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ALEC's sinking ship

As the corporate giants pull out of the American Legislative Exchange Council, some Hoosier lawmakers risk losing the source for their own legislation, including many of the noxious education bills designed first and foremost to steer tax dollars to corporate coffers.

Indiana is a major ALEC player. Rep. David Frizzell, R-Indianapolis, is the current chairman of the board of directors. At the General Assembly, Frizzell is majority whip and a member of the education, insurance, public health and utilities and energy committees – panels most likely to handle ALEC's model bills. Sen. James Buck, R-Kokomo, is also a board member and co-state chairman along with Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake.

The board of directors and legislative members are the worker bees for the private enterprise board, ALEC's corporate members. In addition to Wal-Mart and others outed in recent days, they include Bayer Corp., GlaxoSmithKline, Peabody Energy, State Farm Insurance, ExxonMobil and, of course, Koch Companies.

ALEC also has a board of scholars. It includes Richard Vedder, the Ohio University economics professor who is the go-to guy for right-to-work proponents. He was a fixture in Indianapolis during the so-called debate over House Bill 1001.

New Jersey's Star-Ledger has an excellent series on ALEC and how it works. Check out the link for a story featuring a photo of Indiana state Superintendent Tony Bennett championing the common core standards at ALEC's Scottsdale gathering late last year. I reported his attendance at the conference among more than a dozen trips he took between the end of the legislative session in 2011 and early this year.

More of the interesting ALEC/Indiana/corporate links are outlined in this article from The Nation. An executive at virtual-school powerhouse Connections Learning was co-chair of the education policy–writing department of ALEC, according to the report. Connections has contributed almost $20,000 to Republican candidates in Indiana, including Bennett, Sen. Luke Kenley, Sen. David Long and Sen. Dennis Kruse.

The Indiana DOE pushed a virtual-school bill in the last session, of course. It failed, however. Some rank-and-file lawmakers are growing weary of defending their support of DOE's agenda to local teachers and school officials.

Eric Bradner of the Evansville Courier Press looked at Indiana lawmakers and ALEC in this December report, with comments from Columbia City Republican and proud ALEC member Jim Banks. Bradner pegs the number of Hoosier lawmakers who are members at about 30.

The Indiana lawmakers who proudly wave their ALEC allegiance are the first to complain that the federal government under the Obama administration is interfering in state business, but they have no problem using paint-by-number legislation dictated from afar. At least the federal requirements are created for the public good and subject to public review. The ALEC bills are shaped by corporate interests in sessions closed to the public.

As the public pressure continues and more of their big-business handlers drop out of ALEC, who will our lawmakers turn to for inspiration?

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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