing workers under ALEC’s Prison Industries Act, Michigan is now at the center regarding attempts to privatize education, utilizing another of ALEC’s models.

Michigan Prisons Save Money by Going Medieval

Michigan House Rep. Greg MacMaster (R-105) is offering a partial solution to the state’s road funding crisis in the face of corporate lobby groups hammering lawmakers to make fixing the roads a top priority. MacMaster, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections told his good buddies at the Mackinac Center that the state can save around $100 million by looking to the private sector to benchmark the Michigan Department of Corrections bidding process. (Translation: the DOC must meet the lowest common denominator, whether it be reasonable or not.)

Last year, they saved over $72 million by cutting therapists and librarians…what’s next, food?

As it turns out…Michigan is considering two bids for privatizing prison food services. This, among other services is frequently accomplished by bringing in a vendor who in turn “hires” the inmates to provide sub-standard cut-rate service. With the current food service cost per prisoner, per day at $4.38 — which includes all phases of food purchase, delivery, preparation and clean-up — how do they intend to trim “savings” from that meager sum without serving debtors prison worm-infested gruel?

Once again, we find the false assumption that adding a for-profit motive to the equation will “presto” create magic money. We have yet to see a morsel of statistical ballast lending weight to that approach. As reported by Democracy Tree last year, Michigan lawmakers persist in clutching the privatization fallacy with the iron determination of some medieval torture device.

Michigan knows well the poverty?prison?poverty endless loop, and if the state really wishes to cut corrections costs it must invest resources to break the poverty/prison cycle. John Tierney, of The New York Times, reports that:

“Among African-Americans who have grown up during the era of mass incarceration, one in four has had a parent locked up at some point during childhood. For black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high — nearly 40 percent nationwide — that they’re more likely to be behind bars than to have a job.”

(Disclaimer: not all Michigan inmates are from poverty. There are the rare exceptions like James Joseph Minder, the “Shotgun Bandit” and former University of Michigan Journalism student who served over ten years in the Michigan penal system, after admitting to over eight armed robberies. He went on to become the Chairman of a major corporation — Smith and Wesson, naturally…a perfect fit.)

In the meantime, Michigan lawmakers are finding creative new ways to incarcerate its poverty-stricken populace — hard-time for a violation of the bottle return deposit law. A person found guilty of cashing-in on 10,000 or more nonreturnable containers would serve up to five years in prison. While the cost of incarceration is about $35,000 a year, Rep. Kenneth Kurtz (R-58 ) insists the bill is needed. And yes, there exists technology to identify and reject nonreturnable bottles — but that solution must be too obvious.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

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Michigan Right to Work Law Was the Brainchild of ALEC, The Most Dangerous Group in Politics

From article written by Bob Sloan and published on Policy Mic...

Fact: 282 bills were passed in Michigan during the lame duck session. 42% of all the bills passed in the last two years were in this last lame duck session, with 180 votes taken on the last day of the 2012 session alone.

Fact: In the session from Dec 13 to Dec 14 (ending at 4:29AM), 180 roll-call votes were held. This took place in the 18 hours leading up to the ending of lame duck.

No sooner had the GOP secured total control of Michigan in 2010, holding majorities in both houses and winning the governorship, than the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing ultra-conservative “bill mill” and THE source of money and corruption in politics today, lept into action. ALEC wasted no time in sending many of their most onerous “model legislation” bills to Michigan. These included the Emergency Manager law, , expansion of charter schools, HB 5221 (Voter ID Act), which required voters to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote, and HB 4305 with language similar to ALEC’s model “Immigration Law Enforcement Act.” More →

Turning State Legislatures into Brothels

VLTP Op Ed by Bob Sloan

The Corrosive Effect of the Koch/ALEC Cabal on U.S. and World Governments

In a perfect world, we as citizens in a representative democracy would elect those who best represent our views on issues critically important in our lives.  In the context of that perfect world, our elected  representatives would work tirelessly pursuing legislation that would benefit their constituents and thus earn the respect of voters and ensure their re-election.  In America, this IS the basis that formed the foundation of our government.  Unfortunately, we do not have a “perfect world” with regard to those who represent us, far from it.  Today, we elect those who will take office and then essentially sell their votes to corporations and special interests which are not allowed to vote for elected officials in our democracy, wealthy or powerful entities in whose interest it is to keep these captured legislators in office, term after term.  Many elected officials take office and ignore the needs of their constituents in favor of the desires of corporations or special interests, and often ignore requests for legislation beneficial to the community they are supposed to represent– until those constituents are needed in subsequent elections, and sometimes even then officials count on voters not being aware how they’ve been sold out.

Some ask: how this has come to pass?  Who is responsible for undermining our democracy and corrupting our elected representatives? More →

NEA: Anatomy of the Far Right

This is actually an old article I ran across today – from 1998.  The same year Hillary Clinton spoke up about the “vast right-wing conspiracy”.  Published in the conservative Washington Times, the article heaped a lot of scorn on the NEA’s findings But that is not the object of this post…

                                            [note:  “the fold” is in tribute to the writers at the Daily Kos who have been working as a true grassroots movement to expose ALEC]

The NEA report maintains that choking off NEA funding is not an end in itself, “but that the conservative movement considers it “a critical step in achieving its broader aims, a state-by-state assault on public education.”

The report, prepared by NEA researchers led by political
consultant Robert Watson, lists not only such high-profile groups as Heritage and Cato, but also focuses on lesser known organizations that help coordinate state and national conservative strategies, including the Council for National Policy, the American Legislative Exchange Council and the State Policy Network.

The study began in January when the California Teachers Association asked for help fighting Proposition 226, NEA
spokeswoman Kathleen Lyons said. Mr. Watson was hired as project leader for the NEA research effort. By the time Proposition 226 was defeated, the NEA “had compiled a lot of information and … saw it would be useful to a lot of our state and local affiliates,” Miss Lyons said, and decided to prepare a full report for nationwide distribution.

Miss Lyons did a great service documenting what she found back in 1998.  Please check out the infographic that was made from the NEA studies–and then compare it with information that Bob Sloan has researched and published about “The Cabal” here and on the Daily Kos.  Or from some excellent articles we have reposted on this site from Truthout or ALECexposed/Sourcewarch.

You can see the infographic if  you will please click hereShould you print it, be sure to use at least 8.5×14″ paper so that you will be able to read everything very clearly.

The NEA’s work in 1998 was eerily prescient and well assembled as you will see.  You can read the report if you will please click here.  (The link in the article to the report is dead, but here it is from the Archive.)

And if you will please click here you will see that the tenor of conservative comments has not changed since 1998 either.  This is either “extremely” (get the pun?) disturbing, or comedy worthy of George Carlin.

If Republicans hate government so much, why do they so desperately want to run (and own) ours?

Author’s note: Next week the Republicans will have their Presidential Convention, and if you listen to the Republican Politicians and the pundits, you can expect to hear a lot of talk about “Small Government”, “Limited Government”, “Low Taxes”, “Deficit Reduction” and the like. This is the first of a series that is intended to examine Radical Right Republican rhetoric vs reality, their talk versus their behavior. I believe the two are at polar opposites.

Ever since Ronald Reagan’s pronouncement that “Government is the Problem”, Republicans have been running against the government, and at the same time, they desperately want to run, or own the government.

I’d like to explore this dichotomy, and try to analyze why it exists, and try to determine if the Republican behavior matches their rhetoric. I suspect it won’t, but will provide my argument and you can decide for yourself.

It seems far more likely to me that Republicans, and radicalized far-right Republicans see maintaining their hold on the levers of government, with its unparalleled ability to organize capital at all levels through the taxing power, is a fine means to redistribute wealth from the general citizenry, you and me, to the wealthy and the power elites, from which they come. In case you’ve never seen President Reagan’s pronouncement, here it is:

More →

Michigan Needs American Legislative Exchange Council Accountability Act NOW

What is the “ALEC Accountability Act”?

Example Content of the ALEC Accountability Act draft “model legislation”:

Intro of the ALEC Accountability Act of 2012
AN ACT to amend (LIST of YOUR STATE’S Laws); and to create LIST OF NEW/AFFECTED LAWS and STATUES; relating to: attempts to influence action upon model or similar proposed legislation, prohibiting the expending of certain moneys by members of the legislature, and reporting by certain persons providing or state public officials receiving certain things of value for scholarship purposes.

Putting a stop to Taxpayer Funding of ALEC thru State reimbursed “Membership Fees”:
Payment of Membership Fees to certain organizations.  No member of the legislature may expend any moneys allocated for the operation of his or her office for membership fees in any organization that proposes uniform, model, suggested, or recommended legislation for consideration by the legislatures of this state and other states.

Defining ALEC core activities as “Legislative Action”:
“Legislative action” also includes the development, drafting, consideration, modification, adoption, rejection, or defeat of uniform, model, recommended, or suggested legislation by any body that recommends proposed legislation for consideration by the legislatures of this state and other states.

Correcting ‘Lobbying” Loop-hole used by ALEC:
“Lobbying” also includes the practice of attempting to influence legislative action by oral or written communication with any person who is a member, employee, or agent of a body that proposes uniform, model, suggested, or recommended legislation for consideration by the legislatures of this state and other states.
Reporting ALEC “Scholarships” or payments by ALEC to their members:

… every official required to file who receives for a published work or for the presentation of a talk or participation in a meeting, any lodging, transportation, money or other thing with a combined pecuniary value exceeding $50 excluding the value of food or beverage offered coincidentally with a talk or meeting and every official required to file who receives for attendance at a meeting or conference any thing of pecuniary value for scholarship purposes shall, on his or her statement of economic interests, report the identity of every person from whom the official receives such lodging, transportation, money or other thing during his or her preceding taxable year, the circumstances under which it was received and, the approximate value thereof, and whether the thing of value was received for scholarship purposes.

To read the rest of my article, please click here

Michigan For Sale

Richard McLellan was recently tapped by Gov. Snyder to rewrite Michigan’s school aid act, the law that dictates how we fund public schools in Michigan. You read that right: Gov. Snyder has tasked the man who founded the Mackinac Center and worked with the DeVos family on trying to set up a voucher program in Michigan with deciding how our public schools will be funded.

The project is being coordinated by the Oxford Foundation, a nonprofit whose 990 form from 2009 lists only three directors, including former Republican House Speaker Charles Perricone, who is also the Executive Director of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners.

What does McLellan do in his spare time? Well, the law firm that bears his name shares an address and two employees with a PAC that recently started airing a political attack ad slamming Pete Hoekstra and praising Clark Durant in the Senate primary. MLive notes the “theme nearly echoes a Durant campaign commercial…” In addition to being very hard to reach, it appears that the shadowy group may have violated campaign finance laws by failing to report contributions in a timely manner.

One would think that a lawyer who is depended on for so much by our state’s Executive Branch would have a better sense of what is legal in campaign finance. But apparently, buying a Senate primary without full and timely disclosure of who is paying for it is more important than following the law. Richard McLellan may spend a lot of time hiding behind loopholes and shadowy nonprofit groups, but we’ll continue keeping tabs on him in 2012.

We’re going to be keeping a special lookout on Michigan, as it has become “ALEC Central”.  To read more of this excellent article, please click here